“Man is a double being and can take, now the god’s-eye view of things, now the brute’s eye view.” —Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, 1937
“the wise man bowed his head solemnly and spoke: ‘theres actually zero difference between good & bad things. you imbecile. you fucking moron’” —Dril, Twitter, 2014
Dril is a real person, or so I had been told. Sitting in the House of Pies in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, I was waiting for him to join me in a booth—but I didn’t know who was actually going to show up.
It was the quiet midafternoon hours at the diner, which is a relic of when the area was less upscale, and it still partially attracts an off-key clientele of misfits and bozos, some of whom are alone and in no hurry to leave. (As I sat, an older man in oversized overalls walked by carrying a seat cushion; it was unclear whether he worked there.) This venue was the most readily available approximation of Dril’s world that I could think of.
While I waited, I pulled up Dril’s Twitter account and looked at a recent post: “The fact is,” he wrote, “people arent doing a good job wiping their ass these days. And its attracting all manner of stray dogs and coyotes to our towns.” The likes were ticking up and up in real time as they moved toward their eventual zenith of almost 17,000. By Dril standards, this wasn’t even a particularly popular—or deranged—post.
With 1.7 million highly engaged followers, Dril is one of the more powerful Twitter users and, by default, one of the more powerful figures on the internet. Active since 2008, the Dril account—simultaneously known by the profile name “Wint”—with its grainy Jack Nicholson avatar, has been responsible for countless viral posts, just as beloved for the vivid scenes they induce as for the baffling grammatical and spelling errors they contain. Many of his tweets have become part of the permanent online lexicon: “‘im not owned! im not owned!!’, i continue to insist as i slowly shrink and transform into a corn cob”; “issuing correction on a previous post of mine, regarding the terror group ISIL. you do not, under any circumstances, ‘gotta hand it to them’”; “i am selling six beautfiul, extremely ill, white horses. they no longer recognize me as their father, and are the Burden of my life.”
To most people, he is nothing; show the unaffiliated some of his posts, and they will likely just generate confusion and possibly anguish. (“Uh, so, I think I’ll stick with gardening. Where bull poop helps good things grow, and the tweets come from birds, not nitwits,” read one of many upset people in the comment section of a recent Washington Post feature about Dril, inadvertently adopting their own Dril-esque cadence in the process.) But to a large sect of the Very Online, he is king—the undisputed poet laureate of shitposting, the architect of a satire so effective that it has become impossible to tell when Dril stopped mocking the way people speak online and when we, instead, started speaking like Dril online.
For almost 10 years, he was entirely anonymous. Like a decent number of the people in the so-called “Weird Twitter” scene that Dril is still vaguely a part of, he doesn’t put his real name on the account—but as time has gone on and his popularity has grown, it’s become nothing short of miraculous that he’s kept up the mystery. He’s a pyramid-obsessed phantom. He’s banky. Still, over the years, some of his digital curtain has begun to part—largely spurred by his being doxxed in 2017, when his identity was revealed to supposedly be that of a man named Paul.
Around the same time, Dril started a Patreon, released a book, Dril Official “Mr. Ten Years” Anniversary Collection, and had an Adult Swim television show, TruthPoint—a surrealist Infowars parody in which he manifested behind a cheap old man mask and bantered with self-professed “manic pixie stream boy” cohost Derek Estevez-Olsen. Dril also began doing an interview here and there, but never anything substantial, and always in character. I reached out to him via email, and when he replied, the name attached to the account was “paul d.” But I still wasn’t totally sure that he wouldn’t walk into House of Pies with his mask on, throw a plate against a wall, and then walk out.
“I’m Paul,” he said, once he found me and after I began by asking whom, exactly, I could say I was speaking to.
Paul Dochney, who is 35, does not, in fact, look like a mutant Jack Nicholson. He has soft features and a gentle disposition and looks something like a young Eugene Mirman. It’s difficult to say what I expected to find sitting across from me, but it wasn’t this. Looking at him, you’d never presume that this was the person who made candle purchasing a matter of financial insecurity.
