Here’s a delightful structure of Twitter joke that is getting awfully clammy:
BRITAIN: Brexit is the stupidest, most self-destructive act a country could undertake.— Brian Pedaci (@bpedaci) November 9, 2016
USA: Hold my beer.
Me: you can't have a tornado, be 70 degrees and snow all in one week.— John Oliver (@John_oliver21) March 8, 2017
Missouri: Hold my beer.
GOP Donor 1: “I just really want to murder poor people.”— ❄️ Ashley Lynch ❄️ (@ashleylynch) March 8, 2017
GOP Donor 2: “But can we be made richer in the process?”
Paul Ryan: “Hold my beer."
GOP: we haven't said anything mind-numbingly stupid in 24 hours— Young Salad (@houstonbred) March 6, 2017
Ben Carson: HOLD. MY. BEER.
I haven’t done meaningful forensics on “hold my beer,” but my best guess is that the phrase was originally used as setup rather than punchline.
That’s how the Twitter account @HoldThisBeer uses it:
Hold my beer while I do tricks on two skateboards at once pic.twitter.com/biyZCL7ZZ2— Hold My Beer (@HoldThisBeer) December 14, 2016
In this format, “hold my beer” is the frame, not the art.
But it’s as a punchline that “hold my beer” really comes into its own.
Here’s the generic structure:
SPEAKER A: There’s no way to top this outrageous thing I said or did. SPEAKER B: Hold my beer.
Since it’s destined to die from overuse, let’s look into how it works.
Speaker A has to be well-known — at least to the target audience. If we don’t recognize the name, the rest of the joke won’t make sense. In some cases, a headline takes the place of Speaker A.
"The Patriots achieved the greatest comeback of all time"— The Soccer Life (@TheSCRLife) March 8, 2017
Barcelona: "Hold my beer"
The thing Speaker A did or said needs to be plausible, with bonus points for recent. There can’t be anything strained about the setup.
Speaker B needs to be recognizable. As with Speaker A, the joke only works if you know who Speaker B is. Either the speaker is already famous, or is temporarily famous because of recent events. The speaker can also be the tweeter:
Friend: Dude, she's lovely, sweet, sexy, smart, funny, and rich. No way you can possibly fuck up this one, congrats bro.— Ike Davis (@IkeDavis10028) March 8, 2017
Me: Hold my beer.
Speaker B either just did something foolish, or can be imagined doing something foolish. To me, this is one of the most interesting aspects of this structure: it works both speculatively or retroactively. But like all things Twitter, the time horizon is very short. It’s hard to imagine the joke working more than a day or two after the inciting event.
When you encounter failed “hold my beer” tweets — and trust me, I found a lot of them — it’s usually because the writer missed one of these four important aspects.
Life after beer
The carcass of a dead meme can provide home for other jokes that subvert the expected payoff:
GF: I'm sick of people barking patriarchal instructions at me.— Tom Neenan (@TNeenan) January 26, 2017
Me: Hold my beer.
Ohio State: we're bad— Yeezmar Hallarsan (@ramzy) March 9, 2017
Rutgers: hold my beer
Ohio State: no
Ohio State: no
Rutgers: but we're Rutgers
Ohio State: NOT TONIGHT
And it’s worth paying attention to the variant forms that continue to chug along, such as “hold my drink” and “hold my earrings.”
In the end, I think “hold my beer” has been a great joke structure for a time that feels bonkers. Every day as we scroll through Twitter, we silently ask ourselves, “Wow, could it get any crazier?”
Hold my beer.