Jim Capie knew he wanted to be a stand up comedian when he was five years old. What happened at such a young age? He saw the special, Bill Cosby, Himself. After that, the seed was planted.
In 5th grade, Jim wrote his first joke. He admits it “wasn’t even remotely funny.” But he knew he was on to something, because the structure was right; set up, punchline.
With high school out of the way, he started his career at age 18. He gave Los Angeles a shot, then returned to his native New York.
The pivotal moment in his career happened when he was accepted to perform in a comedy festival. He won’t name it, because throwing people under the bus isn’t his style, but he drove four house to be told, “Your slot is two minutes long.”
Jim knew something had to change, and decided to get himself out there. Using the power of social media, he founded the Stand Up Shots Twitter feed, a vehicle used to give unknown comedians direct access to comedy fans. At 20,000 followers (as of this writing) and growing, he’s Jim is making a difference. And we unknown comics appreciate him for it.
Rooftop contributor Nathan Timmel got into Jim’s head for the following interview.
NT: What do you look for when posting something? Brevity, originality… Do you search out specific jokes to publish, or do you yank the really popular ones from Reddit or imgur?
JC: After doing stand up for a while you start to understand what makes a “good joke”. Some of it is technical, you don’t want a set up that’s too long or an idea that has been done before. Some of it is intangible though. It’s not necessarily what makes me laugh. There’s this thing that comedians do, where they hear a great joke and they don’t laugh or even chuckle. They hear it and quietly say to themselves, “Hmm. Yeah.. that’s an outstanding joke.” Generally, that’s what I look for.
NT: Sort of hand-in-hand with the last question, do you notice a difference in popularity between longer vs. shorter jokes, or do your fans seem to simply re-Tweet whatever they find funny?
JC: I assumed, in the beginning, that people would not respond as well to longer jokes. I figured one liners and simple “set up, punch” jokes would do better, but I think I was just projecting my own laziness and unwillingness to read anything longer than 3 sentences. I found out that people respond just as well to longer jokes.
NT: In turn, bouncing off the last question: do you notice a difference between unknown comics vs. celebrity comics when you post them? I’m talking numbers; do your followers tend to like celebrity posts more, or are they fully behind anything funny, even if they don’t know the source?
JC: They respond better to famous comedians’ jokes, but only slightly. A Louis CK joke is almost guaranteed to do really well, but there have been many jokes by unknown comedians that get huge numbers.
NT: Was the Twitter account founded due to a love of comedy, or are you comedians… and on that note is it a group effort, or a one-man(woman) show, comedians who love comedy and believe a rising tide lifts all boats, all of the above, none of the above…
JC: The account is run by one unknown comic based out of New York. I started the account hoping to get exposure that I wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. But I felt I had a pretty important responsibility. I could very easily abuse this “power” by using famous comedians’ jokes to make a very popular twitter account and post my jokes to get exposure. So, from the very beginning, my plan was to make this account help other unknowns as well. Post (roughly) as many jokes from famous comedians as unknown comedians. And only put my own jokes as often as any other unknown. If I am doing my job right, you would never be able to look through the Twitter feed and figure out which comic runs the account. I have gotten a lot of “thank you’s” from comics over this past 6 months and it really is a nice feeling.
NT: Have you ever pulled a joke that wasn’t doing very well where you found it, but you liked it, and found that it was successful on your platform? By that, I mean that I notice differences across many platforms. Sometimes I’ll post something on Reddit, and it begins getting trashed and downvoted and called stupid. Then I’ll put the same joke on Tumblr, and it will get reblogged thousands of times. And then vice-versa: a joke that succeeds on Reddit will tank on Tumblr or imgur…
JC: There is definitely a big difference in how a Twitter audience will respond to a joke compared to the Reddit audience. I know I’ll make some enemies here, but Reddit frustrates me. Reddit has a very entitled audience, they feel that because they are “comedy nerds” they can give you all kinds of advice on how to make a joke better. Also, I don’t like the idea of “downvoting”. In stand up you know how well a joke is doing if the audience A: Laughs or B: Doesn’t laugh. The audience (usually!) doesn’t start shouting advice or booing if a joke isn’t great. With Twitter, the audience A: Favorites or B: Doesn’t Favorite. There is much less complaining on Twitter.
NT: Your willingness to post those who are unknown is nothing short of fantastic. Very few unknown comedians have access to 20,000 followers. There are usually so many blockades in place with comedy—you have to have an agent, know the right people—the industry isn’t interested in discovering new, but you are. Was that a goal going in to setting up the account? Giving the unknown a voice?
JC: I really think the entire entertainment industry is changing rapidly as a result of social media and the internet. Managers, agents, production companies, etc. exist(ed) because they brought the artist to the audience, that was their job. But when one guy is in charge of deciding who is or is not talented, you get politics and injustice (I know that sounds melodramatic but it’s true). Now that people can grow an audience online and speak to them directly, it is the audience who decides who’s talented or not. Add that to the fact that stand up has always been closer to a meritocracy than most other art forms, and you get hundreds of comics with more opportunities than ever before. My hope is that this account gives unknown comedians their own audience in the form of followers. From there, they can do with those followers what they please. Start their own comedy night in a local bar (except now people will actually show up), sell their first comedy album, post videos of their stand up, whatever.
NT: Do you have a pattern to Tweeting, such as “One every hour,” or “One Tweet every three hours,” five a day, etc.?
JC: Yes, I have a rough schedule to when I Tweet, but it has changed over time. There’s two reasons for this, I noticed that if you tweet too often people are less likely to Retweet. I guess people don’t want their entire timelines filled with just jokes.
And the other reason is that it is just exhausting. I grow the account by following 1000 people a day and then unfollowing the 850 (or so) people who did not follow back. Then, finding the jokes and posting them. Many (if not, most) of the jokes from famous comedians were transcribed by me personally. And then there is my own comedy to work on and my day job (yeah, I still have one of those), so often times my schedule is simply whenever I feel like it.