He opted to stick with water—not a terrible decision at the House of Pies, but also, I worried, a choice that theoretically allowed him a quick exit at any point. For a while, I got the sense that he might have been deciding how much to reveal to me in real time, based on how the conversation went. But one thing he was clear about from the beginning: It was all right to end this game of living in the digital shadows.
“I mean, my name is already out there,” he said, acknowledging the fact that, after the doxxing, he had at separate points confirmed his name on both Twitter and Reddit. “It’s in my Wikipedia article. Maybe people need to grow up. Just accept that I’m not like Santa Claus. I’m not a magic elf who posts.”
In some sense, anonymity has served a creative purpose. “Practically, it’s a good tool,” Estevez-Olsen told me later in a phone interview, “because when you make a post, you don’t want to be like, ‘From Paul Dochney, I fuck flags’ or whatever. You want to have some distance from it.” (He would know: “Estevez-Olsen” is itself a TruthPoint stage name that he asked me to use for reasons of privacy.)
But the secrecy has also lingered because of the types of personalities Dril naturally attracts to his orbit. “Most people are normal,” Dochney explained. “But there’s, like, three or four weirdos who just ruin it for everyone.” Jon Hendren, a fellow titan of Weird Twitter who is known by his subtle handle, @fart, told me that he had seen some disturbing messages people had sent Dochney in the past—that he wasn’t being paranoid or dramatic. “It’s gotta be kind of surreal,” Hendren said. “And it’s got to be kind of difficult to live with.”
Dril may be a phantom, but Dochney, like the rest of us, did come from somewhere. He was raised in New Jersey in a working-class family, he explained to me; his father worked as a FedEx manager “for the longest time,” and his mother was a homemaker who also chased down side jobs. “I was very into the internet from a very early age,” Dochney said, nursing his cup of water. “I was kind of in the background most of the time, just daydreaming about video games and stuff like that. I mean, I had a few friends. I wasn’t a total outcast or a weirdo. But I was on the quiet side.”
After dropping out after his first attempt at college, Dochney eventually gave it another shot at Wilmington University in Delaware—“the cheapest college I could find that would still give me a valid bachelor’s degree,” he said. There, he studied media design: “Like, web design and HTML and the Adobe Suite and all that stuff,” he said. “Graphics.”
In essence, the character of Dril was born on Something Awful, an outsider comedy website that had particularly popular message boards and file-sharing forums in the 2000s. It was where many—if not most—of the essential Weird Twitter personalities came from, and where some, like Hendren, were (poorly) paid moderators or contributors. “Effort was looked down upon for a long time,” said Hendren, who added that he apparently once banned Dochney from one of the forums (although he is friendly with him these days). “And so if you’re just naturally funny, and if you’re just naturally saying good things, then you did fine there.”
Cynicism and brashness defined the Something Awful aesthetic. Its founder, Richard Kyanka, explained to Vice in 2017 that part of his goal with the site was to produce “parodies of wonks who were saying the internet was the future without saying, ‘Well there could be a possible downside to the internet.’” He went on, “Everybody was talking about how the internet was going to revolutionize everything and everything was going to be great, but nobody ever talked about how shitty the internet could also be.”
Dochney was a regular in the infamous Fuck You and Die forum, and he said that he mostly posted artwork. (“They had this, like, flag system,” he remembered, “where you could post these little images of, like, cartoons or, like, asses that are shitting.”) At that time, Dochney went by “gigantic drill” on the site, a name he came up with when he was still a teenager. “If there was some inspiration behind it, I’ve forgotten it by now,” he said.
About two years after Twitter was founded in 2006, a friend told him he should sign up and join the growing group of Something Awful affiliates who were taking advantage of what was then a novelty: a mobile-friendly way to post. The handle “@drill” with two l’s was taken, so “@dril” it was. Dochney’s first post, which has since gone on to have an inexplicable life of its own, was partially a response to a friend who had told him to sign up: “no.”
“This is in 2008,” Dochney said, “when it was brand new, and everyone was just posting bullshit like, ‘Oh, this is what I had for lunch.’ It was just, like, tech guys posting inane details about their lives. I posted ‘no’ because I didn’t care for it at the time. I still really don’t care for it.”
