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An Odd, Uplifting 'Alien': Meet The Man Behind A 'Weird Twitter' Star

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An Odd, Uplifting 'Alien': Meet The Man Behind A 'Weird Twitter' Star

An Odd, Uplifting 'Alien': Meet The Man Behind A 'Weird Twitter' Star

An Odd, Uplifting 'Alien': Meet The Man Behind A 'Weird Twitter' Star

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/459387407/460379153" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

In real life, Jonathan Sun is a Ph.D. candidate at MIT in the Department of Urban Studies + Planning. On Twitter, he's an alien who struggles with spelling and is baffled by human culture. Courtesy of Jonathan Sun hide caption

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Courtesy of Jonathan Sun

In real life, Jonathan Sun is a Ph.D. candidate at MIT in the Department of Urban Studies + Planning. On Twitter, he's an alien who struggles with spelling and is baffled by human culture.

Courtesy of Jonathan Sun

Jonathan Sun is a Ph.D. candidate at MIT. He's a playwright, an artist, an architect, an engineer and a designer. It probably goes without saying that he knows how to spell.

But on Twitter, he's jonnysun — an "aliebn confuesed abot humamn lamgauge," as his bio puts it.

"Jonnysun" is an icon of "weird Twitter," an absurd-comedy subculture on the social networking platform.

Sun's alter ego mostly writes tweets that are haphazard and misspelled — but still manage to say something. Sometimes his jokes are just silly; others are downright profound. Many are both.

And absurdity aside, with more than 120,000 followers — and the knowledge that his tweets can reach hundreds of thousands more — Sun takes his audience seriously.

"I think anybody with that kind of means of getting an idea out has some sort of social responsibility," he tells NPR's Scott Simon.


Interview Highlights

On his character "Jonnysun"

He — I guess he, it — is an alien. But this character kind of emerged just through writing on Twitter and writing jokes on Twitter and playing with the idea of misspellings, so I guess from the alien's side, I thought it would be interesting to look at the world as an outsider, to kind of use that naive viewpoint and this idea of curiosity and learning about the planet that we live on.

On one of his most popular tweets:

I think it kind of speaks to the attitude of the world today, of, especially on Twitter, where information moves so fast — and on Twitter, the reason why people share things are either the information is incredibly positive or incredibly negative. So we see this crazy bias of news and information, and with the inflatable bouncy castle, I think it's successful because it's this specific moment of happiness — it has this overwhelming positive effect.

On a tweet he sent out after the San Bernardino shootings:

I just felt, I think, as a person, personally, I was so upset and overwhelmed by these events that I needed some sort of outlet to express myself, or to talk about it, to just get my worries out there.

On whether he feels obliged to tweet as jonnysun daily

For me, it started as this exercise just to keep, I guess, the comedic side of my brain active. So I originally started, and I still am following... a regimen of trying to force myself to write one joke a day.

For me, it's a discipline thing, where if I can keep this up, I can keep thinking as a comedy writer, or a comedian, and kind of keep that part of my brain sharp while I'm doing research and school.