On May 14, 2014, Boston resident and Twitter user Chris Scott sent out the following tweet to his 1,000 followers…
“Oh hi Becky who refused to kiss me during spin the bottle in 6th grade & now wants to play FarmVille, looks like tables have fucking turned.”
With those 139 characters, Scott would unwittingly become a Twitter celebrity. After comedian Mary Charlene retweeted Scott’s Becky joke to her 160,000 followers a month later, the initial tweet went viral. Some 23,000 retweets and 33,000 favorites later, Chris Scott has been plagiarized by hundreds of fellow Twitter users and was even accused of stealing the joke by Jordan Carlos, one of the stars of MTV2’s Guy Code — an accusation that was later rescinded when Carlos failed to find any evidence that he had used the line on the show.
My initial reaction was one of bewilderment. It still is. When it started going viral, the tweet was already a month old, and I had pretty much forgotten about it. In fact, I had next to no recollection of even writing it. But to be honest, it was exciting to see it go crazy like that. I told a couple friends it was happening and then others quickly found out. Some of my friends are big fans of an actor on the Mindy Kaling Project (which I admittedly haven’t seen) named Ike Barinholtz. And when he retweeted it, word got around fast. Outside of that, I carried on as usual.
How has your life changed since your Becky tweet went viral? Has it changed?
It’d be a stretch to say my life has changed because of this. I’ll say that it’s been a very fun and interesting experience, and some really cool things have happened because of it. Occasionally now, especially since the Business Insider piece came out, I hear from people I haven’t talked to in years who saw the tweet on this website or that. It gives us a chance to reconnect and catch up on our lives. And their very kind words of encouragement make me realize I’ve had more people rooting for me from afar than I realized. And that’s a great feeling. And all of this happened at a time in my life when I’ve decided to take my writing more seriously, so to the extent that it gives me a marginally larger platform to put sketches and pieces out there for feedback, that’s definitely a positive thing, and something I’m really grateful for. If it took a silly tweet to make that happen, then that’s fine.
How does it feel to be called a “regular guy” by Business Insider? Their intentions may have been good, but that’s not really a glowing compliment, is it?
It feels totally fine. In this context, I believe it basically means “not a professional comedian” or “not a high-profile name.” Once in a while I’ll do a Twitter search of that Business Insider link, just to see how people are responding to it. And about every fourth one attaches commentary like “random dude” or “regular guy” which is kind of hilarious to see over and over again. It’s like, I get it guys. I get it.
In light of your internet celebrity, do you now feel any additional pressure to impress your new followers?
I did for a second, but quickly shook it off. Twitter for me is a very light, stress-free thing. I’ll see or think of something that makes me laugh, and then tweet it. And that’s all. If it ever gets to a place where I feel a need to make each joke funnier than the last, that would turn Twitter into something of a chore, and that’s not what I’m looking for.
That being said, if I feel any pressure now, it’s to be more mindful about what I write and how it can be interpreted in unanticipated ways. When I wrote the Becky tweet, it was for a fairly limited audience, most of whom understood by that point that a lot of my tweets were not intended to be an honest extension of my true self. It never occurred to me that one of my tweets, let alone this one, would be sucked into a great viral vacuum and seen by hundreds of thousands of people, and, in the process, stripped of that context. Because if you take the tweet at face value, it actually has an air of hostility towards women. I didn’t really understand that until someone posted a screengrab of the tweet on Imgur. When I scanned the comments, right off the bat I was confronted with some misogynistic and ugly stuff. Along the lines of “Yeah, fuck her” and “Becky sounds like a bitch”, etc. Seeing my words attached to those sentiments made me recoil. And the idea that something I’d written — a dumb joke riffing on a fragile, petty male psyche — would then ironically become a vehicle for men to unload their actual sexist, regressive bullshit ideas made my soul sick.
And almost simultaneously, I started picking up some criticism in tweets and comments that the joke’s popularity felt a bit like everyone cheering on some guy for seeking revenge on a woman for daring to deny him a kiss. As a feminist, that’s tough feedback to hear. So my immediate instinct was to reply to all of these comments “No no no, you don’t understand, I’m on your side, the butt of the joke is this doofus guy and his absurd and inconsequential idea of comeuppance.” But then I kinda stopped, thought about it, checked myself, and it was like a) the world certainly doesn’t need more men running around the internet telling women they’re wrong and b) in any case, you can never be “right” or “wrong” about the way you react to a joke, or a piece of fiction, or a work of art. You can only be honest or not. The vast majority of reactions to the tweet were either positive or indifferent. But it felt important to kind of digest these very honest perspectives, too, and determine the extent to which that would inform the way I conducted myself on Twitter and what I find funny and why.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I enjoy the freedom it affords to create characters and worlds and situations that aren’t bound by logic or physics. It’s incredibly liberating and challenging at the same time, to explore a premise and its many uncomfortable or outlandish implications free of limits outside of what I want to write, and how I want to write it. It took me a long time to unlock and truly appreciate that fundamental premise of creative writing and discover what’s so exciting about it. But once I did I understood how invigorating and fun it could be.
