“Nobody should ever listen to anything I say,” says Jon Hendren, a man with 78,000 followers on Twitter under the handle, @fart.
I’m one of those 78,000. For more than a year, I’ve subscribed to Hendren’s tweets. He publishes about five or six a day, along with a dozen or so replies to other users, covering an absurd range of topics. In easy succession, he’ll praise the comedic gall of David Letterman, then mock Apple Pay, then pitch “Chili Lite” as a new food.
He is sincerely ironic, rivetingly trivial and humbly disrespectful.
The first time I saw him in public, it took me a second to remember the face from his stoic online portrait. The man behind this rollicking virtual presence sat quietly on Caltrain, staring out the window and sipping a dark beer. When he glanced at his phone, it felt both important and completely inconsequential.
Offline, Hendren is a tall, but otherwise normal and unassuming human being. He gives no hint of his hyperactivity on social media. He’s the sleepy river above a waterfall.
“His Twitter account makes him seem a bit more manic than he really is in person,” says Hendren’s friend, David Thorpe (@arr). “He’s a combination of low-key and giddy. When he starts giggling, he won’t stop.”
“The stuff that really makes him laugh is little concepts,” adds Hendren’s long-time friend, boss and landlord, Greg Pollock. Pollock is responsible for a wife, two kids and @weedguy420boner, an account followed by 19.6k people.
The jokes that the trio trickle out 140 characters at a time have been tossed under the wide umbrella of “Weird Twitter.” Like anything cool, this online community is now repped by hundreds of people who these three guys find insufferable. Still, it is a concise description. Their comedy parodies all the worst people on the Internet while folding in wonky observations and “little concepts.”
“It’s a pretty accurate representation of my personality,” Hendren says. “In a lot of ways it’s over-the-top, but there is a lot of me in there. Like, I do listen to Taylor Swift every night before bed.”
The tweets have separated these men on the most relevant social media site operating today, which currently boasts 974 million accounts—some of those are inactive, but still.
“Twitter is just a feed of perspectives that updates really quickly, so it’s really apparent what’s boring,” says Pollock. “And sorting out what’s boring quickly, is what results in things becoming weirder, faster.”
And, things have gotten weird. But, Hendren, the most active member of the trio, was always a bit off.
“Jon has the sense of humor of an alien who fell to earth or something,” says Thorpe. “He’s really funny, but in a completely different way than anyone else that I’ve ever met. He’ll get fixated on things that don’t really seem funny, but through force of will he’ll make them funny.”
Hendren started using Twitter back in 2008. He registered as user number “14 million something.”
“I used to carry around a little black book, way back in the day,” Hendren says. “It wasn’t filled with phone numbers. It was filled with half-jokes that I would think up throughout the day, because I would write for SomethingAwful later that week.”
SomethingAwful was an early internet destination with content that smacks of the humor that Clickhole and The Onion now dominate. David Thorpe also contributed with a music column named “Your Band Sucks.”
“Back then, there wasn’t a ton of humor writing on the internet,” Thorpe says. “And, I’m not going to overstate it, but I think there’s no question (SomethingAwful.com) was somewhat influential. It’s also somewhat of its time.”
The site was a meeting ground for writers and readers to joke around. “Your Band Sucks” started as a forum that landed Thorpe a position as a writer. But, times were different.
“People now are used to the Internet being a wellspring of negativity,” he says. “Back then people were more committed to their fandoms in a way that could be riled up easy. But still, to this day, I’m getting emails about an article that I wrote on Tool ten years ago. I’m not kidding.”
Neither Hendren nor Thorpe still work for SomethingAwful, which has broadened in scope as a meeting ground for anyone passionate about almost anything. But, Hendren would eventually shift from using his little black book to putting his half-jokes up on Twitter, one of the first apps to be mobile optimized.
“Stuff like ‘Ass Viper,’ like, it’s funny, but not funny enough to be a full joke,” he says. “So instead of carrying a book around, I would text it to myself on Twitter, and then I could get on my laptop later and look at all this stuff. Kinda like a notebook.”
When Hendren’s formerly private musing became public, he attracted a following. Then, for kicks, he began to test out the capabilities of the still gestating app.
“I think I realized, ‘Oh my god, this is my life now,’ when the Smash mouth egg thing occurred,” he says.
The Smash Mouth egg thing started when Hendren realized he could interact directly with the San Jose native band. Every night, for weeks, he tweeted to the band, asking them to meet him downtown, where he would pay the lead singer $20 to eat a bunch of eggs. The band was not amused, but lots of people were. When Smash Mouth challenged Hendren to reach $10,000, other users began matching Hendren’s offer. The stunt raised $14,000 for St. Jude’s Hospital.
The fundraising gave the band no choice and brought aboard bleached-tipped chef, Guy Fieri, who prepared the eggs as a promotion for the opening of his restaurant. Fieri, famously, hates eggs.
“They ended up eating the eggs,” Hendren says. “Well, most of them. They were kinda jerks. They weren’t in on it. They didn’t get it. They just felt obligated because of all the money for charity.”
Metro reached out to a representative of the band seeking comment on “the Smash Mouth egg thing,” but received no response.
