I recently caught up with David to discuss his book, The Internet is a Playground, which debuted at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list. Pretty impressive for a guy who describes himself as "lazy" and manages to piss off most of his coworkers on a regular basis. Even more impressive was discovering his super-talented wife Holly, who we were lucky enough to bring in to write for The Morton Report.
Since there are close to a million (perhaps a slight exaggeration) interviews with David on the web, I asked Holly to collaborate a bit on this interview to give us some insight into the "real" David. In the process, we get to share in the truly amazing story of how they met (at space camp for adults) and fell in love, despite having been separated by several oceans and a few large landmasses.
When or how did you discover you had a knack for satire and humor?
Do you ever worry about one of your Internet "victims" becoming overly incensed and taking their anger out on you beyond the virtual world?
Up until recently the concept that someone might take their anger out on me beyond the virtual world didn't concern me at all. I lived by myself on the eighth floor of a concrete fortress and promises of retaliation were scoffed at. Having moved into a "normal" house, I have become more wary.
After I tried exchanging defective snowboard gloves and was rudely denied, I created a newspaper ad stating that the store was giving away 4,600 snowboard packages. Apparently, they received over 5000 calls that weekend, which resulted in the owner turning up at my premises yelling, so I have bought a gun. It is a Nerf gun, but if you stick pins into the ends of the foam darts, they can do some serious damage.
You have the uncanny ability to stay cool, calm and collected when responding to the most extreme behavior from some of the people with whom you exchange emails. It seems the calmer you stay, the more irritated they get... so have you ever lost your cool in responding to trolls?
Writing is a distraction from other things that make me lose my cool and most obvious trolls are obvious. I do get a few people online attempting to battle via blog articles but as I only read blogs that talk about how funny and attractive I am, it is of no concern. Occasionally, I receive emails from people trying to start arguments but I have learnt to disseminate these from non-constructed exchanges. It was easier before the website became known but at the same time, this has meant a larger number of people taking offence to the current content.
I like to think my efforts are usually without ill intent and constructed to amuse rather than upset. Providing content that encourages argument, discussion and factions based around humour, rather than trying to offend, has always been my goal. The majority of the "I am offended" emails are in regards to the Missing Missy article and my "disgraceful and cruel attitude towards cats," but these emails are obviously from cat owners and cat owners are insane.
What's the worst email exchange you've ever had and why?
I don't really have a "worst" email. While it may appear from the site's content that the majority of emails I receive are of the "dude, you are an idiot" variety, this is not the case and most are actually good-natured and occasionally quite touching. I received one recently from a father who was sitting next to his sleeping daughter in a children's cancer ward reading the site and had just laughed for the first time in several weeks, which was nice.
Whether you write or bake a cake, there will be some that hate it, some that love it and others that will have a piece because there is nothing else in the fridge to eat and they missed out on lunch. A lot of people visit the website while at work so providing "philanthropic procrastination" from selling your soul nine to five deserves some form of recognition. A statue like that one of Jesus in Rio would be nice but it doesn't necessarily have to be that big. One of me swimming or wearing a bear suit.
"Missing Missy" was a story/email exchange which developed between you and a co-worker. This is a common theme; has any of the animosity expressed from your co-workers ever spilled over into real life, and have you ever been fired for being a smartass?
"And you had better not use this on your stupid website" is a common footnote on many emails from coworkers these days.Some of the people featured in the book and on the site actually enjoy being a part of it. Others do not. Those that do not make requests such as "change my picture" or "remove that from the Internet or I am going to come up the stairs and stab you with scissors."
I have been accused of irresponsibility when publishing content, in particular the emails, but I have never claimed that I am responsible or wish to be. I do accept, however, that there are occasional repercussions. I have had people attempt to resolve an issue or demand I remove an article, but it is the Internet; articles generally have a two-week lifespan and then everyone forgets. It is not necessary to attempt a resolution when it is self-resolving.
I have overstepped the mark a few times though. When I posted a fake internal memo from McDonald's, regarding the implementation of short-changing customers as a procedure, I was arrested a few days later, questioned, and had my laptop taken for evidence under Australian e-crime legislation. Luckily, when they asked for my laptop, I pointed to an old one that hadn't been used in ten years and they took that. When they searched through it, they found photos of me at the beach, bad '90s MP3s, and fan emails to Winona Ryder.
Are you funny in real life or just on the web?
I have learnt the hard way the difference between sarcasm from behind the safety of a computer screen and sarcasm within punching distance. I think a lot of people misconstrue apathy and procrastination for humour. I work in the design industry which one might assume is a creative field but is actually not unlike any other form of cubicle prostitution. Writing to amuse myself is preferable to filling out time sheets, making type larger and explaining to clients that animated gifs will not work on business cards. This does spill over into real life to some extent as procrastination doesn't knock off at 5pm.
What's the most surprising thing that's happened to you since you began your site?
A lot of interesting things have happened since I began the website as it has opened a few doors that I was not aware existed previously. One leads to Kronos-12, a planet orbiting Procyon in the Canis Minor constellation. Possibly the nicest "surprising thing" occurred two years ago when I received an email from a strange American girl, in regards to the spider article, who eventually became a close friend and traveled to Australia to visit. She stayed for a year and we married last year.
Who are some of your favorite writers/satirists/humorists?
I could probably list about two hundred of my favourite writers if I wasn't so easily distracted while performing repetitive tasks. Will Ferrel would be somewhere on the list. As would Douglas Adams, Spike Milligan, and Ricky Gervais.The title of the website, 27b/6, is a vague reference to Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty Four - which he wrote while living in 27B on floor 6 of his apartment building. Although I would never state that the nonsense I write is making a statement as grand as Orwell's, the site is an outlet for dealing with my own minor Orwellian nightmares. Although I do not have caged rats attempting to gnaw their way through my face, working in the design industry is pretty much the same thing. I have always been in awe of Chris Lilley, the creator of Summer Heights High and We Can be Heroes.
