COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sammy Rhodes didn’t court Twitter fame. Maybe he flirted with it a little, but he only did it to make other people smile.
As the following grew for his 140-characters-or-fewer jokes posted under the handle @prodigalsam, Rhodes discovered the dark side of fame. Other Twitter comedians began to attack Rhodes for allegedly stealing jokes. As is typical in Internet spats, it quickly turned personal and ugly.
“The Internet has taught me two things: 1. People are the best. 2. People are the worst,” Rhodes tweeted on May 29.
That was more serious than most of his tweets. It probably surprised those among the 130,000 followers who hadn’t been tuned in to the negative buzz, those who only read his tweets for the daily grins.
Rhodes, a campus minister at the University of South Carolina, denies stealing jokes.
“There are formulas that we all use,” he said of joke-writing between sips of coffee at Immaculate Consumption on Main Street. “Now I’m caught in the middle of being accused — I think falsely — of stealing jokes. ... It has made Twitter lose its fun.”
After saying for weeks in media interviews that he wasn’t going to let the uproar stop him, Rhodes used a series of tweets Friday night to announce the steady flow of jokes was stopping.
“Some wise friends who love me well have asked me to step away from Twitter for a season, for the sake of my family, ministry, & own soul” …
“This isn’t a break-up, but a break. And it isn’t you, it’s me (pretty sure I stole that from someone) … ”
He offered his backers a chance to help by posting a link to a fundraising campaign for his campus ministry. Then he couldn’t resist two final jokes, both typical of his geek-driven humor with references to Star Wars and another, less joke-friendly, social networking site.