The Origins of Despair


Procrastination - I'll Find a Picture for It Later - Funny Humor Joke Poster

Don’t buy this poster now, you can always get one later.

While we’re sure there are some people who simply don’t “get” our Monday Metavators, they actually have a fairly obvious place in today’s internet landscape. In an era when you can’t tell an absurd cartoon-based caricature of a presidential candidate from the real one (the Simpsons didn’t actually predict this, by the way), and when sites like Clickhole  have pushed the irony and parody of The Onion off a cliff, it’s only natural that someone would do the same with the heritage of the “Demotivator” posters created by Despair, Inc. If you don’t remember Despair, here’s a classic:

consulting demotivator

The concept of “demotivators” has been around so long now that it’s kind of archetypal on the internet. The most common memes – with the white text in the font “Impact” at the top and bottom – are often just variations of the same humor device, i.e.: reversing expectations for ironic effect. Which makes the deeper origin of these themes seem even more archaic. Demotivational posters owe a lot to some earlier sources, specifically: Jack Handey, Stuart Smalley, and even Erma Bombeck. Jack Handey’s riffs on this humor device for SNL are legendary:

Jack Handey I hope that when I die, I die in my sleep

and Stuart Smalley took the idea to an even more “meta” level, with a self-aware theme of a character who expresses a similar motif, but in a completely oblivious fashion:


And Erma Bombeck? You may not even remember who she was; she passed away in 1996, so she actually (gasp) pre-dates broad access to the internet. But in her day, she was legendary for one-liner observations about life, and had a successful career that featured over a dozen best-sellers, most notably If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?

Here’s a roundup of some of the best of these three seminal sources of despair and humor.

Jack Handey:

“I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they’d never expect it.”

“If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is “God is crying.” And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is “Probably because of something you did.”

“It takes a big man to cry, but it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man.”

Stuart Smalley:

“You’re should-ing all over yourself.”

“You need a checkup from the neckup.”

“It’s easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole world.”

Erma Bombeck:

“Car designers are just going to have to come up with an automobile that outlasts the payments.”

“God created man, but I could do better.”

“In general my children refuse to eat anything that hasn’t danced in television.”

“The only reason I would take up jogging is so that I could hear heavy breathing again.”

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