You wanted to be an astronaut when you were a child, but ended up becoming a disgruntled graphic designer. Where did it all go wrong?
Despite what those in the industry may have you believe, graphic design is not a real job, let alone a hard one. As I am inherently lazy, this is probably why I chose that path. Up until I was ten, I was obsessed with the space shuttle. During 5th grade, my teacher had the class participate in Career Day by dressing as what they would like to be when they grew up.
Sent to bed early that night for constructing an astronaut suit by cutting my mother's polyester jumpsuit to length, I awoke to find my father had stayed up late to paint NASA mission badges on the sleeves and super-glue dials from a Rank Arena record player onto the chest. He had also constructed a television screen on the stomach by cutting out a rectangle and gluing a magazine picture behind it of a lady getting her hair cut.
That day, due to the task being misunderstood by most, the class had six fairies, a vampire, two pirates, a storm trooper and one astronaut with a picture of a lady getting her hair cut on his stomach. Drawing a ray gun on a piece of paper during recess and gluing it over the magazine image to put an end to the question "are you a television set?" The ray gun was accused of being a penis and I was forced to remove the panel completely, leaving me with an exposed stomach. During lunch, a duty teacher asked me if I was a belly dancer from the future. It was probably this lack of encouragement that caused me to give up my dreams of reaching the stars. And the lack of space shuttles in Australia.
I see you are pitting yourself against Justin Bieber to sell more books. What do you think your chances are against the world's cutest little crooner? And if you met Justin, what would you say to him?
I began to question the agenda of Penguin some months back. Expecting requests of "Please confirm your availability for the book signing tour dates" or "Conan O'Brien has read your book and would like to fly you to his mansion to spend a few days in his hot tub doing drugs, is this okay?" I was instead given instructions to create Justin Bieber websites and cut off my hair so that it can go on tour.
As such, I have begun to suspect this may all be just a big prank. I have my doubts that they have even printed a book. I have seen a few mock-ups but going by the artwork, in particular the horrific blue spikey flash on the cover, these could have been thrown together in a few minutes. I am expecting an email any day from Penguin stating "Got you!"
It takes me about four hours to do my hair in the morning so the commitment to cut a chunk out of it should count for something. To be honest, I usually just cut my own hair using a Remington electric razor (purchased from Walmart for $29.95) but a few days prior to receiving the request from the guys at Penguin for a lock of it, I paid for a decent haircut.
Being pretty pleased with my new haircut and not wanting to ruin it, I instead cut off a chunk of my wife's hair while she was sleeping, coloured it in black using a Sharpie, and sent them that. It's all pretty much the same dead stuff so there is little chance of them discovering this deception. If scientists, a thousand years from now, decide to clone me by putting the hair in a scientific cloning machine, they will be surprised when a fine point black Sharpie and pissed off female with red hair pops into existence.
I have no idea what I would say to Justin Bieber if we met but if we were stuck in an elevator and I had to make small talk, I would probably say I liked his shirt or something and ask where he bought it.
Are all your email exchanges real?
The email articles are verbatim although I do fix spelling errors, as is my prerogative, and bad grammar prior to posting. I also sometimes change the person's name or remove their second name, unless they have overly annoyed me, and there have been occasions when I have added context or deleted non-contexual content such as footers. The non-email based articles feature friends, associates and work colleagues and are exaggerated, but based on actual events.
What does the future hold for David Thorne?
With the new book being released I am being kept fairly busy with interviews and stupid requests from Penguin, but I am still managing to find time to write my second non-fiction novel. Look for the cover featuring a cyborg cat riding a dolphin in bookstores later this year. I started writing it this week so I should have something to send to my publisher by Tuesday. These things pretty much write themselves, which is handy, as I intend to spend the next few days in bed watching television.
After that, if the book sells well, I will probably spend each day by the pool, on a solid gold deck-chair, drinking piña coladas and taking copious amounts of drugs. That's the plan, anyway. With great wealth comes little responsibility. If the book only sells five copies then I will just continue writing to amuse myself and blame the people in marketing for its failure.
I also plan to walk the Appalachian Trail and write about the experience. I already own sneakers and shorts so will just need to grab a tent and snacks on the way. Apparently Walmart has tents for $39.95, which is a bargain. I will probably get one of those.
Holly on the extraordinary (and sweet) way she and David met, fell in love, got married and spend their time.
Three years ago I was working in a dead end job and was looking for something a bit different to do. A friend had just returned from the adult version of space camp and I thought that was quite possibly the best thing I had ever heard of, so I signed up.
The second day I was there I dropped an auxiliary detonation pipe on my toe and had to go to the infirmary. I waited for two hours in the waiting area, which is where I met David who was visiting from Australia and doing the same course. I asked if he had the time. He said, "If you have the place" to which I replied, "that's the oldest joke I've ever heard." He said, "the old jokes are the best" and we chatted a bit longer, then the nurse called me in.
After seeing the doctor, I found David was still in the waiting room and said "It's your turn." He replied, "I've already seen the doctor, I was waiting for you."
We went to lunch at the cafeteria; found out that we got on really well. For the rest of the week, we partnered up for simulations and multi-axis trainings.
After space camp, David flew back to Australia. We kept in contact for several months until I went for a three-day visit. Three months after that I quit my job, packed up my belongings and moved to Australia for a year.
Last spring David and I moved to Virginia and we were married in July.
We are, for the most part, private and quiet people. We try our best to balance work obligations with spending time together and having fun. We both like to read, watch movies, snowboard and travel when we can.