Dochney posts often, and with seeming abandon. “For the Pleasure of the Fans,” he recently released four versions of a book compiling 10,000 of his “finest” posts, the equivalent of roughly two posts per day during the 14 years of time covered. (The font in these books is beyond minuscule, and getting past the line spacing to actually read the tweets is a high-wire act; the format is its own joke.) “I just post whatever bullshit I’m thinking,” Dochney explained of the Dril Process. “I kind of have to get into, like, the writing mood. But there’s no ritual or anything. Usually when I’m driving or I’m in the shower, I’ll come up with some sort of idea.”
The character of Dril is fluid, but taken as a whole, the blurry image starts to come into focus: It’s that of an easily agitated, overly confident, wildly crass, IBS-ridden middle-aged man thrashing away on a computer—probably a PC. He speaks in outlandish non sequiturs and engages with brands with unreasonable love and hate in equal measure. He is the dark, democratic promise of the internet—that anyone can use it to broadcast their opinions at any time—fulfilled. “I just go back to how specific and unique it is,” comedian and actor David Cross told me. “There’s nobody quite like him, and it perfectly encapsulates that Twitter dialogue.”
When I asked Dochney whether the type of person he’s satirizing is more common now or merely more visible, he said, “I think there’s just so many of those minds out there that we can only see because of the internet. In the 1920s or whatever, there were just as many dumb, crazy people who only met, like, four people in their entire life, and just died in obscurity.” He noted that he appreciates that the site “records this interesting snapshot of all the insane people who exist in the background and just post.” It was one of the only moments when he had anything remotely complimentary to say about Twitter.
Since Dochney moved to L.A. a few years ago, which he did to hopefully “get a job entertaining in some capacity,” he has survived mainly on his various Dril-based incomes. He told me he’s making a decent living but clarified that he probably makes “as much money as a Kmart manager or something.” (His Patreon, which is now focused on funding the development of a video game and is available in “disgusting” and “Fucked” tiers, is currently taking in $1,468 a month from roughly 500 subscribers.)
There is clearly a market for what Dochney does, but tapping into it hasn’t been the easiest process. He recalled talking to a publisher about potentially putting out his book The Get Rich and Become God Method, which is a textbook-sized survey of his art and humor and also quite literally a step-by-step guide to getting rich and becoming God. “I sent them the PDF,” he said, “and I did not get a response from them. I can imagine that, like, they turned to Page 11 and saw a Ku Klux Klan member with his blue penis sticking out, and just said, ‘No, thank you. I can’t market this for the life of me.’” (The page being referenced is titled “Thoughts of My Son,” and it features said blue, seminude Ku Klux Klan member being defended by his father: “I ask that you PLEASE look BEYOND his Crude Visage before you lay Judgement upon this Man,” the father pleads. “AND read some of his Posts.”) Like his other books, Method was eventually self-released.
The arrival of TruthPoint on Adult Swim was an unexpected moment in Dochney’s career, not just because it marked his transition from writer to performer—something he said he had never dabbled in before—but also because of the corporate legitimacy of it. Still, TruthPoint was one of the more bizarre programs I have ever watched in any capacity, let alone on a channel owned by Warner Bros. (The second episode, which is almost an hour long, at one point features Estevez-Olsen reading a passage from the novelization of the 2001 movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which is itself an adaptation of the video game franchise of the same name; Dril’s review of the book was “This is a thriller from beginning to end, folks.”) The show had promise, but the timing was bad; the pandemic forced them to do episodes over video calls, and new episodes stopped airing in fall 2020.
Dochney and Estevez-Olsen are working to keep the TruthPoint enterprise alive—ideally by rebooting it in a more sketch-oriented format, they said. (Estevez-Olsen cited Chris Morris’s ’90s news parody show, Brass Eye, as a partial model.) But part of the difficulty is communicating just what the show is—who, exactly, they are.
“We met with this agent from a big [agency]. We were showing him the pitch decks we had put together that we worked hard on,” Estevez-Olsen said. “He was just like, ‘Yeah, I don’t know if I can do anything for you. Because it’s almost like you’re saying you’re not comedians, really, you’re not writers—we can’t, like, put you on a sitcom as a writing team.’ I think in that moment, I felt pretty stupid. I felt like an outsider artist, and we’re, like, dragging in our misshapen barrels that we were painting in the backyard and being like, ‘You should put this in a museum.’”
