Mediaite: Clearly you’ve got a way with these rhymes – in about a year you’ve pumped out 200 or so of these limericks. Do you have any background in poetry/any kind of writing, and do you write professionally in any capacity? And if not – what do you do?
Dillon: Rhymes always came easily to me. I grew up in a working-class, Irish-American family, where we’d pass the time by changing song lyrics to make them funny. As I got older, my friends and I sang our own songs on street corners and then in bars and made up the lyrics as we went along. Usually the songs were designed as insults to the recipients or their mothers, and the trick was to end it by exploiting the target’s major weakness. Where I’m from, we were like crabs in a bucket: if you couldn’t make it out, the next best thing was to drag somebody down who was trying to escape. When you’re Irish and not going anywhere, you use your tongue because nobody can take it away.
I was the first in my family to go to college, and landed an internship at the Boston Globe while in college. Since then, I’ve worked for various newspapers and Web sites on both coasts. I’m currently a freelance writer and editor in New Haven, doing mostly health-related stuff. When I worked on a chain of dailies north of Boston, we often put together fake news editions long before anyone got a whiff of The Onion. I’ve always been attracted to light verse practitioners like Jonathan Swift, Gilbert & Sullivan, and Ogden Nash (whom I honored on mlb.com last year with a 2009 update of his “Line-Up for Yesterday.”
Mediaite: Does the limerick-writing process come naturally to you, or do they take a while to think up and perfect? How much time would you say generally passes between the initial spark of an idea and the final tweet, or does that vary widely?
Dillon: The process comes naturally — and they sometimes take a while. The time varies dramatically. Sometimes it takes me no more than a few minutes on a good day. More often it may take a couple of hours off and on if I have the time. I assemble them like a sandwich, with the last and then first lines coming first; to me, a limerick is only as good as its kicker line. (There’s a school of thought that maintains that limericks are by definition dirty, and often I play along with that, but I’ll settle for clean and clever). Then I aim for a twist in the fourth line whenever possible. Often the most time is spent on the scansion, finding the right word or phrase that fits best.
Because of my background in daily journalism, I try to post “breaking limericks” the same day as the news event on which they’re based. As a result, sometimes I post nothing. For instance, on Friday I had hoped to have something saying that the NFL draft fanatics led the same sexless lives as the Star Trek fans they menaced in high school, but gave up because of a dearth of words that rhyme with “Trekkie” or “wedgie.” The day was salvaged by a report on SEC employees downloading porn during the fiscal crisis. That doesn’t always happen, and although I like to post a few tweets a week to maintain currency, I’d rather have nothing than something I’m not proud of. I suspect editorial cartoonists have the same problem. Some days are better than others.
Mediaite: Very often you’ll have to shorten words and eliminate spaces to fit your limericks within 140 characters. Is that part of the fun of writing on Twitter, or do you sometimes wish you’d picked a blog format with no character limitations?
Dillon: The character limit was one of the reasons I started on Twitter because I knew I could be up to the challenge. I’ve learned to squeeze most them in 135 or fewer characters to allow room for retweeting. Shortening words and using numbers to get the right fit is an art form unto itself. The copy editor in me occasionally winces, especially when I’m forced to have no spaces between words, but that’s part of the territory. When I post elsewhere, I will paste the limerick in full and with proper punctuation. I read someone complain that tweeting is like shouting in the wilderness, but that’s true many forms of media, including a blog (hell, even NBC or CNN these days.) At least Twitter is a wilderness with lots of other trees. I’ve never been one to use Twitter or Facebook as a diary or a confessional, and I don’t get the appeal of knowing that Ashton had a bologna sandwich for lunch. And although I fear that its being held hostage by Justin Bieber fans could threaten its viability, I find Twitter to be a valuable medium. Today I learned that Tornado Alley was ready to fire up through Twitter, but there was nothing on my Yahoo! News page. I just thought I could add something different to the mix to prove that one can be creative on Twitter. There are others out there, though they’re better-known ones like Bad Banana and Shit My Dad Says.
Mediaite: Piggybacking off the last question – like I said before, you’ve done 200 limericks. Is there an end in sight, and/or do you have any plans to experiment with other blogging platforms/forms of poetry and/or prose? If so, would you stick to current events, or branch out into other areas?
Dillon: I’d like to expand to other platforms such as a blog, and with other forms of humor writing — both poetry and prose. Through my work as a health writer, I’ve developed a 366-day calendar of health-related events that works in historical figures, Hollywood, popular culture, and the everyday things in your medicine cabinet. A blog or even an app would be a good outlet for such things; I’ve thought about producing a limerick version of “This Day in History.”
My background in Boston is a fount for humorous stories. But I was the class clown and I’ve always found a way to be funny with current events, so I’ll never leave it; I could see myself writing monologues or greeting cards or somesuch. I’d love to make a living being funny.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.