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She's the "funniest person on Twitter" — and doesn't back down from a fight
Why you should follow comedian and writer Bess Kalb
Here’s the third segment from Friday’s episode with Switched on Pop co-host Charlie Harding. The transcript is great and all, but you should definitely listen to the podcast version if you want to hear me losing my mind at Bess’ awful(ly good) music puns.
ERIC: Charlie, let's move on to your next follow. I asked you for someone you have a crush on, and you said Bess Kalb, who is on Twitter @bessbell.
Bess is an Emmy-nominated comedy writer and the best-selling author of Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, and you are also being incredibly cute and charming because Bess is also your wife. But you have to convince the rest of us here! What makes her a great person to follow online?
CHARLIE: Well, she is the funniest person on Twitter. I feel like I have the unique privilege of getting to watch someone who is immensely funny go through their creative process. If there's ever a decent joke on my show, it's probably because I ran it by her.
She used to write late-night television. And you can take any topic and be like, "Joke." And she'll just be like, "Here's a list of 15 jokes." When Nate and I put out a book version of our podcast, also called Switched on Pop, "What would be some great alternative, comedic titles to the show?" Then Bess was just pitching idea after idea. I have to pull them up. Let me see if I can find them, please.
ERIC: Oh yeah, please do. Instead of Switched on Pop, these were her ideas for what you should call the book?
CHARLIE: Exactly. All right. I'm going to have to do a deep scroll back on my Twitter feed. Here we go. Is this it? C'mon ... Yes! I got it.
ERIC: Okay. Hit me.
CHARLIE: "For whom the Beyonce Knowles." This is terrible. "Harry Popper and the Prisoner of Jazz-Ska Bands." "Harry Popper and This Goblet's on Fire." "Harry Popper and the Order of the French band, Phoenix." "Harry Popper and the Half-Blood Artist Formerly Known as Prince." "A Tale of Two Swifties." "The Bandmates' Tale." "The Handmaid's Taylor." "Freak Harmonix." I basically said, "Can you give me your absolute, most ridiculous puns?"
ERIC: Oh my God. It's amazing. I'm an appreciator of all puns, ridiculous and not.
CHARLIE: "The Beauty and the Beastie Boy." "Heart of the Darkness, the band The Darkness." "Fahrenheit 451 Direction." I think the book would have sold better if we used one of these puns.
ERIC: That one probably would've sold pretty well, I think. Yeah.
CHARLIE: She's great at coming up with endless variations on various silly little jokes like that. But her Twitter feed is probably the most fun place to follow because it's a great combination of vary astute political commentary, but always framed with great comedic irony.
ERIC: I was cracking up at some of her jokes about your kids. She recently tweeted:
How did you and Bess meet originally?
CHARLIE: This is probably on-brand. Not many people know this. We met at the end of college, but one of the places that we really first bonded was singing Taylor Swift karaoke, the song Love Story. So I think it was just made to be. That's what did it, that sealed the deal.
ERIC: Thanks, Taylor.
CHARLIE: Taylor's done a lot for my career. The podcast was just a fun project that we started. And then as soon as we started covering stuff by Taylor, all of a sudden, the show just blew up.
ERIC: You mentioned that you get to be an audience to her process as a comedian. Does she run jokes by you the way that you ran jokes by her for Switched on Pop, just to get a laugh or not? What does that process look like from the other side of the Twitter feed?
CHARLIE: No, she's far too talented for needing my perspective. Usually, I only see things once they're published, whereas I am terrified of writing a headline or trying to crack a joke. And so, yeah, she is my editor.
ERIC: I really admire ... she has a lot of bravery on Twitter. She gets in the shit with some of the worst people there, calling out folks like Louis CK and JK Rowling, who do and say really reprehensible things. And then when their fans show up in her mentions, she doesn't back down. It takes a level of grit that honestly, I don't have.
CHARLIE: Yeah. Well, it really started back when the last president became president. We don't have to say his name. And because she was an exceptionally talented late-night writer whose job was to write jokes — "Here's a paragraph, make 30 jokes out of it in the next 20 minutes" — she was really good at responding to his particularly hate-filled tweets.
I believe it was the first month of the beginning of that presidency, she subscribed to Twitter alerts on her phone of everything he would tweet, and then she would tweet back with a joke. They were always the opposite of the hatred. There was always some level of kindness but also a truth bomb joke in there.
And in the process, she garnered a lot of followers, including some of the more reprehensible people on the planet, some of the most ... really terrible groups, white supremacists, these kinds of folks. She has a lot of grit because there's just been a lot of gnarly people who tweet at her on a daily basis, and she knows how to dispel hatred very effectively through humor. A lot of respect for that.
ERIC: Totally. Yeah. I think the thing is, for so many folks, if you don't have probably the specific set of skills that she has ... For so many folks, if they get brigaded by this sort of person online ...
CHARLIE: Oh, do not try this at home. You have to be a professional.
ERIC: Exactly. "Professional driver and a closed course" and all that. Because getting swarmed with this sort of attention, it can be enough to make a lot of people, including trained people, including folks who are communicators and celebrities, it could make them quit Twitter. So, honestly, respect for sticking in there.
CHARLIE: We [Switched on Pop] have become the firebrand, at one point, of the far-right when they decided that we were trying to cancel Beethoven. It was an absolutely absurd thing where we made a four-part series about the power and the history of the fifth symphony in partnership with the New York Philharmonic.
A bunch of far-far-right firebrands decided that a mild level of critical discourse plus a ton of celebration about the meaning of that music resulted in us trying to cancel Beethoven. I actually didn't know the far-right liked Beethoven, but it included Ben Shapiro and Senator Tom Cotton, and the ambassador to Kosovo.
Many of these people were actually manufacturing quotes of us saying that Beethoven is the source of white supremacy. We got to see how the entire brigade of far-right nastiness gets developed out of, first, fringe blogs and then slowly into traditional media. It was truly manufactured material that did not at all represent the actual work that we did.
ERIC: 100 percent.
CHARLIE: That's why people think that Twitter is a dumpster fire because people are very good at completely misconstruing work and misquoting and creating controversy where there actually isn't any.
ERIC: Well, don't worry, I'm sure Elon Musk will fix everything…
CHARLIE: Thank you, billionaire overlords. We depend on you. You must save us. No. No. No.
ERIC: Well, that was Bess Kalb, who is on Twitter @bessbell.