In the diner, I asked Dochney whether he thought of himself as a writer, and he said, “I kind of consider myself a lot of things. I do art and writing. But I’d rather be called a writer than a social media influencer or something like that. That is vile to me.”
Defining and understanding how social media works in the artistic realm is still a new field. It is also one that will likely be far more important in the grand scheme of things than many would like to imagine. “This is the world young artists and art students live in,” Aaron Betsky, a writer and critic specializing in art and design, noted in a 2014 New Yorker feature about Horse_ebooks, a bot-imitating piece of Twitter art. “The way we represent our world is more and more digitally based and networked. If art is in any way reflecting our world, it will have to adopt and adapt these techniques and technologies.”
Mark Sample, professor and chair of digital studies at Davidson College, told me that he believes Dril might be understood within the developing field of netprov (as in internet improvisation). Not altogether unrelated to electronic literature, or net art as a whole, netprov is, Sample explained, “the idea of using a social media platform as a kind of improvisational space in which the people on the other side aren’t really sure, are they seeing something that’s really sincere and earnest, or are they watching a performance?” I started to imagine Dril as the Ornette Coleman of the internet, but Sample said he likens it in some way to a living statue street performer “who’s just always doing it, whether there’s even a crowd around or not.”
Darcie Wilder, writer of the tweet-inspired 2017 novel literally show me a healthy person, sees something that’s similar to performance art: “It’s not just the jokes he’s doing—it’s the performance and the actual whole thing,” she told me.
Perhaps no artist has done more to push forward the conversation about how social media can exist in the artistic realm than Jacob Bakkila, who ran Horse_ebooks as part of a larger artistic collaboration with Thomas Bender. The Horse_ebooks project was deliberately ended in 2013—“No one wants to work on a painting forever,” Bakkila said at the time—and Bakkila, who now works in advertising in addition to his ongoing work as a multimedia artist, spoke thoughtfully to me over video call about the promise of art in the digital landscape. But of anyone I talked to, he was the most concerned about the risk of overintellectualizing Dril’s act—of being the type of person who, in his analogy, would study photosynthesis but forget to watch “the leaves change color.”
“He’s a poster,” Bakkila said. “And I think that there’s a great beauty to that because it’s also the native language of the internet. … It’s what the internet is designed to do, is to let you post on it. And it goes deeper—in that sense, it’s more profound than comedy, although obviously he’s very funny. And it’s more profound than art, although obviously he’s artistic. But I think first and foremost, he’s a poster. And he’s the best one we have.”
Often, when people talk about Dril, they use him as a vehicle to talk about Twitter itself—its initial promise, its inevitable demise. The approach is something like using Andy Kaufman to talk about Saturday Night Live; it’s not wrong, exactly, but it is a missed opportunity for something more specific, and more interesting, at any rate. There is plenty to learn about Twitter through Dril, but less to learn about Dril through Twitter.
Dochney described his popularity on the site as “incidental” and his association with it more as a millstone than a gift. “I do find a lot of aspects of Twitter very disgusting,” he said. “It would not be my first choice of websites to get popular on, but that’s just the way it goes. And I got to work with that.” (Twitter, for what it’s worth, seems to value Dril’s presence, as he is reportedly one of about 35 elite users, along with the likes of LeBron James and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, currently being “boosted” on the site.)
Posting, in its various forms and locations, is a skill, and Dochney knows how to recognize it as well as anybody. Donald Trump, he noted, is “a very good poster”—a skill that is likely bolstered by the fact that he’s also “legitimately probably nuts, a little bit.” (“Sometimes,” Dochney did add, however, “being mentally ill makes you a worse poster.”) As for memes, one of the primary forms of posting, Dochney doesn’t “respect” them: “I think memes are just jokes you stole, basically,” he said. “I like making shit.”
