There’s a vortex outside my house. You leave something out the front and it disappears within, say, 20 minutes. I’ve lost count of the number of unwanted items I’ve sacrificed to the Tottenham Vortex. Tables, books, house plants on their last legs. It’s always amazing to me that somebody in that particular area, at that particular time, happened to want a secondhand blender just as I placed one outside my house. But we sometimes live in a beautiful world.
From Tottenham, then, to New York, the headquarters of FuckJerry, the social media bros who run an Instagram account that posts funny memes. They shared it, you clicked ‘like’. What’s a meme worth? Perhaps around $60,000 per post, if you have 14 million followers, as FuckJerry do. Yet the ‘s beginning to catch up with head bro Elliot Tebele and his merry band of ‘grammers. In an article for Vulture, writer Megh Wright called FuckJerry out as “every comedian’s worst enemy”, a company she claimed was guilty of “long-running joke theft”.
No, FuckJerry doesn’t make its own memes. They scour social media and post jokes that people, like me with my blender, left out for other ‘grammers and tweeters to find. Difference being: they get rich off the profits. For Wright, the Tebele and co.’s deal with Comedy Central was the straw that broke the ‘grammers’ backs. “That feels antithetical to everything Comedy Central stands for,” she wrote, “especially considering that the network likely employs comedians and writers who have had their jokes stolen by FuckJerry at some point.”
Cue the social media backlash #fuckfuckjerry, as content creators implored people on the internet not to put the account’s posts into their eyeballs. This video’s been doing the rounds:
Now, far be it from me to defend FuckJerry. After all, this is the social media company that was paid to promote the notoriously disastrous Fyre Festival, and apparently continued to do so even after it became clear that Fyre Festival was a scam – and a disaster – on a massive scale. And, as anyone who watches the above video will know, when Tebele and his bros discuss their business, they seem a fairly odious, self-aggrandising, tediously macho bunch who act like they’ve found the cure for cancer because they happened to make you chuckle over your cornflakes.
But the fact is that FuckJerry didn’t ‘steal’ your joke. You gave it away – just like I gave away that random shit from the front of my house. You posted it on Twitter or Instagram for free, and then someone else picked it up and did their own thing with it. If anything, Twitter or Instagram owns your joke now. Or maybe it belongs to somebody who might have retweeted it.
People who criticise FuckJerry for ‘curating’ content rather creating it are like the people who looked at Tracey Emin’s Turner Prize-winning unmade bed in 1998 and said, “Pah! I could do that.” It’s like: yeah, but you didn’t, and that’s why she’s a genius and you’re not (it’s probably, er, fair to say that that’s where the similarities between a genius artist and a shit meme account end). Point being: you could have re-shared other people’s posts on a massive scale, but you didn’t and FuckJerry did. And that’s why they’re rich and you’re not (sorry).
Tebele has since apologised and pledged that FuckJerry will change its ways, writing on Medium: “It is clear that attribution is no longer sufficient, so permission will become the new policy… We want to do the right thing by creators by seeking permission and giving them the credit they deserve.” This came, of course, after Comedy Central pulled its advertising from the account, suggesting that this was a very 2019 apology, and that perhaps Tebele’s wallet had been pried open a least as much as his conscience. But who cares about his motive as long as the social media narrative reaches a satisfying arc?
For the most part, FuckJerry has always includes people’s social media handles when they reshare their posts. What else did you want? In his 2012 memoir Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage, Rob Delaney discusses how he found fame on Twitter, and how in the early days he saw one of his Twitter jokes being used by another comedian on TV. “I… realised that if I couldn’t immediately write several more jokes to replace it,” Delaney wrote, “then I wasn’t funny, and I had no place calling myself a comedian.” And he definitely has a place calling himself a comedian. And you do too! Probably. But…
In real life, people tell jokes, and then people are free to retell those jokes. This isn’t anything new. The reason anyone can post something on social media is that no-one has paid for or commissioned it. So once it’s out there, nobody really owes you anything. The next time someone takes something from the front of my house, I’m not going to chase them down the street for ‘stealing’ it’ – because you can’t steal something that’s been given away.