Whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly engaging in performance in our daily lives. While some aspects of our lives may seem banal, when we communicate with others or present ourselves to others we are engaging an audience. This is just as true in the digital world, that is, we constantly engage in performance when we communicate and present ourselves on a social networking site.
Hugo Lui suggests that one of the ways in which we perform on social media is through expressing one or more different “taste statements.” Lui’s four taste statements are prestige, differentiation, authentic and theatrical. A statement of prestige is dependent upon your audience, meaning prestige are “coherent” statements aimed to symbiotically please your audience and illustrate your likeminded tastes. Differentiation taste statements, on the other hand, are intended to explicate a fundamental difference between you and your audience. Authenticity taste statements are an honest appeal to your audience, a statement that is real without seeming contrived. Finally, a theatrical performance is, as it suggests, a performance that is not to be taken seriously, a sort of spectacle.
In the age of Twitter, celebrities have made themselves accessible to their fans in an entirely new way, giving new meaning to the theatrical taste statement. This idea is most prominent among comedians, and raises the question of whether a theatrical performance is an authentic taste statement for a well-known comedian with a large Twitter audience? Moreover, and more generally, how does a comedian perform in the social space?
To answer these questions I looked to Louis C.K. C.K. is one of my favorite comedic performers, and while he does not tweet as regularly as other performers, he has tweeted nearly 1,000 times and has just under 2 million followers. If you aren’t familiar with C.K. or his body of work, he is a self-deprecating comedian and a gifted writer, with credits in both television and film (yeah, you read that correctly, I said gifted and linked Pootie Tang in the same sentance).
Like all of us, C.K. performs to his social media audience by choosing a profile picture, a profile statement and, of course, the tweets themselves. Thus, to answer the questions I posed I decided to borrow a page from Zizi Papacharissi’s “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performance of Self on Twitter” and conducted a brief content analysis on C.K.’s profile.
As a disclaimer, this is a subjective analysis, and while I did use elements of the scientific method, I make no claims that my analysis of C.K. is absolute.
As I said, C.K. has tweeted just under 1,000 times, and that would be entirely too many tweets to read and analyze. So for the purpose of this “study”(I use that word for the lack of a better term) I assigned all of C.K.’s 2012 tweets a random number, and then selected 10 tweets as my sample from a random number generator. To form my conclusions I used those 10 tweets, C.K.’s profile picture, and his profile headline.
C.K.’s profile picture is an authentic representation of him. He doesn’t seem to be performing any kind of spectacle in the picture. But you could argue that C.K.’s appearance is part of his spectacle. Meaning he looks exactly as you would expect real-life Louis C.K. to look like. Yes it is authentic in terms of the fact that the digital and physical world images mirror each other. However, are we to assume that C.K.’s authentic-self is what he performs on stage as a comedian? This analysis couldn’t begin to answer that question, but is still interesting to consider.
Authenticity is also portrayed in his profile headline, “I am a comedian and a person and a guy who is sitting here.” This statement seems dull and simple, but C.K.’s tone and style of the headline is consistent with his comedic style. Thus his audience will understand it as an authentic representation of him. Alice E. Marwick and Danah Boyd state that users with large audiences, like C.K., are able to conceptualize and appeal to an imagined audience. Meaning that the profile statement may seem dry, C.K.’s imagined audience will get the joke.
The tweets I sampled primarily display authentic taste statements as C.K.’s most typical performances, but also present theatrical taste statements. The breakdown of the 10 tweets is as follows: three tweets can be interpreted only as authentic taste statements, three tweets only as theatrical statements, two are prestige statements, one tweet that could be interpreted as prestige or authentic, and one tweet could be a statement of authenticity or theatrical. Thus the probability that C.K. will tweet authentically is 50%, 40% chance for theatrical, and a 30% chance C.K. will tweet with a statement of prestige. Again, I am not claiming this to be concrete science, however it does illustrate the milieu for C.K.’s Twitter persona.
C.K. made a theatrical taste statement in the most recent tweet with in the sample below. I will let Louis do the talking in this instance, but while his use of language is consistent with his stage personality, which could be considered authentic, he is likely imagining his audience laughing at his use outrageous use of language. This is a social cue that his audience will recognize. That said, C.K. is effectively implementing a strategy to encourage his audience to follow the link and perhaps purchase and download the show he is promoting.
C.K. made a prestige taste statement on May 3rd when he tweeted Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s critically acclaimed program Girls, expressing his enthusiasm for the show and revealing who he associates with in his network. “Hey, @lenadunham, your show is really really good and funny and unique and other things. So keep going. Please.”
C.K. spoke to the audience as himself when he tweeted “Hey I think live at the beacon (the thing I’m in telling jokes during) is airing on Fx in about 7 minutes. So… That…” C.K. is reaching out to his audience with a tone that is consistent with his presentation of self, and is humbly letting them know that he is appearing on TV in an implied demeanor consistent with his on stage persona. This tweet seems like the “real” Louis, without the comedian trying to hard to perform comedy, instead just amusing with a dialogue that seems natural.
I think C.K.’s Twitter profile is an interesting case study because I would argue most comedians are always envisioning an audience eager for jokes. However, it seems C.K. gives his audience performances that are consistent with his physical world persona. That is, he tweets honestly. We cannot say for certain what Louis C.K. is like in an interpersonal context, however it seems his physical and digital personas are very similar. C.K. thinks about his intended audience, and his content and offers taste statements that are authentic, theatrical and prestigious.