It's Not the Jokes, It's the Thumbs

"After doing a show, normally you'd go back to your hotel, watch the news, have a glass of wine, unwind. You can can't do that anymore.You have to go on social media for at least three hours - every time -'cause that's where the world is now."
Stand-up comedian Steve Wilson has been on the road for nearly three decades, seven days-a-week, 45 weeks a year in places like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Sydney, Japan and Guantanamo Bay. He's on Showtime two days a week and co-hosts DL Hughley's syndicated radio show in 60 markets. By any standard measurement, Steve Wilson is a success at the job of making people laugh. But the measurement of success for him, other comedians, singers and performers, has dramatically mutated.

One revelatory day Wilson's agent set up a meeting for him with a company that handles major hosting gigs, "The first thing they wanted to know was what my internet footprint was in social media. How many Twitter followers do I have? Told them I've got nearly 80,000," the man said, "When you reach 100,000 we'll hire you." Kaboom!

To most of us, 100,000 followers sounds pretty good until you know his comedy buddy DL Hughley has 3 million of them. One hundred thousand is just the follower floor and gets you a medium $3K gig in San Bernardino.

The more followers you have, the more you get paid.
"When you get to the level of DL or Kevin Hart, producers will pay the performer extra to send out tweets," because, says Wilson, "When you tweet you're going to be hosting a show, at least a third of your followers will respond and that means a big social media footprint - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram."

So how do working performers like Wilson build up their digital followers? Producers know if you buy them so that's out. You could hire social media specialists but that jacks up your overhead. They only way to thrive in the Twitter-verse is to start working your thumbs on the keyboard - daily and often. "If you want to work and feed your family, you've got to re-tweet and post short videos on social media," says the veteran comic.

This is what could be called The Wilson Dilemma and it's about every one of us. It is the ever-widening space between the analog and digital generations, the gap that becomes a chasm separating those raised before and after the internet explosion. Many of today's analog people feel like outsiders in digital-land. It is daunting keeping up with the omnipotent iWorld.

Meanwhile, Steve Wilson will figure out how to unwind and work his thumbs at the same time after a set. At the end of the day, it's not really about thumb skills. It is about being in the arena for three decades, seven days a week, 45 weeks a year doing the job of making people laugh. That's success by any measurement.