But the idea of “jumping the shark” shouldn’t just be limited to television. It happens on the Internet, too, when beloved running jokes and memes wear out the welcome and start to get stale. Typically, there is a lot of debate about when exactly TV shows have their shark-jump moment. Did “The Simpsons” start to wind down in Season 8? 10? Or even later? (I think we can all agree it’s now a shell of its former self.) With Internet jokes, however, the timeline is much tighter, and the meme mention that would have made you a comment thread hero only days – even HOURS earlier–- will now get you downvoted to hell.
This list attempts to break down the exact moments when some of the favorite memes of the past few years lost their luster and became lame
Double Rainbow Guy for Windows Live
The so-called “Double Rainbow” guy – Paul “Bear” Vasquez – posted a video to YouTube shot outside his home in Yosemite National Park in January of 2010. In the video, Vasquez was observing a double rainbow and had an excited, some might say over-the-top reaction.
After comedian Jimmy Kimmel tweeted about the video – which he called “the funniest in the world” – it very quickly became a viral Internet sensation. To date, the video has received nearly 30 million YouTube views. Everything seemed to finally be going alright for Bear, the oddly-goateed hippie with a love of multiple simultaneous prism effects.
But it wasn’t soon after when the allure of the “double rainbow” concept started to wear off. First, Bear appeared in an advertisement for Microsoft’s Windows Live Photo Gallery, doing what can only be considered a poor impression of himself from his previous video. (Apparently, Microsoft’s got some CRAZY corporate policy about taking eight fistfuls of psychotropic drugs before recording corporate branded messages.)
But the final nail in the coffin of “double ______” being funny was KFC’s introduction of the “Doubleicious” sandwich, combining the healthiness of a fried clump of KFC chicken with the sugariness of Hawaiian bread. Now, saying “Whoa, Double anything” is the rough comic equivalent of saying “Schwing!” In other words, it’s the Windows Vista of punchlines.
Charlie Sheen Tours
Has any catchphrase gone from beloved to universally despised faster than Charlie Sheen’s “Winning?” OK, aside from Charlie Sheen’s references to “Tiger Blood?” I think no.
After a year-long string of embarrassing public humiliations – from twice leaving his post at CBS’ hit sitcom “Two and a Half Men” to enter rehab, to being removed from the Plaza Hotel after tormenting a prostitute – Sheen was finally dismissed from the show in February of 2011. He reacted as any rational person would be – by publicly issuing anti-Semitic epithets at the show’s producer and doing interviews calling himself underpaid and bragging about slamming 7-gram rocks. (That means doing cocaine, kids. Let’s make better choices than Charlie Sheen!)
Many of these interviews gave way to a series of catchphrases – including the aforementioned “Winning” and “Tiger Blood” and also a lot of other nonsensical crap that looks good on a T-shirt if it happens to be the day you send out your Ed Hardy’s to get dry cleaned and to have the awesome skulls re-sequined. Some of them also became songs, as in this remix from the Gregory Brothers:
But when Sheen decided to hit the road and meet his newfound, most-likely-ironic fans in his “Violent Torpedo of Truth Tour,” it became immediately apparent that this meme didn’t really have legs. Just repeating the same hackneyed, barely coherent statements about “goddesses” will only get you so far in this world, apparently. Then people sort of want to hear if you have something actual to say. I know the Nyan Cat, Mr. Sheen, and you, sir, are no Nyan Cat.
[NOTE: I had wanted to find a clip from Sheen’s first stop on the VToT Tour, in Detroit Michigan, but every single TV network that put up a good-quality clip has decided not to allow embedding. Because the LAST thing you want if you are a TV network running ads on your content is for a lot of people to be able to WATCH them. So this clip is from Sheen appearing before the Gathering of the Juggalos, and getting booed and also having garbage thrown at him. Bear in mind, though, this is how the Juggalos express fondness. If they really hadn’t liked Sheen, they would have pelted him with their own feces or, possibly, battered and deep-friend him. One of those two.]
