Literary Twitter: @thesulk

Twitter serveswriter/producer Alec Sulkin the wayonce served S. J. Perelman: as a venue in which to showcase his wares and develop celebrity caché outside of Hollywood proper. In front of the scenes.
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When it comes to composing an individual tweet, that singularly repeatable text, Alec Sulkin is a modern master. A writer/producer for Family Guy who's recently been tendered a three-year contract to come up with a new show for Fox, he's clearly bank. But he would not be nearly as well known without Twitter. Twitter serves Sulkin the way The New Yorker once served S. J. Perelman: as a venue in which to showcase his wares and develop celebrity caché outside of Hollywood proper. In front of the scenes.

In case you aren't aware of how messed up the entertainment biz's creative process is, movies and TV shows are collaborative efforts. You know, "collaborative"; everybody has their hands on the script. Dialog might be edited during rehearsal and then again between takes during the actual taping. Actors' improvisations are sometimes preserved in the final edit. So we in TV Land often don't know who, on the list of credits, came up with what; even the writers probably forget.

This has a tendency to ruin things. I visited the set of Wizards of Waverly Place a few months ago and watched as whole jokes were discarded based on the studio audience's reaction. Often they were very funny jokes. Sometimes the subtlest jokes were keyed up until the audience began to respond more audibly. I witnessed first-hand this travesty taking place! Afterward we all sang Happy Birthday to David DeLuise and shared a big birthday cake, and Selena Gomez blessed hundreds of screaming girls, and my kids and I walked out to the parking lot, and all was well again.

Alec Sulkin has the privilege of working for a relatively great show with standards, but no matter where a writer ends up in Hollywood, his writing feeds into the entertainment biz sausage grinder. So when Sulkin lets loose on Twitter, it's 100% him and almost 100% genius.

First of all, he's a master of doubleness--or as comedy theorists call it, verbal equivocation. Even his handle, "The Sulk," plays on double meaning. He writes, "A Lazy-Boy chair can hurt your back, if it's so inclined." Ha ha ha. That's the kind of stuff my uncle says. How about this one, posted more recently: "Thought about walking up a hill without a watch but had neither the time nor the inclination." Wow. This cornball line has been retweeted 813 and favorites 608 times. Or how about, "'Obi Wan? More like Obi Lost.' (Stormtrooper Zinger)" Almost Mel Brooks there.

Like many great comedians, Sulkin plays up his Mel Brooksishness: "I'm a Jew genetically, emotionally and nose-aly"; and, "I'm already the kind of Jew who comes out of the men's room still buckling his belt." Like Woody Allen, he is quintessentially self-deprecating, sometimes charmingly--"The only thing I ever say to myself in the mirror is a whispered, 'What the fuck?'"--sometimes lethally: "By the way, the sulk hates the fact that he exists."

Twitter gives Sulkin another opportunity television doesn't, to aggressively cross lines of propriety: "Every time my Dad blows his nose, I kinda get why there was a holocaust." And, "Leno's first monologue back was more hideous than an on fire businessman plummeting from the North Tower." Approaching Sacha Baron Cohen levels there. But most notoriously, Sulkin's tweet comparing the Tōhoku earthquake's death toll to Pearl Harbor's caused furor and resulted in apology and removal.

Twitter allows Sulkin to show his comic range, one might even say mastery. He's a five tool player.

  • Parody: "'I've got 99 problems and I'm not dealing with any of them.' (Lay-Z)"

  • Verbal deftness: "Life is just an 'f' in lie"
  • Surprise: "If each day's a gift today was socks."
  • Self-awareness: "I listen to the first 30 seconds of an accidental pocket dial like I'm in an FBI van."
  • And maybe even a bit of René Magritte style surrealism that verges on beauty: "Still hope to be part of a wordless briefcase exchange someday." This is not just comedy, not just beauty, but the most important literary element--melancholy. Alec Sulkin's work allows the riptide of doubt and sadness to undermine his jokes in such a powerful way that they become human.

    Finally, this dude keeps a really clean feed. No chatter, no links, just a handful of gentlemanly #FFs. Follow him @thesulk.

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