Recognizing the startlingly personal access given by Twitter, Hendren attracted Thorpe to the site.
“Once we found we could use it primarily to goof around, instead of ‘here’s my breakfast,’ that’s when it became interesting to me,” says Thorpe. “Especially when it became part of the cultural conversation, and you could make fun of celebrities and bands to their faces, digitally speaking. I think Jon saw its potential a little earlier than a lot of people did.”
The app provided a welcome distraction when Hendren and Thorpe worked together for a game developing company named Gaia.
“It was sort of a strange job, that towards the end was slowing down quite a bit. So, we ended up with a fair amount of free time to just goof off and be idiots,” says Thorpe. “We would do all these bizarre things. Like, sending Pitbull to Alaska, that was the product of a really bored day at work.”
Thorpe, who was a music writer for the Boston Phoenix at the time, was digging through a press release aggregator that “nobody in the world cared about,” when he came across a promotion between Pitbull and Walmart. Pitbull was sponsoring a caffeinated breath strip and he promised to go to the Walmart location with the most likes on Facebook.
“This was completely exploitable,” Thorpe recalls, “so we started looking for good Walmart stores to send him. I was looking through the locations in Alaska, and when I found the one on this island, Kodiak, I just started laughing. It was so completely remote.”
Thanks in part to Hendren’s viral savvy, the Facebook page of the store blew up. It currently has 37,000 likes. The population of Kodiak is a little over 6,000. Thorpe was even flown up with Pitbull, who he described as “cordial and dapper.”
“Pitbull was cool,” Hendren said. “He was like ‘we’re gonna waste a day on this anyway, might as well do it in Alaska.’ But, the Walmart marketing people were very upset. They referred to us as ‘anti-establishment,’ which if you can get Walmart to call you anti-establishment, that’s pretty good.”
Soon, Thorpe was put in charge of hiring another writer for Gaia’s content staff. Greg Pollock had just gotten his masters in Literature from UC Santa Cruz, and applied for the job. Thorpe liked his resume.
“I put ‘I quit selling weed’ as an accomplishment in college,” Pollock says. “So, when I went in for the interview Dave asked, ‘Can you get us weed?’ And I said, ‘No I quit.’ and he said, ‘Well, fair enough.’ They were really unprofessional and looked hungover.”
“Greg is sorta like the smart adult of the three of us,” Thorpe says. “He’s younger than me, but he’s a family man, a well-educated man. He’s like our dad.”
Hendren, Thorpe and Pollock would all eventually be let go from Gaia for non-Twitter reasons. But, Twitter helped them stay in touch, even as Thorpe moved from San Jose to San Francisco.
“It’s a good way to make fun of friends when you don’t live close together anymore,” says Pollock.
“Jon’s not gonna like this, but a while ago, he got a really dumb pair of shoes,” Thorpe says. “And Greg and I spent three days non-stop roasting him about his stupid shoes. And, that’s probably my favorite thing that happened on Twitter.”
“As soon as he put that picture up, you knew it was going to happen.” Pollock says. “If there was no Twitter, we’d just be sitting in our apartment making fun of his shoes for hours.”
Although they take shots at each other, they’re better at mocking the self-important phonies of the Twitterverse.
“Once you surround yourself with this irony, or whatever you want to call it,” Hendren says, “it becomes very obvious who is doing it for non-genuine reasons, like brands and people who are just being assholes.”
One of Hendren’s most notable clashes was with Buzzfeed. On Christmas day 2012, Hendren retweeted a collection of whines from children who did not receive the Apple product of their dreams. Buzzfeed turned the retweets into an article, without crediting Hendren.
“Retweets are tricky because you can’t really own them,” he says. “But, the curation was the work that I did. I mean, I was just laying around for a couple of hours searching. But, there was an amount of work that was done, and they used it. That’s kinda shitty.”
Matt Stopera, the reporter who wrote the “story,” still works at Buzzfeed, but not before Hendren’s call-out started an investigation into his work. Stopera would end up deleting roughly half his articles for containing plagiarized content.
“I don’t feel like I lost that one,” Hendren says.
Later, he butted heads with Wendy’s, after he mocked an exceptionally wack marketing campaign that had Boyz II Men sing love songs about their pretzel buns. Wendy’s then went to Contently, a website that will write nice things about your brand if you pay them.
“There were two or three paragraphs about how great their pretzels buns are, and then it showed my tweet, like out of the blue, and they called me a notorious brand troll,” Hendren says.
Chafing under the uncool label, Hendren asked Contently if he could respond to the mild slander. He was denied the opportunity because he wouldn’t pay.
But then, a strange wrinkle occurred when Wendy’s social media manager tweeted about having a Tinder connection fall through because her match recognized her from the battle with Hendren.
“It made me feel bad, or maybe weird, that she felt weird,” he says. “It’s a learning experience. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. Well, anybody who doesn’t deserve it anyway.”
Hendren’s Twitter presence eventually landed him a job outside of the writing world. Scriptrock, a software company devoted to stopping configuration drift (system failures that result from updates), needed help generating buzz around a rather boring phrase.