How is social media Chris Scott different from real world Chris Scott?
The two are probably pretty similar. On social media, I like to make people laugh, I like to talk about novels and movies and music I really love, and share that. In real life, that’s more or less the same. It doesn’t mean that everything I post on social media is intended to be in my actual voice, but the worldview and overall schema connecting it all is the same thing.
What was the inspiration behind your Dear Abby Poems site, on which you deconstruct Dear Abby columns and reimagine them as poetry?
I’ve always really enjoyed advice columns. I think it has something to do with the allure of getting to know something intimate or dark or private about a stranger, and then drawing some connections about how that does or doesn’t apply to your life. With social media now, we take that for granted. It’s share, share, share, share, share every little thing. But I remember reading Dear Abby columns when I was young and being so intrigued by these people’s stories, and the forum she provided for readers to contemplate and wrestle with them.
I moved from DC to Boston a couple years ago and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. I decided I needed some kind of exercise to keep my mind sharp, and one morning I was reading a Dear Abby column, and there was a phrase in it — I can’t remember what — that jumped out at me. I started rearranging other phrases in the column and tried to make a poem out of it. Then I started doing that every morning. I made ground rules for myself to keep it challenging (for instance, I had to use at least 3 words in a line, and I had to pull from each reader question and Abby’s response at least once, etc.) What was fun about it was that I’d never know how the poem was going to end up when I started — if it was going to be funny, dark, dramatic, romantic. And the way certain phrases combined with one another could be incoherent and odd in a way that I understood people to be incoherent and odd, and that rang true to me, and it also forced me to expand how I thought about different perspectives and how what we perceive and observe rarely scans cleanly. And I saw that reflected in what I was creating, which was very much in the spirit of found art. Taking something, turning it into something completely different. Then when I was happy with how the poems were turning out, I started a Tumblr to share them with others.
What do you enjoy most about living in Boston?
I enjoy being so close to the ocean and, more generally, I just love living in a city I find to be really beautiful. I grew up in a small town in rural Central Illinois. I’m really proud of where I’m from and feel nothing but deep respect for the people I knew there and how they informed who I am and what my values are — my family, friends, teachers, Lutheran congregation, and so on. But I did understand early on that when I was old enough I wanted to explore America and see what else was out there, and that maybe Illinois wasn’t quite right for me. So after college I moved to DC and fell in love with it. And now I’m in Boston and I love it here, too. I can wake up in the morning and step outside my apartment and see amazing things and beautiful buildings and bike to the ocean and watch sailboats and all that. Or discover a park I’ve never seen before. And the world feels very open to me and I feel lucky every day that I get to live here and experience this. It’s what I dreamt about when I was a kid.
What upcoming movie are you most looking forward to?
It’s a movie that doesn’t exist and might never exist, but the movie I’m most looking forward to is whatever Kenneth Lonergan makes next, should he ever decide to write and direct another movie. His first two films You Can Count on Me and Margaret made a huge impression on me and the way I think about characters and dialogue and life and how we relate to one another. I learned so much from those two films. My understanding is that making Margaret was such a mess that he might never bother making a third movie, which would be an enormous loss for everybody.
The 9-year-old in me is most looking forward to the next Jurassic Park sequel, Jurassic World. If it sucks, I’ll be incredibly disappointed.
What’s the best piece of clothing you own?
I bought a shirt at H&M a few weeks ago I’m really fond of. H&M and Zara are about the only stores that sell clothes that fit me. I’m pretty slender and many shirts are too big.
In the movie version of your life, what song plays during the closing credits?
J Dilla, “Shouts (Alt)”. I didn’t get into J Dilla until after he passed away, and the first time I listened to Ruff Draft I just loved it, thought it was really wonderful. So some years ago I’m listening to it in my apartment in DC and this last song comes on and I can’t really put into words how it made me feel, except to say that I still get chills whenever I hear it. Because it really does sound like someone given an opportunity to speak from the beyond, and he chooses to use that space to shout out and thank his friends and peers and influences. In my mind, that’s what’s happening when I hear this. That’s what I picture. And there’s just something so moving and kind and generous about that idea. So maybe my closing credits isn’t this song precisely, but it would be in this spirit. No pretense or poetry, just a list of the people who helped make me what I am, and who were there for me when I needed them.