Viral Twitter thread combining fine art with modern jokes launches Ferndale resident Nicole Tersigni’s writing career
By Steph Opitz
On May 6, 2019, Ferndale-based writer Nicole Tersigni was having a blah day. Her then-9-year-old daughter was home sick from school, and Tersigni was biding time scrolling the web when she saw something she had seen too many times before: a man explaining a woman’s joke back to her, aka classic mansplaining.
Annoyed, Tersigni Googled “woman surrounded by men” (“because that’s what that feels like sometimes,” she says. “Both on Twitter and in the world”), found a 17th-century painting of a woman baring her breast in a room full of men, and captioned it, “Maybe if I take my tit out they will stop explaining my own joke back to me.” She kept up the pattern — art + man-archetype gripe — in a thread liked by almost 70,000 people to date. Within months, she had a book deal.
Published in August, “Men to Avoid in Art and Life” combines 76 pieces of fine art with contemporary riffs on misogyny. Tersigni’s agent, Rachel Sussman — who initially reached out to Tersigni via Twitter thread with the idea of turning her concept into a book — suggested coming up with different categories of men to give the book structure: The Comedian, The Sexpert, The Patronizer, etc. “I spent hours and hours scrolling through websites and databases trying to find content,” recalls Tersigni, who’s not particularly into fine art. “And then I would spend more hours trying to come up with the perfect joke [for each image].” Her personal favorite: An image that depicts a man with his hand on a statue, which she captioned “You’re not like other girls.” “Makes me laugh every time I see it,” she says.
Tersigni, 33, has been telling jokes for as long as she can remember. As a kid growing up in the Flint area, she was constantly trying to get laughs, she says: “It was kind of a contentious childhood. So that ability to use humor to deflect and change the topic has always been something that I have turned to.”
These days, she hears from folks on social media who say that her jokes have helped them open up more with family members, breach difficult conversations, and laugh more. “It took Nicole’s thread to make me wonder why so many women have their boobs out in paintings,” says reader Sophie Vershbow. “I took enough classes [in college] to know that most art history centers on men. Reframing the paintings in the context of the woman’s experience, even when done for laughs, is actually pretty radical.”
Older women, too, tell Tersigni they wish they would have been able to read a book like this when they were younger. “People can get very defensive about stuff very easily,” she says. “Especially now, everything feels like an attack. When you can make [people] laugh about something, even if it’s critical, it just makes it easier to hear.” (Of course, men have also tried to explain the book to Tersigni, but, hey, that’s generating more material.)
Prior to The Tweet, Tersigni had been trying to break into a writing career, either in fiction writing or TV. Now opportunities are finding her. Though she can’t talk about them yet, she hints there are some TV-related projects in her future. But when it comes to celebrating her accomplishments, 2020 presents some challenges, she says. “Yes, all of these wonderful things are happening for me and my professional life, [but] at the same time the world is on fire. Emotionally, I’m on a roller coaster.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tersigni — who’s married to her high school sweetheart — turns to comedy when things feel heavy; she’s currently re-watching episodes of “Schitt’s Creek,” the Canadian sitcom that recently swept the comedy awards at the 2020 Emmys. “That’s how I’ve been coping,” she says. “It’s fortunate that I have the ability to take things that suck and find some humor in them. Because otherwise I would go absolutely insane.”
To learn more about Nicole visit nicoletersigni.com