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Something to Talk About


I spent two days in a flu fugue earlier this year. When I recovered, something called Peach was having a moment. Context clues told me that Peach was an app involving emoji, but the cultural window in which I would have wanted to know anything more had opened and closed within the lifespan of a common flu. But this week, in prime physical health, I downloaded Talkshow, the latest social app to trigger the tech-press hype machine. Within an hour, I got a bad-behavior warning email from the founder, so while I still don’t totally know what Talkshow is, I have some advice on how not to use it.

Talkshow’s tagline is “texting in public.” Its inspiration and target audience is people who like to take screenshots of their texts and post those screenshots on Twitter. So far, most of its prominent users are media types, and, inexplicably, the actor B.J. Novak. My friends aren’t on Talkshow, and I haven’t found any of the “featured” conversations particularly interesting, so I have little use for it as a social tool.

Nonetheless, I decided to see if I could use the chatting app alone. So I pretended to be previously mentioned celebrity user B.J. Novak. I figured he wouldn’t mind a harmless prank, as he got his start on the television show Punk’d. After all, he had been morally fine with tricking Hilary Duff into thinking he was carjacking her. (Also, he was morally fine appearing in a Punk’d episode in which Ashton Kutcher casually admits he is “waiting” for Hilary Duff’s 18th birthday.)

Knowing in my heart that B.J. approved, I changed my profile picture to a screenshot of his face. I changed my name and handle to “BJ Novak.” And then I started a “chat” called “Secrets of The Office.” Then I made up some secrets about The Office.

Around a hundred people tuned in — a modest crowd — but the responses were overwhelmingly positive. “This is good,” @Puertoruvian said. “I’m totally here for this,” @Geo said. I was a hit!

Alas, as soon as my career as a platform-specific B.J. Novak impersonator began, it ended. I received an email from Talkshow founder Michael Sippey in a disconcertingly short amount of time after starting my chatroom. I know what you’re thinking, and no, it wasn’t an offer for paid compensation for bringing comedy to his app. Instead, Sippey explained that impersonation is not allowed on Talkshow, and that I’d have to add something like “fake” or “not” in my username to indicate that I wasn’t actually B.J. Novak. I obliged, but lost my will to continue pretending to be B.J. Novak once it was clear I was not B.J. Novak.

So, what is Talkshow? It’s not quite Twitter, but maybe it’s the new Peach. No one really knows what it is yet, I guess, but now I know what it is not: a place for satirical B.J. Novak content.

This piece originally appeared in the April 29, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.