By Ben Holcomb
Jason Woliner is a comedic writer best known for his role as the “non-performing” arm of the sketch group Human Giant, consisting of now Hollywood big wigs Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer. He’s directed a whole host of episodes for popular television series’ like Parks and Rec, and spends most his time these days working on the Adult Swim show Eagleheart, which, you know, whatever. Pretty cool, I guess. He seems like he’s made a name for himself in the comedy world, and has had a wide range of success in a business that’s hard to break into, especially for a 32 year old.
Jason Woliner also seems to have gone mad early this week, with a twitter rampage that can only be described as (a) Performance Art on a Genius Level or (b) clinical psychosis. I suspect (A), which is why I’m writing this article, since this relatively random person I happen to follow on Twitter is pulling off what I feel is a comedic stunt Andy Kaufman would be proud of.
It started a few days ago, when Woliner announced he had a big project he was excited to roll out, dealing with novelty t-shirts. His idea? A Che Guevara/Jay Leno hybrid shirt, aptly titled the “Che Leno” T-shirt. He rolled out the design at around midnight of November 19th, 2012 with what seemed1 like blissful anticipation. Here’s the design:
The vitriol came down on him almost instantaneously. Everyone said pretty much the same thing – that it looked nothing like Jay Leno, and fell somewhere in between Arnold Schwarzenegger, William Dafoe, and an ape. By sunrise, Woliner was reeling from his business plan gone awry. He claims he bought 15,000 of the shirts because he assumed they’d sell like hotcakes, but a full 24 hours in and he’s tweeting that he’s only sold three. He sent out an official message today, an excerpt of which is printed below:
In light of the horrible backlash, Woliner released an updated design on his site, hoping the problem would go away. That shirt, hilariously, looks like this:
Problem solved, right? Of course this didn’t work either. The venom has continued to spew throughout the twittersphere today, and Woliner’s sister account @jeshirt was temporarily suspended because he was tweeting at so many people the website terminated him for “spamming”. It was a rough day. Here’s where it gets weird: after playing damage control all day, Woliner admitted to only selling three shirts total on his site, and also posted a new, “accidental” design that will be selling for a limited time only. That looks like this:
This, of course, all has to be a joke. I hope my summary of the situation from above has at least caught you up to speed with what’s going on. I’m not seriously pontificating whether Woliner is actually having a nervous breakdown and is in dire financial straits after this soft-launch has failed so badly, but there are some things that need to be cleared up. The first of which is that he does at least own the domain Jeshirt.com, which is selling t-shirts that you can totally, legitimately buy through PayPal. The second is the bigger question: what’s the point?
That seems to be the main issue with most “performance art”. It’s weird, and abstract, and the majority of people aren’t in on the joke. But when you step back and kind of examine it in a -meta way, there can be a small level of genius involved. Most of the stuff Andy Kaufman did, in my humble opinion, was weird, and dumb, and worthless – despite the fact that many consider him a pioneer. What Jason Woliner is doing on twitter isn’t genius, but it is, in a weird way, the funniest, most entertaining thing I’ve seen in the last week or so. What’s working here is that the original concept seems legitimate, a Jay Guevara shirt is something someone would come up with and try to sell. But his graphic was just the slightest bit off that it caused the ire. His sequel shirts have become more and more ridiculous, which is starting to give away the joke, but that’s okay. There actually might be a little genius in this bit, if the shirts actually do begin to sell in an ironic, commemorative fashion.
Here’s my favorite tweet of his thus far, the one that just really sent me over the edge with laughter:
You have to admit, that’s pretty funny. I’ve seen a lot of twitter comedians try to pull off some large scale bits on the social networking site, but there’s an earnestness in this one that is endearing and captivating. It’s like a 50 car pile-up that’s pretty much just a lump of burning rubble now, but you still don’t know how it’s going to end.
One follower of Woliner proposed the idea that this was just all one big satire of the company Threadless, who makes graphic tees apparently. He may be right, but the question still remains why dedicate so much of the last two days to it?Look at Woliner’s timeline, it’s an expansive volume of JeShirt content. And who knows, maybe he is actually losing it and blowing his kids’ college funds on a terrible novelty shirt idea. If that’s the case, the humor slides more into the macabre, but it’s still funny nonetheless.
Regardless, what’s currently rolling out on Jason Woliner’s twitter feed is one of the funniest and most entertaining things I think you’ll read this week.
You can also help the guy out by purchasing a t-shirt, either ironically or with an uncomfortable degree of seriousness: http://www.jeshirt.com/
- At least on Twitter. ↩