To my eye, Dochney hasn’t lost a step in his second decade of posting as Dril, and more than that, some of his best posts have been in the last year. But the criticisms and half-serious conspiracy theories are constant. One that Dochney is particularly irritated by is the “you didn’t used to be topical” line: “I was always a product of what was going on around me,” he said, exasperated. “So it’s kind of weird when people start accusing me of, like, ‘Oh, you sold your account to Waffle House, and now you’re posting differently,’ or some bullshit like that.” If anything, Dochney added, he believes he’s been “doing the same shtick almost to a fault, really.”
When TruthPoint was first announced in 2019, there was enough of a cynical reaction from some of Dril’s followers that Darcie Wilder addressed it in an essay for The Outline (a platform that, notably, is now dead): “Twitter and Hollywood are obviously vastly different ecosystems,” she wrote, “but as the time we spend staring into a screen becomes split between traditional entertainment products and crowdsourced online content presented by tech platforms, their value becomes intertwined. But only one of these industries pays its writers.”
“Neither one of us really had in our heart of hearts,” Estevez-Olsen told me, “that we were going to write 140-character, pithy, little, funny, cute things for the rest of our lives. Paul wanted to—like me—write books, make TV shows, do whatever you can to build a world and express all of that.” The way Dochney put it, posting, for him, is “kind of like going to the bathroom, really—just putting something out there.” He seemed a little worn out by the idea of being an old man firing up Twitter. “Posting is not something you want to do forever,” he said.
Contrary to the nature of his comedy—pitch black, often finding a deceptively amusing way to channel some of the most disturbing inclinations that society has—Dochney does not identify as a nihilistic person. The darkness of the internet, he believes, is an illusion that comes from when “you’re on Twitter, and you’re just exposed to the worst of it, mainlined 24/7,” he said. “I don’t want to be like one of those guys, like, ‘You know, war is not so bad if you look at the positive stuff.’ But it’s not 100 percent hopeless, I’d say.”
This surprised me. If there’s one accent in the posting language that could be arguably sourced to Dril, it’s the disaffected irony so many of us have adopted online—the way we seem increasingly allergic to earnestness and blanketed in a wisecracking despair. I told him his answer was pretty starkly different from the image I had of Dril in my head: sweating, drooling, grinning maniacally, on the verge of a heart attack.
“If I wasn’t relatively happy with my life, maybe I could have been that guy,” he said. “Maybe if my posts never took off and I was still working in a mail room at the age of almost 40, I would be just as angry, and posting about my ass and balls with all sincerity.”
In January, I went to see TruthPoint Cataclysm, a live reincarnation of the TruthPoint show, which functioned as the first substantial time that Dochney had made a public appearance as Dril. The performance was at the Elysian Theater in the freeway-adjacent stretch of L.A.’s Frogtown, and tickets for the 135-seat venue were sold out. Inside, however, there were some empty seats, mostly in the front, which was perhaps a sign of an instinctive avoidance of a splash zone that did, actually, become a factor later on.
Presented in 12D—“10 times more than a normal 2D experience,” according to Estevez-Olsen—the show’s topic was gambling, with Dril and Estevez-Olsen engaging in a variety of salient debates about best practices when betting money, whether in the casino or with crypto or what have you. Toward the end of the show, there was a raffle to give away a copy of a small book that Dochney had supposedly written called How to Cheat at Casino Games by Being a Bitch. In a fit of fury, he tore one of the copies of this book up, and Estevez-Olsen threw the pages into the audience.
On my way out, I made off with a few torn sheets, which I was later amused to find consisted of semi-coherent chapters—filled with actual jokes. (“If you want to make any decent money at the track, there’s one thing you must remember,” the section on horse racing reads. “You’ve got to get ‘WET’, which stands for ‘Win Every Time.’”) Dochney had sat down and written all this out and then had it printed, presumably just for the bit—or for his own personal satisfaction, or both.
The whole event—from the in-person nature of it to the physical prop book—felt very distant from anything I might experience while aimlessly scrolling around on my phone. Still, despite his live comedy sets with Estevez-Olsen and his gigs hosting movie screenings, Twitter remains at the forefront of everything when we talk about Dril. And it most likely will until the platform is out of our lives.
“I think it’s getting further away from, like, whatever cool thing it was,” said Wilder, who told me she used to think Twitter was its own art but these days finds that belief “embarrassing.” “Now it’s obviously just, like, data mining and advertising. … Dril is also very different from that. Like, those things don’t really apply to his feed. It’s really weird that he’s still so successful.”
