Rob Delaney & Politics: Persuading into Action / by Lily Greenberg

If you’re on Twitter, then you probably know Rob Delaney. With 1.3 million followers and over 29,000 tweets, he’s hard to miss. Yes, he’s also a stand-up comedian, as well as lead role in the television series Catastophe. But it all started—and continues—with Twitter.

Rob tweets about anything from George W. Bush’s gun policies to diarrhea-filled diapers. His political humor tends to get the most retweets, though, which suggests that most of us followers love him for these absurdist parodies of the far right—his primary bit. Whether he’s poking at Bush, Ted Cruz, or your everyday gun-owning, homophobic American, we can’t help but laugh at the strange humor. Especially now, with the approaching 2016 elections, Delaney’s political jargon has increased tenfold. And who can blame him? Donald Trump is a comedy goldmine.

Yet, as we inch closer to Election Day, Rob’s parodies are morphing into pleas. Sure, the jokes are still there, but now mixed in with voter registry links and support for Hillary Clinton. While you typically can’t say a whole lot with 140 characters, Rob embeds links to take us places, beyond Twitter, beyond the jokes.

Maybe the Trump campaign is no longer a joke—even for a comedian.

So then, when Rob tweeted a link to a Tumblr post he wrote entitled "Who I'm voting for and why," we followers of Rob cocked our heads.

Tumblr is a sister site to Twitter. It operates in a feed-style, and users repost content from other profiles. It’s a pseudo-blog for people that don’t have blogs. But here’s the thing—Rob has his own website—robdelaney.com. He could have just as easily posted on his own site, right alongside promotional videos for Catastrophe and his fall tour dates. But he’s on Tumblr, the realm of first drafts, setting us up for an honest reflection.

In the post, Rob sets aside his usual parodies and makes a sobering case for civic engagement, calling his Twitter followers to actively participate in the November election. The surprising part of the post is not so much Rob’s left-leaning political views (I think we can all figure that one out from his tweets), but rather, his ability to persuade. This isn’t some endorsement of a liberal candidate—it’s a call to action.

So here's Rob Delaney, on Tumblr, talking about politics. But why should we give a shit about what this comedian has to say? How are we supposed to take him seriously when he mostly tweets weird absurdist jokes?

Then again, maybe a comedic connotation is just the right point of entry into this web of discernment.

Rob begins by throwing shade at 24-hour news. He says that the constant flow of “credible” sources overwhelms—even paralyzes—the viewer, which makes it hard enough to keep up, let alone make an informed decision. In light of this, Delaney offers a solution: choose a single issue and vote based on that. Rob makes an example of his own decision-making process. He talks about how he prioritizes health care as a societal necessity, and so evaluates both Trump and Clinton based on their health care policies, settling on Clinton as the preferred candidate. But his point is not that everyone should vote for Hillary Clinton-- his point is to encourage the reader to "think about what matters to them, on an issue-by-issue basis and vote based on that."

Yes, his Twitter persona is ridiculous. And maybe most of Rob’s followers are just there for the laughs. But what if humor can be used to propel us into connection? Rob rolls his eyes at "the news," exhaling an overwhelmed sigh. What could be more relatable, in the digital age of instant and simultaneous information? This post seems to be inviting us to turn off the millions of overlapping voices, and listen to just one, only for a moment. Better yet, let's shunt all of these experts and reporters and politicians--all of these people with agendas--and hear someone just like us, another American citizen trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and what to do about it. Contrast is key here—Rob’s placing his voice as far as possible from 24-hour news, using his non-credibility as common ground. He doesn’t recommend a news source, or try and cite content that he believes to be accurate. He doesn’t cite anything at all. He just explains from his single perspective as just another Twitter user, Tumblr user, working things out just like the rest of us.

Rob’s tone feels nothing short deadpan in delivery. He’s blunt and straightforward, yet just funny enough for us to recognize the Twitter Rob Delaney we know and love. He gives us 5 steps for civic engagement, the 5th being, "Tell me to stick this incredibly long post up my ass." Sure, Rob comes out from being the curtain of absurdist tweets to say what he really thinks, but there's a consistency here. Maybe Twitter Rob Delaney and Real Life Rob Delaney are not all that far apart.

And though he expresses support for Clinton, this is not at all a let's-get-excited-for-Hillary post. In fact, Rob doesn't seem excited for anything in the American political system. He wanted Bernie as the Democratic candidate, not Hillary. He says of the two-party system, "You don’t have to like it (I don’t) but that’s the way it is." He complains about the Supreme Court, which is "comprised of a mere nine justices." The message here is yet again on the side of the everyday American--none of us are thrilled about the way things are turning out, but maybe that's not a good enough reason for passivity.

So here we have this celebrity leveling the playing field, meeting us where we're at. He carefully positions himself as trustworthy, as someone we can relate to and maybe even get behind. Rob seems to know that if we retweet his parodies, then maybe, just maybe, we might also share some values, and be worth persuading to hit the polls. Humor is unifying like that. But there's also a warning to us Twitter users here: with civic engagement, it's not enough to tweet, just like it's not enough to share an article on Facebook or repost a picture on Tumblr. Now is the time to "move past the cult of personality nonsense [...] and think about what matters." From one discontent American to another, now is the time to take real action, and here is how you start.