One iconic meme from “The Simpsons” still doesn’t make perfect sense, even to the man who created it.
Two decades after it first aired, the “steamed hams” scene — where Principal Skinner attempts to pass off Krusty Burgers as his own “patented Skinnerburgers” to an incredulous Superintendent Chalmers — has turned into a full blown meme, catching the man that created it, former “Simpsons” writer and showrunner Bill Oakley, by surprise.
“I have no idea why that happened, because I’ll tell you, people didn’t like it that much [in 1996],” Oakley told TheWrap. “Nobody liked it very much at the time. Same with the episode [“22 Short Films About Springfield”]. It had a crummy table read, and then it just kind of disappeared into the ether.”
And yet, it’s now taken on a life of its own. There are thousands of followers on the “steamed hams” Subreddit. Countless screencaps and mentions on Twitter. Thousands of YouTube remixes — including, of course, one voiced by Jeff Goldblum — totaling millions of views. If you haven’t seen the original clip, you can check it out below:
“This is peak meme. You’ve reached the top and there’s no getting better than this,” gushed a commenter on one remix, set to the tune of “All Star” by Smash Mouth.
How’d this happen? Even the meme’s ascendance is shrouded in mystery. (Oakley believes it was jumpstarted by hundreds of wacky Australians badgering a supermarket for “steamed hams” in 2016.) Oakley, after seeing his scene resurrected by the internet, believes much of its staying power boils down to the name itself.
“It’s become so well known because it’s only two words,” Oakley said. “Like, there aren’t very many comedy things that you can sum up in two words. ‘Dead parrot’ on ‘Monty Python,’ or things from ‘SNL’ like ‘Wayne’s World.’ The phrase ‘steamed hams’ is easily recognizable.”
He’s not wrong. Just mentioning “steamed hams” will spark any “Simpsons” nerd to immediately share their favorite quote from an uber-quotable scene. (“I hope you’re prepared for an unforgetable luncheon”; “delightfully devilish, Seymour”; “Well Seymour, you are an odd fellow, but I must say, you steam a good ham.”) At the same time, the scene is the perfect encapsulation of the long-running, hilariously uncomfortable Principal Skinner-Superintendent Chalmers relationship.
Add those two elements together, and you have a moment that’s “extremely ripe” for “sh–posting,” or deliberately sharing ironic memes, according to Oakley.
“It’s something that became the darling of the ‘Simpsons’ sh–posting crowd two years ago, and it’s been shot into the stratosphere,” Oakley told TheWrap. “I didn’t hear anything about it for 18 years.”
The “Simpsons Sh–posting” group on Facebook, with 227,000 followers, has done much of the heavy lifting. Since launching in 2015, the group has seen “steamed hams” evolve from a niche meme into a cottage industry of shrewd, highly-edited videos.
“What replaced it was genuinely good, thought out humor,” Chris Kanski, the group’s founder, told Mashable earlier this year. “And genuinely good, thought-out humor in this day and age of the internet means absurdism, right? And just taking something way too far. Not in the sense of edginess, but just in the sense of pushing a joke to its limits — and that’s what ‘steamed hams’ is.”
Oakley admits he’s cracked up at several iterations of “steamed hams.” But while it appears to lend itself to a never-ending supply of memes, he wouldn’t be upset to see it die off before it officially jumps the shark.
“Let’s put it to rest with dignity,” Oakley said. “I’d rather it fade out with dignity than be driven into the ground.”