Sad Keanu: The Book
In May 2010, photographer Ron Asadorian took a photo of actor Keanu Reeves sitting on a park bench eating a sandwich. The photo happened to catch Keanu in a downbeat, introspective moment, and inspired a PhotoShopping Trend that came to be known as “Sad Keanu” (or alternatively, “Keanu is Sad.”) Typically, Keanu was removed from the original photograph and put in a different setting, as in the below example:
OK, all well and good so far. But in the summer of 2011, Keanu himself announced that he was planning to sell a limited-edition art book called “Ode to Happiness,” which would include blurry drawings accompanied by particularly emo quotes from Keanu Reeves. (Sample quotes include: “I draw a hot sorrow bath” or “It can always be worse.”)
Reeves insists that he only recently learned about the “Sad Keanu” meme and that the book has nothing to do with it: “Oh, the Internet deal… It was brought to my attention. Yeah, it was funny. But no, the book predates that by a long time. We finished it in August 2009.”
To be fair, he also continues to insist that “Chain Reaction” is a watchable movie. So take all of this with a grain of salt.
Cherry Chocolate Rain
You may have noticed a theme on this list, of memes becoming not funny after they are used for advertising or promotional purposes. This is not some authorial prejudice against consumerism or capitalism or anything like that. (I’m not even 100% sure I know what all those words mean!) Instead, it’s just a good indication of the moment when a meme gets too big and popular for its own good, and when the subject gets too self-aware to continue being funny.
Witness the transformation of Tay Zonday. He started off as the gangly, baritone, genuinely awkward songsmith behind the smash viral hit “Chocolate Rain”:
There’s a amateurishness and a lack of self-awareness here that makes the whole thing kind of charming (but still weird… very weird.) Now take a look at the video for “Cherry Chocolate Rain,” made to plug a somewhat vile-sounding soft drink concoction, Cherry Chocolate Dr. Pepper. (Was Tutti Frutti already being worked on by a competitor?)
Now he’s surrounded by dancing girls, perched atop a throne (years before Kanye or Jay-Z! Think about it!) and has rappers saluting his signature “move away from the mic to breathe” move. The innocence is gone and instead we’re left with just another guy trying to squeeze a few more minutes of fame out of a joke that, in retrospect, wasn’t even all that funny the first time. Just kind of odd.
Antoine Dodson Performs at the BET Awards
Again we come back to the Gregory Brothers, the group that, despite their best efforts, are sort of becoming a YouTube hospice where memes go to die.
The Antoine Dodson phenomenon began innocently enough, with an attempted rape. The soon-to-be-Internet legend appeared on a local newscast making loud, angry threats towards a man who tried to sexually assault his sister:
It was hard not to root for the scrappy Dodson, whose family home was not only viciously and brutally violated, but whose effusive anger and frustration was so palpable. It didn’t take long for the Gregorys to get hold of Dodson’s footage and turn it into, quite possibly, the most popular original Internet song of all time, “Bed Intruder.”
So far so good, though it would have been nice to get an update on whether they actually ever caught that rapist. No? No one? We only care about him when he’s the subject of colorful televised rants? Fair enough.
What really killed the meme was when Dodson basically couldn’t stop making public appearances playing off the fact that, yes, he was that ridiculous guy who told everyone to hide their kids, hide their wives and hide their husbands. The nadir came at the 2010 BET Awards, when Dodson took the stage to perform a song based on his rant about his sister being raped before a live audience. (Because what says “wrapping up the best of the year in entertainment” better than a guy merrily singing a song mocking him about his sister’s escaped, anonymous sexual abuser?)
David After David After Dentist
Look, it gives me no pleasure to verbally attack a young child. OK, it only gives me some pleasure to verbally attack a child. But in this case, it’s not my fault… Blame the parents!
