- Associated Press - Monday, August 30, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Earlier this summer, Michael Ian Black took to his blog to defend himself against those appalled that the comedian was _ gasp! _ inserting rare advertisements to his popular Twitter feed.

Black explained that occasionally hiring himself to sell products “allows me the freedom to take less well-paying jobs like making soon-to-be-canceled television shows.”

Then he made a more serious point.

“As of today, I’ve written 2,655 tweets,” Black wrote. “That’s a lot of free material, all of it contributing to the entertainment of the 1.5 million people who follow me, as well as the multibillion dollar capitalization of Twitter itself.”

Black is not alone in his situation. Many of the most popular people on Twitter are comedians, and they are collectively perhaps the best. They know how to be economical with words, and they write about more interesting topics than what they had for breakfast.

But comics have a different relationship to the social networking website. It is, after all, their job to make brief, pithy observations and craft precisely worded one-liners. Like news outlets, comedians have to question how much “content” they want to tweet away.

Black says he recognizes some downside to giving away material for free, but believes the pros far outweigh the cons.

“For me, it does two things,” Black says of tweeting. “One, it gives me the chance to try out jokes. And two, it forces me to write jokes in the first place.”

Black, who came up as a member of the State comedy troupe and has since worked in film, TV and released several books, is also chief content officer for WitStream, a website founded by TV producer Lisa Cohen that gathers the Twitter feeds of only established comedians. Black compares it to a relaxed comedy club, as opposed to Twitter’s open mic.

“What I write on Twitter or Witstream is almost never a finished product. It’s usually just something I’m thinking in that moment,” he says.

“The culture sort of demands a kind a presence that you really have to work hard to provide if you’re going to stay in people’s minds. For somebody like me, that’s important if you want people to show up at your shows or support your television projects.”

When Conan O'Brien exited “The Tonight Show” with much fanfare, he took to Twitter as an outlet, like a spigot for accruing monologue jokes. It was a rather interesting turn for O’Brien, who while host of “Tonight” built the Twitter parody sketch “Twitter Tracker” into one of the most popular recurring segments of his brief reign.

One recent example from O'Brien: “Twilight Eclipse has been smashing box office records since it opened. For the record, I was sickly pale before it was cool.”

The talk show host, whose TBS show will debut this fall, has proved to be one of the better tweeters around and now has more than 1.4 million followers. But the most popular comedian on Twitter (if you don’t count talk show host Ellen DeGeneres) is Jimmy Fallon.

When Fallon took over NBC’s “Late Night” last year, he made a point of interweaving the program with social media. He has more than 2.7 million followers.

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