Threads, a brand-new social app from Instagram that bears more than a passing resemblance to Twitter, has already pulled in a massive user base, notching 50 million signups just a day after launch. The Silicon Valley shakeup is exacerbating tensions between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, with attorneys for the former already arguing that Instagram parent Meta hired “dozens” of former Twitter employees and “misappropriated” its trade secrets to develop the rival app.
But while these tech titans duke it out for the privilege of extracting our personal data, a handful of standup comedians who have faced some level of “cancelation” fueled by internet outrage have set up shop on Threads, apparently finding it a safe harbor — for now.
“Ok I’m on threads,” wrote Chris D’Elia on Wednesday after joining the Instagram-enabled text service. He followed up this first post with a link to his website, writing that tour dates were available there. In a recent Rolling Stone report, ten women came forward to accuse D’Elia of emotional abuse and sexually predatory behavior; some were teenagers when they allegedly had unsettling encounters with the comedian. The FBI has conducted interviews with his accusers, but D’Elia continues to deny their claims.
D’Elia, known from TV shows including Whitney and You, has not posted on Twitter since the summer of 2020, when the site was flooded with anonymous accounts from dozens of women who alleged that he had groomed them, solicited them for nudes photos, and made unwanted sexual advances when they were underage. (D’Elia denied these allegations as well.) On Threads, however, he already has more than 73,000 followers, possibly boosted in part because newcomers have the option to mass-follow everyone they follow on Instagram — where D’Elia maintains an audience of 2.2 million.
While he has been the target of some mockery from hostile Threaders who bring up the abuse allegations, many of the replies to D’Elia’s early posts have been welcoming and positive. Shortly after he appeared on the app, one fan wrote, “now it feels like home.”
Two standup comedians who made it big in TV but saw their careers take a hit when they were accused of unprofessional conduct have also migrated to Threads: Ellen DeGeneres and Carlos Mencia.
Mencia’s Comedy Central show Mind of Mencia came to an end in 2008 after then lesser-known comic Joe Rogan went viral with a video in which he confronted Mencia on stage for allegedly plagiarizing jokes. The footage was cut together with footage purporting to show Mencia performing material written and used by other comedians first. “It is ironic that a guy who is now saying you shouldn’t cancel anybody at least started the building of his podcast by canceling me,” Mencia said of Rogan in an interview years later.
While he didn’t immediately a gain a follower count like D’Elia’s, Mencia started on an optimistic note as he tested out Threads, writing, “Hopefully this isn’t as toxic as twitter.” (Mencia has an account on Twitter, but is not an active user on the platform.) Like D’Elia, he set about promoting his upcoming shows and TV appearances on Threads.
DeGeneres, meanwhile, had no problem quickly amassing 1.5 million followers, putting her within range of Zuckerberg himself, who currently has 2.3 million. In her inaugural post, she cheerfully declared Threads to be “Gay Twitter,” drawing some manner of distinction with the Musk-owned app. DeGeneres seems to have abandoned her Twitter account in April of this year, leaving it dormant since.
DeGeneres announced the end of her once mega-popular daytime talk program The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2021 amid a ratings slump after BuzzFeed News reported allegations from former and current employees that she oversaw a toxic workplace despite her “be kind” mantra. Sources said that behind the scenes, the production was rife with sexual misconduct, racism, and bullying.
Last fall, singer Greyson Chance, who appeared on DeGeneres’ show in 2010 as a 12-year-old viral star and became the first act she signed to her now defunct record label, spoke about his experiences with the former daytime host in an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone. Chance claimed she had become harshly controlling over his music career, then abandoned him when one of his records underperformed. “I’ve never met someone more manipulative, more self-centered, and more blatantly opportunistic than her,” he said.
But no embattled comedian has embraced Threads with the same gusto as Dane Cook, an A-lister of the mid-aughts who sold out arenas and went double platinum with his 2005 live album Retaliation. Between some Hollywood flops, on-stage misogyny, tasteless comments about a mass shooting, and his own plagiarism scandal — critics believe he stole material from the also-canceled Louis C.K., and Rogan has accused him of joke theft as well — his stardom faded.
Cook did his iffy reputation no favors last summer, when, at the age of 50, he revealed that he was engaged to his 23-year-old girlfriend, Kelsi Taylor, after five years of dating. Internet sleuths quickly figured out that Cook had known Taylor since she was as young as 17 and attending Cook’s “game nights,” which were frequented by underage girls as well as adults. That timeline, and the eyebrow-raising age gap between Cook and Taylor, had Twitter users branding him a “groomer.”
On Threads, however, Cook is quite at home, alternating between jokes, showbiz stories, and attempts at inspirational life advice. “Everyone deserves to be treated like an equal,” he posted at one point, elsewhere musing, “Maybe your sole purpose in this life is to not have one but many, at many times with many others.” While hashtags do not function on the app as they do on Twitter, he added #lovelifeitlovesyouback to a photo of himself in a pool. He has even expressed the notion that Threads is a “healing foundation” and utopian sanctuary from the “disinformation and bias” that characterize the rest of the internet.
Reps for Cook, DeGeneres, and Mencia did not respond to requests for comment as to whether their comedian clients see the advent of Threads as an opportunity to rebrand. A comedy promoter brand reportedly managing D’Elia as of last year likewise did not respond to questions about what he hopes to achieve on the app.
Nevertheless, the emerging pattern hints that entertainers dogged by negative press view Threads as a friendlier platform, far away from the mob of detractors on Twitter who would continue to dredge up serious allegations and embarrassing headlines. Perhaps the millions flocking to the Instagram platform this week will prove themselves eager to forget celebrities’ past missteps or misconduct. And Cook’s turn from frat-bro humor toward a more wholesome schtick sounds especially deliberate. “I’m saying whatever I want to say in way I’ve never said it before,” reads his Threads bio.
Whatever the coming weeks and months hold for this budding scene, one thing’s for sure: Musk declaring that “Comedy is now legal on Twitter” wasn’t enough to convince these comics to stay.