OK, the backstory, for anyone who has just gotten hooked up to the Internet for the first time. (Welcome! Trust me and avoid searching for Goatse no matter what people tell you!) Charming scamp David went to the dentist and got some laughing gas during his procedure, causing him to get a little loopy on the ride home. Obviously, his father thought to film the incident, so that his son’s intoxication could be shared with the entire world.
Let this be a lesson to you kids. Get f**ked up as often as you can. It makes you HILARIOUS.
Unfortunately, just becoming a viral web sensation based on being high and saying things like “Is this real life?” wasn’t enough fame for David and his parents. So they continued filming the kid, telling jokes and stories and otherwise trying his 7-9-year-old best to entertain you, the Internet community. And as anyone who has seen Robin Williams do stand-up recently will tell you… sometimes it’s just not funny without the drugs.
Jennifer Aniston: Meme Killer
This Smartwater ad starring former “Friends” actress and current star of 1/3rd of all unwatchable Hollywood romantic comedies, is like the Day the Music Died for Internet memes. As part of a “clever” “viral” online campaign for Smartwater (“The Cynically Self-Aware Water”), Aniston attempts to recreate elements of other successful YouTube videos. This includes checking in on pint-sized lip syncher Keenan Cahill, hanging out with adorable puppies, dancing with some babies and, yes, checking in AGAIN! on the Double Rainbow guy!
(And no, you can’t jump the shark twice. That’s just ridiculous. Bear had already shark-jumped at this point.)
The whole thing is just irritating, not to mention pointless. Kind of like paying high-end prices for a bottle of water just because the lady from “The Bounty Hunter” told you to while simultaneously ridiculing everything you’ve found funny over the past year.
What What (in the Rebuttal)
On Valentine’s Day, 2007, Samwell released a video for his single “What What (in the Butt)” to YouTube. The surreal ode to homosexuality and anal sex was directed by Andrew Swant and Bobby Ciraldo (collectively known as Brownmark Films), and went on to receive over 40 million YouTube views.
In the South Park Season 12 episode “Canada on Strike,” the character Butters performs his own version of “What What (in the Butt)” as part of a bid to become an online celebrity. The episode includes parody appearances from a variety of other YouTube celebrities, including the “Numa Numa Guy,” Tay Zonday and, of course, the Afro Ninja.
Suing people for animating and re-purposing your funny YouTube video and then putting it on television defeats the whole point of making a funny YouTube video. It sort of defeats the whole point of the Internet. Declaring Samwell’s sexually suggestive nonsense too sacred to parody not only makes zero sense, but renders the original video a lot less entertaining in its own right.
The Chronicles of Rick Roll
And finally, we come to the Meme Graveyard that is “The Chronicles of Rick Roll,” a feature film project bringing together dozens of YouTube personalities to essentially guarantee you will never want to hear the words “Internet” or “Video” ever, ever again.
Yes, all your favorite driven-into-the-ground catchphrases are here, from Leeeeeeeeeeroy Jenkins to Boom Goes the Dynamite to, YES, ONCE AGAIN, DOUBLE RAINBOW GUY. And they’re all awkwardly shoehorned into a parody of Alice in Wonderland less advisable than chasing a rabbit down a dirt hole in a local park before eating whatever mushrooms you happen to find strewn about.
What makes the trailer for “The Chronicles of Rick Roll” so brutally painful is the total lack of actual jokes. In their place are references, reminding you of these personalities original claim to fame. I mean, why give Antoine Dodson something amusing to say when you can just have him restate his “hide yo _____, hide yo ______” for the five hundred billionth time this year?The “Boom Goes the Dynamite” guy gets even less impressive treatment, literally turning to the camera and dramatically re-reading his catchphrase with a sincerity you’d normally expert from Walter Cronkite announcing the death of a sitting president. I’d rather get Rick Roll’d about 100 times in a row than have to sit through this trailer once more. It doesn’t just jump the shark. It launches into orbit miles above the shark, never again to return to land.