Jonny’s been thinking a lot about that idea lately. Jonny Sun: I created the account and started tweeting comedy stuff after I moved away from Toronto. When I did my undergrad in Toronto, I was part of this sketch comedy group, basically this weird family of comedy people and writers, and we would write and perform our work. JS: I think this sense of being an outsider that’s associated with the account appeals to a lot more people than we like to imagine, and I think that gets to the heart of a lot of the human experience: to feel alone among others. MJ: Do you feel humor has limitations? Are there certain things that should not be joked about? Some jokes can really punch up and help people think about different power structures and point out the ridiculousness of things. MJ: Let’s talk a little bit about your book. I think I wrote that tweet around the time when I was thinking about if I should be doing a Ph.D. and, again, deciding to move to a new place. Every time I go back, it’s such a bittersweet feeling because I know this is part of my life, but it doesn’t feel like my home.
If you spend time on Twitter, you may have encountered a character named Jomny Sun, an adorably witty and philosophical alien with nearly half a million followers. For the most part, Jomny’s tweets are silly and weird, riddled with playful typos. But over the last year, Jomny has developed a more serious side. He’s waded into politics. Like this:
everyday im more terified that a nuke will be launched & that im gonna find out through someone tweeting a screenshot of a push notification
— jomny sun (@jonnysun) May 9, 2017
Jomny’s creator, a second-year MIT PhD student in urban studies and planning named Jonny Sun, says Jomny’s political awakening was intentional—and he’s hoping that it will serve a purpose. “Humor is this way to get people on board or to get people to listen to stances they wouldn’t typically listen to,” he told me.
Jonny’s been thinking a lot about that idea lately. During the school year, he hosts the MIT Humor Series, discussions around internet humor as a tool for political discourse and social inclusion. He’s also the author of a new book about Jomny, Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aleibn Too. I talked with Sun about his creative process, humor in the age of Trump, and perpetually searching for a sense of home.
Mother Jones: How did you decide to create this Twitter account?
Jonny Sun: I created the account and started tweeting comedy stuff after I moved away from Toronto. When I did my undergrad in Toronto, I was part of this sketch comedy group, basically this weird family of comedy people and writers, and we would write and perform our work. When I moved away from Toronto to do my master’s in architecture, I didn’t have a place to write comedy anymore. I was on Twitter at the time, and I just started finding more and more strange, surreal, funny accounts. I needed this outlet to write, so I decided maybe this will be a cool place to start writing.
The idea of the alien was tied to two things. The first is the idea of me as a Canadian living in the US, which doesn’t seem like too much of a difference but it was just enough to feel a culture shock in very subtle ways and make me automatically feel like an outsider. The broader part of that is just my identity as an Asian male comedian and a child of immigrants. I think I’ve lived my entire life feeling like a bit of an alien or an outsider, so the decision to make Jomny an alien wasn’t really a conscious one.
[first day at new job]
resist the urge to imediately alienate urself resist the urge to–
[to first persobn i meet]
i actualy hate cofee
— jomny sun (@jonnysun) May 30, 2017
MJ: What is it about your humor and your approach to your humor that you think really resonates with other people and allows you to—borrowing the words of your Ph.D.—build a sense of place for them?
JS: I think this sense of being an outsider that’s associated with the account appeals to a lot more people than we like to imagine, and I think that gets to the heart of a lot of the human experience: to feel alone among others. That’s one aspect. Then a related aspect—again I think growing up as who I am, especially as an Asian male in comedy, I’ve been in a lot of situations where my visible race and identity have been the joke or have been asked of me to be the joke. Developing like that has made me very aware of how comedy can be used to exclude or to present biases or to reinforce stereotypes. That has helped me form this mission of making humor inclusive and positive and supportive. And I think that type of humor is really resonating out, especially given the rest of the world.
MJ: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
JS: I feel like I could list a hundred different sources of inspiration! I love a lot of things, and I think part of the way my brain works is that when I really love something, I try to…