Late last year, as Twitter users worried about the future of the platform amid new CEO Elon Musk’s takeover, the thought of losing Dril prompted at least one user to catalog every Dril tweet like he was grabbing the family pets and photo albums from a burning home. But Dochney wondered whether Twitter’s demise could potentially force him to “grow in ways I never thought possible.” He also considered the notion that it might destroy his career entirely. Either way, he decided, “You gotta commend Elon for doing everything in his power to wipe this nuisance website off the face of the earth.” (Add swapping Twitter’s blue bird logo for Doge last week to Musk’s long list of screwups.)
Regardless of Twitter’s fate, one development that’s guaranteed in the immediate future is that relinquishing pure anonymity will change things for Dochney, at least to some degree. If his fans were replying with “don’t do this” and “this account is ruined now” when he posted his name a few years ago, how they’d respond to a gesture far more forthright remains to be seen.
“They want it to be, like, an insane guy who lives in the woods or something,” said Estevez-Olsen. “Or they want it to be just a blurry man. But yeah, it’s a guy named Paul. He’s, like, fairly normal. … I feel like if people find out about who he is in real life, and then they suddenly don’t like the stuff anymore, that’s just silly. If you like what he’s written, you like it, and that’s all there is to it.”
David Cross brought up when Bobcat Goldthwait decided to stop performing in his outlandish voice, even though it was what the comedian was initially known for. “At some point, he was like, ‘Fuck it, I don’t want to do this anymore,’” Cross said. “I mean, it’s Bob Dylan going electric.”
One way I’ve processed the idea of Dochney’s story undergoing a sea change is to remind myself that he is, by nature, a troll. And more than that, he’s a troll who trolls trolls. The most disappointing thing Dochney could become is predictable, even in something as outlandish as perpetual namelessness. I’m glad he didn’t walk into the House of Pies and throw a plate against the wall. But part of the fun is that I thought there was a chance he might do it anyway.
Before meeting up with Dochney, I wrote down a list of artists and art that I thought he might have some lineage from, and late in our conversation, I began rattling them off to see whether he felt any attachment. I wanted to attempt to understand Dochney within the context of the history of comedy.
Looney Tunes? “I was more of a Ren & Stimpy child,” he said. Kurt Vonnegut? “Pretty good.” Jack Handey? “I really liked that.” A Confederacy of Dunces? “I thought it was funny. I thought it was kind of ahead of its time. … [Ignatius J. Reilly] was, like, the first internet nerd before the internet even existed.” Marcel Duchamp—the, uh, “urinal guy,” I stammered. “I don’t know if I can respect a man who you refer to as ‘the urinal guy,’” he replied.
Dochney described himself as being “overexposed” to comedy these days and didn’t appear to be too enamored of the mainstream comedy scene in general. But there was one moment when he noticeably brightened up about the subject of comedy he was a fan of—and that was when he was talking about posts that he thought were categorically funnier than his. The Dril page often retweets arcane mutterings from accounts with essentially no followers, and Dochney was explaining one way he sometimes navigates Twitter to locate these lonely crevices of social media: Think of something, and spell it hilariously wrong.
The other day, he said, he took “Willy Wonka” and spelled it “Welly Wonka,” and he found a bunch of posts from “the dumbest people ever” talking about the characters from Roald Dahl’s books. He also found what appeared to be an elementary school classroom that was “taking place on Twitter for some reason.” The class was discussing Wonka, and the teacher had prompted the students to choose three words that they would use to describe the Oompa Loompas in some way. “The responses were some of the funniest shit I’ve probably ever seen,” he said. “There was one that was, like, ‘small, clown, smart.’ The other one was, like, ‘short, dumb, unfunny.’”
I told him that it felt like a demonstration of the fact that, ultimately, there’s nobody funnier than someone who’s not trying to be in the first place.
“It’s very sad for all these professional comedians that there’s something there that they can never grasp,” he said. “And I guess me, too, in a way.”
Nate Rogers is a writer in Los Angeles. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, GQ, and elsewhere.