“These guys emailed me out of the blue and told me about a marketing problem around this ‘DevOps’ term,” he says. “They asked if I wanted to come in and do their marketing. I was like, ‘Alright, y’know, I’ll just drop everything I’m doing and come work for you.’ ”
So, what is DevOps?
“It’s just making all your nerds talk to one another,” Hendren says. “Historically the ‘Devs,’ the engineers and the operations (Ops) guys don’t really talk. So, it’s kinda keeping it all in line.”
But, on his website, Hendren explains, “DevOps is the most important thing of all time. And I am the most important DevOps human. That makes me the most important person of all time.”
So, instead of selling this milquetoast idea, Hendren decided to invent a meglamaniac alter ego of a DevOps Thought Master, a.k.a. J-Bird, a.k.a. Pussy Falcon. It’s a funhouse mirror of the Silicon Valley types that take themselves a bit too seriously.
On his personal site, Hendren offers a DevOps certification class, right below the tagline, “The most stunning man…beautiful…passionate…perfect.”
In another strange twist, other Twitter users have begun to compliment Hendren in this exact same format: a bold declaration, followed by three outlandishly flattering adjectives. From time to time, Hendren retweets a few.
“It’s narcissistic, but I started searching for my own name because it’s really funny when it happens,” Hendren says. “I’m a giant idiot, the smallest stupidest things entertain me greatly.”
But, not everyone has been enamored with “Silicon Valley’s most influential thought leader.”
“There’s this community of actual thought leaders,” Hendren says, “and one of them came up to me and said, ‘You’re a big asshole,’ because I’ve been mocking them for like, months. Felt pretty good about that. It was the right kind of guy to call me that.”
Eventually, Hendren convinced Scriptrock to hire Pollock as his manager, so he wouldn’t have to “handle the spreadsheets.” It’s the third company where they’ve worked together. This time their goofing around is more encouraged.
“I’m in the middle of building the world’s largest trophy,” he said. “The current record holder is 34 feet 11 inches. So I’m doing 35 feet. It’s gonna ruin their day.”
The trophy is part of a giveaway for a website named Commandlinefu.com, which Hendren now administrates. The site is depository for helpful snippets of code, but, like DevOps, is stiflingly technical and a viral facelift from “The Internet’s Big Delightful Boy” might help it achieve wider fame.
The third head of the Weird Twitter cerberus, Thorpe, now works as a content developer for another mobile games company after tiring of the “hot take culture” of Internet writing.
And his days of pranking the Pitbulls of the world seem to be coming to a close. Unlike Hendren, he keeps cyberspace more separate from his work. Most of his co-workers don’t know he’s behind @arr which uses “Fountain,” Marcel Duchamp’s Dada opening statement, as the profile picture.
“I’m getting old. I don’t want to be as mean to everyone all the time,” he said. “I don’t want to associate my professional life with being that dude from the internet.”
And he doesn’t think much of his 18 thousand followers, though he did tempt Twitter with a picture of a shoe that his cat had mangled to achieve the milestone.
“I don’t feel like I have that many, and I don’t really care,” he says. “There’s people who are way funnier than me, and have like a third of the followers. It’s not something to be taken that seriously, especially when any hack comedian, or hack anybody, can buy followers. You could have 200,000 followers tomorrow.”
Similarly, Pollock has changed the tune of his account, which used to be more joke-centric, to “dad” humor riffs.
“Someone told me the BTK killer read an article about weird Twitter and he really liked Fred Delicious (Dildo Hitler at the time),” he says. “That made me reconsider my shit and kind of get away from weird Twitter jokes per se.”
But, at the same time, Pollock is glad that there’s a digital record of his younger thoughts, if his kids are ever curious.
“For stuff like ‘pussy look like a rolled up piece of ham,’ (referring to an old tweet) I wouldn’t say that to my mother at Thanksgiving,” he says. “But, I would not be ashamed to have my kid read that, in context of Twitter. They’ll have an idea of what Dad was like when he was 25 onwards.”
“I think Twitter is gonna stick around,” Hendren says. “It’s not like MySpace or Facebook; it’s a unique medium to disseminate information, that’s not easily gonna go away.”
Despite the lasting power of the app, and the trio’s sizable online presence, none of them take themselves seriously, at all.
“At the end of the day, we’re all sitting on our phones shouting platitudes at nobody,” Hendren says. “And, you can draw the most elaborate description, or write a think piece, but you’re just a guy on your couch.”
“I never feel like I have to say, ‘boy, racism is bad’ today,” Pollock says in agreement. “There are dozens, thousands of people all saying the same thing. It gets lost in the noise. You don’t always have to say something, especially when it isn’t adding anything.”
The three lack any immediate plans to turn their online act into anything physically performative. Rather, they seem to tweet, just because they like to tweet.
“My wife will make me a breakfast sandwich for the train, and it’s just a part of my day,” Pollock says. “I’ll look at it and be like, ‘Man, this is a dope sandwich. I’m gonna put it on Twitter.’ And that’s about it. There’s no real expectation that other people will enjoy it. I don’t know why people do.”
“We’re all very very normal,” Hendren says. “We’re all self-aware. We know how absurd it is, and just how horrific it is.”