Jonny Sun

Jonny Sun in his hotel room in New York. Photographed by Victoria Will.

"i like my womans like i like my cofee: very very mysterious. (leans back, sips cofee) is this even cofee"- 3 Dec 2013

So goes a typical tweet from "Jomny Sun," Twitter's most beloved, spelling-challenged alien. His delightfully absurd, occasionally profound musings have attracted nearly half a million followers and offer a refreshing respite from the solipsistic chatter and angry rhetoric that can dominate the Twitterverse.

Jomny is the brainchild of Jonny Sun, a PhD Student in Urban Studies at MIT who is every bit as funny and charming as his extraterrestrial alter ego. The Caret caught up with Sun, currently on tour for his new book,"Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Alienb Too," to talk about Twitter, his extensive streaming list and binge-watching "The O.C."

Hi Jonny! "Jomny" is such an utterly original character. How did you come up with him? Does he have a back story?

I don’t know how much of it was a conscious decision as opposed to a slow and subconscious development of some sort of identity, having spent so much time importing parts of myself onto Twitter. I consider Jomny to be an ego more than an alter ego! I still see @jonnysun as a personal account.

For the book, I thought more about how Jomny would actually exist as a separate character, but the Jomny on Twitter is just me. Book-Jomny comes from a species but not a family, and doesn’t know what hobbies are since I imagine that Jomny’s species would consider fun to be a waste of useful time. (Although, his favorite sites would be Neopets and Club Penguin in their prime probably!)

Why Twitter?

Twitter was simply the place that I loved coming to, and where I had found all these interesting, unique, strange people and voices and accounts. It was the only place that I felt was doing interesting stuff in a way that I could access directly, and in a way I understood and was comfortable with.

So much of what appeals to me about humor is its communal nature, so it’s always only made sense to me to make humor in places where I can be in conversation and dialogue with people who make me laugh and who I look up to. So, it wasn’t really a conscious choice—I just found myself spending a lot of time on Twitter because I loved the people there, and so I naturally started writing there as well.

How do you explain his/your popularity?

I think if you spend enough time in any place, you learn how people communicate with each other and tell stories to each other and you learn how to be able to connect with people in the way that is important to the people in that place. I think the way I’ve learned to write on Twitter is in spending enough time on Twitter to be able to think about how to translate ideas and jokes I want to tell into a form that makes sense to the platform and is also unique to the platform.

That said, my comic perspective has always been a little on the positive side, a little bit on the side of the outsider, and a little bit sad, and I’m really happy that that’s translated and made a connection with people. That’s all I want!

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“The teens!!! Believe in the teens!!! And anyone who is using the internet to create because traditional media has not created a space for them to exist!!!”
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Do you ever feel your creativity is trivialized because you work on the internet?

Yes! Because those in power, all the gatekeepers, did not grow up with the understanding of the power of art made online. And with that, general culture follows the gatekeepers; it’s easier for people to trivialize work that they don’t understand than it is to understand it and value it. I think this is all going to change with time. Younger forms of media have always been slandered by older forms.

Who’s making cool, creative stuff online right now?

The teens!!! Believe in the teens!!! And anyone who is using the internet to create because traditional media has not created a space for them to exist!!!

Who are your favorite people to follow on Twitter?

There are FAR too many to name individually. Every person I do follow is essentially a celebrity in my head because I feel like I’m really picky with social media and I really want to be careful about who I see. But everyone is so lovely. I try to follow people who have very different perspectives who I can learn from and who may help me be a better person, in all the different dimensions that “being a better person” entail. I’m just trying to make friends and grow.

What are you streaming these days?

TV: "Master of None," "Silicon Valley," "Broad City," "High Maintenance," "BoJack Horseman," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," "Billy on the Street," "Catastrophe," "The OC" and highlights of all the late night shows and "SNL" that they put onto YouTube. I really want to start "Chewing Gum."

