Badbanana unpeeled: Meet the funniest guy on Twitter
Tim was supposed to describe himself somehow, who he is, what he does, and he realized … he just wasn’t sure anymore.
Quasi-anonymous internet celebrity?
For 20 years, the answer would have been clear. Tim’s an ad man. At 41, he’s worked as a writer and creative director, and he helped found his own agency — Fuse Industries in Lincoln.
But that wasn’t why the Huffington Post was calling. Tim’s claim to fame, the thing that’s changed his life and sent his career in confusing new directions, is Twitter. (Of all things — Twitter.)
Tim Siedell is the most followed person in Nebraska on Twitter. The Lincoln native is one of the most-followed people in the world on Twitter.
More than 400,000 people have signed up to get short messages — almost always jokes — from Tim a few times a day.
What do you call yourself when you’re famous for writing jokes in 140 characters or less? And only famous in certain circles? Most of the people Tim meets have no idea that he’s the infamous “badbanana.” In fact, most of the people he meets don’t really understand what Twitter is.
“Don’t be offended if I kick your butt and don’t take names. I’m horrible with names.”
You don’t have to appreciate Twitter to appreciate Tim’s jokes. (You don’t even have to go online. Some of his best tweets have been compiled in a book, “Marching Bands are Just Homeless Orchestras.”) Each one of his tweets is a perfectly contained little universe of funny.
“By the third time he’s sent out to pick up a pile of clothes in an alley, I bet Clark Kent’s intern is totally weirded out.”
“He’s exceedingly hilarious,” said Mark Carpenter, a longtime friend and former colleague, now a partner at Skar Advertising in Omaha. “I always suspected that advertising would be too small a stage for his talents.”
Tim had wondered himself whether he wanted to spend the rest of his working years in advertising. He wanted to do more writing, but he wasn’t sure how to make that happen. He certainly wasn’t trying to make it happen on Twitter.
Signing up for Twitter was practically an accident.
In March 2007, Tim’s wife and daughters went away for the weekend, and he had a list of things he was going to do while they were gone (mostly to avoid working on the house). First, he was going to start a blog. And second, he was going to check out Twitter. He’d read about the year-old social-networking site and was curious.
At first, he wasn’t sure what to make of it. “It looked crude,” he said. “It was weird.”
He didn’t want his actual identity associated with the site — “I was just kind of nervous” — so he used a photo of advertising great David Ogilvy. He pulled the profile name “badbanana” out of his idea notebook, a Moleskine he carries with him for loose ideas and doodles. (The original Bad Banana was a sketch of a frowny-faced banana.)
“My original idea was that I was going to check it (Twitter) out for a few weeks and then not do it.”
But after a few weeks, Twitter started to grow on him. He liked the simplicity. He liked seeing what people were talking about. He saw how people seemed to follow his tweets to his blog and vice versa … He thought he might be able to use Twitter as a networking tool.
The jokes — the classic badbanana stuff — started out as asides.
There’s a water cooler quality to Twitter. Tim found himself tossing out quips online that he would normally say to people in the break room at work.
He wasn’t trying to style himself as the world’s first Twitter comedian, but his jokes — jokes that people might roll their eyes at in the real world — killed on Twitter.
He started to get a reputation on the site. People would share his jokes with their own followers or tweet about how funny he was, which attracted even more badbanana followers.
All the attention changed the nature of Tim’s tweets. These weren’t friends or fellow ad types following him. They were complete strangers.
“Everyone follows me because they’ve heard I’m funny, and they want the funny.”
So that’s what Tim decided to give them. Punchlines. Perfect one- or two-liners.
His jokes work so well on Twitter in part because Tim so completely understands the format. There’s no time in 140 characters for story telling or a slow build; this isn’t a Bob Newhart sketch. You’ve got to get in and get out.
“Another disgusting breakfast of steak and eggs. Does the raw food diet ever get easier?”
Many of his jokes play with the nature of Twitter, the “what I’m doing now” tone of most tweets.
“There must be a trick to fighting fire with fire because my kitchen just pretty much has twice as much fire now.”
He sticks to topics that most people are familiar with — food, childhood, monster movies, George Clooney — and he stays away from Twitter inside jokes or abbreviations. He also keeps it clean. Badbanana tweets are occasionally twisted, but you can repeat them out loud without giving your kids earmuffs.
All of these qualities give Tim’s tweets an almost old-fashioned vibe. The first time I read his Twitter page, it reminded me of a really good Johnny Carson monologue. Just one solid joke after another.
On the day of Tim’s 10,000th tweet, about two years ago, he had 5,000 followers. (Need some context for that number? I have 144 followers. Dave Barry has 6,529. Steve Martin has 363,701.)
That was enough to make strange things begin to happen. In 2009, Tim made it onto a number of “Best of Twitter” and “Funniest on Twitter” lists. He was invited to do some commentary on public radio and in “The Huffington Post.” Literary agents started calling … Hollywood started calling …
And more and more people signed up for his tweets. At one point, Tim was getting 5,000 new followers a day.
As Tim’s tweeting was taking off, he and his partner at Fuse Industries were deciding to branch out. They both want more time for non-advertising interests. For Tim, that definitely means writing, but he’s still struggling what that first question …
What will he do with all the opportunities ahead of him? Which will pan out? And who is he, anyway?
Tim Siedell, screenwriter?
I guess we’ll just have to keep following badbanana to find out.
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