@Fartist Profile: Jon Hendren talks Twitter performance art and making a career out of absurdity
The first time I saw that specific permutation of symbols — “@fart” — was on a Headline News Network chyron. Someone had sent me a link to what he claimed was “the funniest shit I’ve ever seen.” Sure enough, it was; this stunt was peak performance art in the age of social media, a brilliantly stupid and stupidly brilliant confluence of the 24-hour news cycle and pure absurdism. The man behind it all is more tastefully known as Jon Hendren, a Bay Area-based web developer specializing in a fairly new field called DevOps. But that “@fart” handle proved too intriguing for me. Relatively naive to Twitter, I took a deep dive into Hendren’s hilarious, wonderful profile and everything that came with it — the infamous shoe roast is another golden moment — and thus, I was converted: I was now a Weird Twitter devotee. I managed to get ahold of Hendren and ask him a bit about his craft — he’s a personal hero of mine, so having him respond was quite the thrill.
What's a bit of your background, and how did you get into "Weird Twitter"?
I'm just some dude. I'm not particularly interesting or well-educated, but I've got a background in writing for websites and sometimes mobile games. Now I do marketing. Interestingly enough, the guys who hired me did so in part because when you google me, one of the first results is an article where I talk about how much I hate marketing.
"Weird Twitter" is primarily made up of people who came over from SomethingAwful around 2008-2010. There are a handful of reasons people made the leap, but I think the big one was that Twitter was just easier to use on smartphones at that period, and most of us had jobs so it was just a better place to post our dumb things. Then along came style-biters with cartoon avatars and names like Random McBaconspoon and now I hate Twitter.
So how did you come up with your Twitter handle (which is an all-time great)?
Honestly, I just typed it in and it worked. I never really planned to "use" Twitter for anything, so I was goofing off, and it said the name was available and I jumped on it.
In your own words, what characterizes the specific "Weird Twitter" sense of humor?
A lot of it I think has its root in some of the old SomethingAwful stuff. If you go back and read some of the front page and the FYAD (Fuck You And Die) subforum from like 2000-2010 you'll probably notice a lot of the same themes and tone. A lot of it hasn't held up over time, but some of it is really good still. Lots of diapers, if you're into diapers.
The first time I read about you was the HLN Edward Scissorhands stunt, which, for the record, is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Can you give a little background behind that — how it happened, the logistics, what you think was the point of it, etc.?
I still don't know how it happened. I got a pretty short email the day before from a producer or someone with just a couple lines like, "Hey, want to come on via Skype and talk about Edward Snowden joining Twitter?" and I immediately replied "yes" before even fully thinking it through. I think there was also a bit in there suggesting I might be having a back-and-forth with someone who was anti-Snowden, so I was mentally preparing myself for that. But I didn't really have a plan at all because I didn't know the structure of it for sure, I just thought it'd be funny to make it sound like I was there to talk about Edward Scissorhands. I figured they'd hang up on me as soon as I said something weird, but they didn't and it kept going for like 2 minutes. I asked my friend Jesse Farrar to record it in case it ended up being funny, and as soon as the thing ended I was convinced it was going to be bad. I asked how bad it turned out and he said, "No dude, this is really good." Then I went to work and opened my laptop and there were trending topics about it and whatever else. Really weird day.
Has that whole episode changed anything for you?
Every couple months someone recognizes me somewhere, which is basically horrifying because I'm usually doing something dumb or dressed like shit.
How do you come up with tweets? Does it come easily to you?
I don't know, ideas just sort of happen as I go about my business. I don't really work on them unless I have to get the wording into shape. Some guys really enjoy workshopping their tweets and posting revisions to see how they perform and whatnot. That's not for me. I just have to get a funny idea out before I stop thinking it's funny and before I bother anyone I know in real life with it.
Do you think Twitter is legitimately an art form?
I think it is if you treat it a certain way. Like, if you want to convey an idea or a concept or get some sort of result or reaction in just this small space, I think that and (a bunch of other uses) are legitimate art. But at the same time, you also will come across folks who are just re-engineering worn-out concepts and line-break tweets in a desperate bid to get the favs and RTs. That part is sad and not artistic.
Given that, what are some of your favorite Twitter accounts?
I love @dogboner, @dril, @degg, @bronzehammer, and all my other wonderful boys.
Can you speak a little bit about DevOps and your involvement in it?
Without getting too far into the weeds, DevOps is a methodology software developers and IT admins can use to create their software better and faster. It is a good thing, but incredibly boring and irrelevant to 99.99% of people. (Like me)
The software my company makes deals with a lot of what makes DevOps hard for people, so I have to think about it a lot. What we make is actually useful for people interested in DevOps, but it's practically impossible for anyone to cut through the sea of buzzwords and self-appointed "Thought Leaders'" meaningless blog posts, so I figured I should just tell everyone I'm one of those thought leaders now, and also the best one. And it worked. I'm the best one now. Smartest, most handsome, highest libido. Most of the "real" thought leaders hate me for it, which is how I know it's good. I don't really mention the company on my Twitter account or tie it back in, I mainly just enjoy making self-righteous people mad.
So is DevOps work a career path that sprung out of your Twitter usage?
Yup, it's absolutely something I never would have learned anything about otherwise. I'm extremely lazy.
Because of the election, a certain subset of Weird Twitter has become identified with the Chapo/"Dirtbag Left" crowd. Do you think there's a political utility to Weird Twitter? And if so, is it worthwhile?
Yeah, and it is worthwhile. I think people in that Dirtbag Left community are usually seen as outspoken and even credible(!) on matters of politics. From what I've seen they typically don't roast someone unless they can back it up. They criticize a wide range of things and people, but do it eloquently and lay out their arguments pretty well. It gives them a certain type of credibility that's in short supply lately. Of course, this will all come back to bite me as soon as we find out one of them is a serial killer or something.
But like, if the world's most popular celebrity tweets, "Hey, mango-flavored chapstick is great, maybe get some next time you're at the gas station," I'll think, "hey fuck you pal, mind your business," but if Larry Website says to join the Democratic Socialists of America and yourself get involved in politics, well shit, I will join the DSA (and I have, along with thousands of other people). I think there's a huge amount of potential in people like that so long as they keep pushing into the mainstream and don't just peak with a successful podcast.
That said, I don't know any of the Dirtbag Left people on a personal level, but they seem to be doing something good at an important point in time, so I like 'em and think they're good.
This might still be a sore spot, but want to talk about the infamous shoe roast at all—what the whole deal was, were you actually pissed, etc.? Another one of my favorite Twitter moments.
Nah, it was cool. Greg and Dave and used to work together at a weird startup where we had way too much time on our hands, and we roasted each other constantly. That particular day I was fairly busy and didn't see a lot of it until later. I deserved it though, the shoes were bad. I dropped them off at a thrift store I lived near at the time, which then closed a few months later. Totally unrelated probably I hope.
So what do you see as the future of this subculture?
We're moving the whole thing into VR as soon as Big Toilet Simulator 2018 is released. DLC will let you choose from 4 different pee stream colors.