Music: "Coloring Book" (Chance the Rapper), "The Hamilton Instrumentals" (I like freestyling to them), "DAMN." (Kendrick Lamar), "Emotion" (Carly Rae Jepsen), "Melodrama" (Lorde), "Farewell, Starlite!" (Francis and the Lights), "American Teen" (Khalid), "Fin" (Syd), "Undun" (The Roots), "ANTI" (Rihanna), "A Seat at the Table" (Solange), “Awaken, My Love!” (Childish Gambino), "Aviary: Act II" (Eryn Allen Kane), "Telefone" (Noname), "Freetown Sound" (Blood Orange), "Beautiful Loser" (KYLE), "A Good Night in the Ghetto" (Kamaiyah), Anderson .Paak, Janelle Monae’s Metropolis Suite albums, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, "Les Miserables," "The Last Five Years."

Podcasts: "Another Round," "The Writers Panel," "Yo, Is This Racist?," "Comedy Bang Bang," "My Brother, My Brother and Me," "Off Camera," "Code Switch," "WTF with Marc Maron," "Pop Culture Happy Hour," "99% Invisible," "The Indoor Kids," "Baby Geniuses."

What’s your worst digital habit?

Scrolling through Twitter for hours after I decided to go to bed.

What’s your online guilty pleasure?

Binge-watching "The O.C."

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What’s your online guilty pleasure?
"Binge-watching 'The O.C.'"
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Where do you go online when you want to laugh?

Twitter. It has all the funny things and when it doesn’t, it links to all the other places that have the funny things. I used to have these lists of webcomic sites I would go to in high school, but now all my favorite online comics have Twitter accounts.

Also, Twitter is neat because sometimes it collectively decides what’s culturally important to watch and what is interesting and funny, and so you are able to see that as these pieces of communally-decided cultural meaning—that’s essentially what virality is!

To learn?

Twitter. There is a greater range of voices that can be heard because there are fewer people in positions of authority that can silence them. Apart from that, Google Scholar and academic sources, and I also try to go to as many talks and panels on subjects I want to learn about as possible. Learning is also done best by doing, and so I find by making work and doing work, I learn the most.

You're also responsible for the cheerful "Sad Kermit" meme along with the Twitter accounts @tinycarebot and @tinydotblot. Do you identify with the “Wholesome Humor” movement that's happening online right now?

I think I do all this to remind myself that it’s okay to be a little more honest and open with my own emotions and insecurities and anxieties, and so I am really REALLY happy that it’s also helped other people and connected with them as well, and has created this little loose community of people who are all constantly discovering and finding out that it’s okay to just be okay.

I’m not sure if I’m part of the “Wholesome Humor” movement, and I don’t know how to ask. I feel like that is associated with a very strong and contained aesthetic and style, and credit for that movement, like most good things on Twitter, should be given to teens and Black Twitter and LGBTQIA+ Twitter. I’d like to think that my humor could be described as wholesome.

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You recently compared social media platforms to urban landscapes and popular accounts as “landmarks.” Can you elaborate?

Sure! I guess I always consider my own account to be a personal one where I am an individual with a Twitter account, but I understand that people may treat my account more like a TV channel — much like I sometimes treat other interesting voices less like a person and more like a place where I can see what they’ve written.

When you have a bunch of “TV channels” in a networked kind of connected web environment, and they are able to interact with each other, and all sorts of people can visit them, that becomes a kind of media landscape where the accounts that have some sort of popular meaning become the icons and landmarks in being able to navigate this entire landscape of connected accounts and material. They’re like the big markers that one can create a mental map with in order to orient where they are in this sprawling media landscape.

I consider that it might be urban because the social internet is a place where a large number of people are gathering and communicating and interacting, and using a lens which looks at this through metaphors of the city might be helpful.

What do you plan to do after grad school?

I have no idea what I’m doing with my career, at any given point in my life. I have no idea what my career is. I’m worried that thinking in terms of a career would be unnecessarily constraining. I’d rather just leave behind a trail of things I’ve done that I’ve been interested in, that I’ve found a way to do some good work in, and that I had hoped I would be able to find happiness in at the time.

Keep up with Jonny:

t: @jonnysun; @tinydotblot; @tinycarebot
i: @jomnysun