As Long As I Get Humiliated, Everyone is Happy: James Breakwell

What does it take to live your life publicly on social media and make money off it?

Image: Twitter

We all know him as the funny dad on Twitter who turns everything that his four daughters do into an occasion for us to laugh. He managed to con his way into the heart of a beautiful woman and his daughters think he is the best dad in the whole world. Give it 20 years he says, and watch their illusions crash and burn. Excerpts from an interview with James Breakwell aka XplodingUnicorn.

1. How’s that English degree working out for you? Ever thought you would go from reading tomes to tweeting 140 characters?

I don’t know anyone in the liberal arts who ended up using their degree. You have to get one to get a job, but they don’t teach anything of value. That’s why I majored in English. I’m not a big fan of learning.

Only two worthwhile things happened for me in college. First, I met my wife. Without her, all my tweets would be about me sitting alone in a studio apartment. I wouldn’t even have a pig. What an empty existence.

Second, I had my first chance to write comedy for a sizeable audience thanks to the school newspaper. I was supposed to write normal articles about stuff on campus, but I turned them into satire pieces about whatever I wanted. By the end of college, I was co-head editor of the paper writing 2,000-word humour articles with little to no oversight. My college didn’t teach me how to write comedy, but they didn’t stop me, either. I owe a debt of gratitude to their low standards.

Touring Mom's lab. Mad scientists aren't born. They're made.

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2. How do you feel being the only man in a house full of women?

I don’t really notice much. I taught my daughters to love Star Wars and zombies, which is exactly what I would have done if I had sons. The only difference is my kids also love dresses and princesses. I’ve seen more animated Disney movies than any grown man ever should. I’m sure I’ll still have “Let It Go” stuck in my head on my death bed.

3. Do any of your girls share your sense of humour?

My oldest daughter, Betsy, understands what I do, and she’s always giving me ideas for new content. Someday she’ll surpass me and we’ll be enemies. But for now, we’re great partners.

She's got her whole future planned out.

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4. How do Jim Brown and you collaborate on Wombat Dojo?

I run three daily webcomics. “Unbelievably Bad” uses blocky stick figures to play out family situations similar to my tweets. “Unfridgeworthy” takes my children’s innocent drawings and reinterprets them into absurd three-panel comics. And “Wombat Dojo” follows the adventures of two twenty-something slackers and their pet wombat, who daydreams about doing karate.

I do “Unbelievably Bad” my myself and “Unfridgeworthy” with my kids. For “Wombat Dojo,” my partner is Jim Brown, an artist based in Pittsburgh. We teamed up after he sent me a drawing he did of one of my “Unbelievably Bad” comics. I was impressed enough to ask him to collaborate on a new comic strip, and he was foolish enough to accept.

At first, “Wombat Dojo” was a single-panel strip like “The Far Side.” It ran twice a week. I would email Jim the concept and the text, and he emailed me back a finished comic.

Eventually, I decided to turn “Wombat Dojo” into a daily comic. To keep up with that rate of production, I asked Jim to draw dozens of pictures of each character in different poses as well as different backgrounds. Every day, I copy and paste those pieces into a new comic and then do the dialogue. Now that I have all the pieces to move around, I didn’t have to bother Jim anymore, which I’m sure he appreciates. We still correspond by email when I need more character drawings, but I put together the daily comics on my own.

5. Why do you self-deprecate so much? Is that who you are in real life or an act for the world of social media?

If I lose at the end of a tweet, that’s a joke; if I win, that’s just bragging. In most of my jokes, I play the straight man and give all the funny lines to my kids. Sometimes it’s stuff they really said, sometimes it’s things they think but can’t quite put into words, and sometimes it’s stuff I make up just to make people laugh. But the one constant is someone else has to get the best of me. As long as I get humiliated, everyone is happy.

6. How did you train yourself to be so productive? What sort of discipline goes into so many posts/comics daily?

I write jokes every day because I like comedy writing. I tweeted dozens of times a day every day for years before I ever made any money at it. If I become a millionaire, I’ll still tweet. And if I go broke, I will, too. Although someone else might have to pay for my data plan.

When you really, really want to share your friend's snack cup but you're too shy to ask.

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7. How do you sustain something like for so long?

I can keep this going forever as long as I can talk my wife into more kids. Each one extends my comedy career by at least two years. My wife swears we’ll never have child number five, but she also swore we’d never get a pig. We all know how that one turned out.

8. Your business plan is very well thought out. You have a combined follower list of 3 million-odd on all social media. How did you plan all of this?

“Plan” is a strong word. I’ve been stumbling forward blindly one joke at a time. But early on, I looked into how to get a book published. I quickly realised everyone on the planet had a book, but not everyone had an audience. I decided to get the audience first and write the book later. Now I have the audience and the book. It remains to be seen if anyone will actually buy it.

9.  What’s next from you?

My book, Only Dead on the Inside, comes out October 10. It’s a parenting guide to the zombie apocalypse. So far, no one who has read my book has died from a zombie attack, so it’s 100 percent effective. No pressure, but my entire future depends on whether or not this book sells well. Feel free to buy a few dozen copies.