Band humor makes popular material for memes loved by members and nonmembers alike.
Yo Dawg, I heard you like band memes, so I wrote you this article showing the most popular ones! How did this all happen? Aliens. But actually, through years of proud band geeks sharing their experiences and funny moments. MEME ALL THE MARCHING!
A meme is “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media,” according to Merriam-Webster dictionary.
An image overlaid with capitalized text in black and white Impact font is the most common style of meme, but any image or trend going viral can be considered a meme.
Marching band and drum corps fans are just as active online as anyone else, resulting in an internet sub-subculture applying meme humor to the band experience. Entire Facebook communities, Pinterest boards, and Instagram accounts dedicated to band memes have helped to spread these images around the world.
On Instagram, in particular, hundreds of accounts post band, guard, corps, and drumline memes, not to mention those that cover orchestra and general instrumental music. While some of these are run by a single person, users often work together to generate content for a single themed account by having multiple admins.
“I was just searching band pages to follow on Instagram one night, and I found this page called @band_is_for_cool_kids started by this guy Kevin, who was looking for admins for this page,” says Kaylee H., a high school sophomore and flute player. “He really wanted to expand his band family and meet more people online who had shared interest in band.”
Kaylee, who lives around Fort Lauderdale, Florida, went through Kevin’s application process and was chosen as an admin for the page, which she now works on with six other band members from all around the country. Her responsibilities include creating and posting memes, responding to comments and direct messages, and occasionally running photo submission contests for their followers.
“I like to know about the experiences of other people because some of them have a different type of way they run their bands,” Kaylee says. “I changed schools, and my new school has a different style of marching, … and we don’t really do competitions, so it’s kind of nice to hear competition stories from other people.”
To generate new memes, people use funny images from the internet or of their own bandmates or directors, then add the captions using meme-generating phone apps and websites. Sometimes they adapt memes that have been previously posted by others around the internet, giving credit when possible.
Matthew Dickman, a percussionist in his sixth year of band, is an admin on @marchingb.nd with 12 others who post based on a schedule. “The best way to make them is to look at a funny picture and try to get a caption out of it,” he says.
The memes often use the same band humor and section-teasing stereotypes that have been joked about for decades: Trumpeters have big egos, flutes and piccolos can’t play in tune, reeds are used for as long as humanly possible, drummers can’t keep the beat, and the band director is never telling the truth when he or she says, “One more time.”
Other favorites include using awkward facial expressions of drum corps performers, poking fun at drum majors, and creating general music puns revolving around “B-ing sharp or flat.”
From Awkward to Famous
One of the most well-known marching band memes is “Clarinet Boy,” which originated as a post titled “Beautiful Mind” on the website Awkward Family Photos, featuring user-submitted family photos of questionable merit. In a portrait style used in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the photo shows a smiling boy in a marching band uniform holding a clarinet superimposed onto the head of the same boy looking sternly off into the distance.
“That was one of our first photos, and it probably is one of our most popular,” says the website’s cofounder Doug Chernack. “I think the reason for its popularity is: one, it’s a ghosted image, which people love, and second, the juxtaposition of the boy’s face from ultra-serious to actually so happy once he has the clarinet in his hand.”
Now a teacher in Texas, Clarinet Boy originally had his photo submitted to the site by some of his students, but his actual identity has never been publicly revealed. Sadly, he no longer plays clarinet although he admitted to Chernack that the hype tempted him to pick it up again.
“I don’t think he likes to talk too much about it,” Chernack says. “But he’s aware of it, he has a great sense of humor, and he’s been a great sport about it.”
According to Chernack, the site has since been flooded with marching band portrait submissions, and the Clarinet Boy has been featured in books and on T-shirts, greeting cards, and other merchandise.
“It’s definitely a touchstone photo for a lot of people that have been in marching bands, particularly in that time period,” Chernack says. “I think a lot of people see a little bit of themselves in it.”
A few months after the photo was posted in 2009, message boards got ahold of it and inexplicably created a backstory of the boy as a traumatized Vietnam veteran. Eventually it was dubbed “PTSD Clarinet Boy” and since has been used to generate countless memes. Some of the most popular captions include:
• “I left for Vietnam as a boy. I came back as a monster.”
• “They told me I could be anything I wanted, so I became a God.”
• “When the clarinet sounds, empires will fall.”
“It’s always fascinating to see how these things take a life of their own online,” Chernack says. “I think there was something so simple and pure about the photo that it just caught on and allowed people to interpret it as they have.”
A Sweet Victory
Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants, known for his wacky, exaggerated reactions, along with his friend Patrick and frenemy Squidward are some of the most memed characters ever.
“The fun thing about SpongeBob is sort of his overreaction to everything,” says C.H. Greenblatt, who worked on SpongeBob SquarePants from 1999 to 2005 as a storyboard artist/director and writer. “Those kinds of responses are funny to use in all kinds of situations, and so I guess that’s maybe why he shows up [in] a lot of memes.”
Kids who grew up watching “SpongeBob” episodes on repeat are now old enough to be in marching bands, and one of their favorite things to meme is the iconic episode “Band Geeks,” which first aired on Sept. 7, 2001. A positive and shockingly astute portrayal of marching band, the episode has been credited by some musicians as what inspired them to pick up their instruments in the first place. While universally beloved by any bandie who watches it, it also appears on nearly every online list of the best “SpongeBob” episodes of all time, often as number one or two.
“That blows my mind; that is so weird,” says Greenblatt, who was previously unaware of the episode’s popularity. “I mean, it’s cool. I’m glad. It’s nice when you do something, and it connects with people.”
Despite not playing an instrument himself, Greenblatt had many friends in band during high school, allowing him to understand “band humor.”
“There’s something always nice when you see all the characters working together instead of against each other; … maybe that’s a reason why people connect to it,” Greenblatt says. “Just guessing, but I think that’s certainly something unique about that episode. You feel bad for Squidward, and this was the first time he got a win.”
The Squidward-centric episode shows him attempting to one-up his high school band nemesis by enlisting SpongeBob, Patrick, and the rest of Bikini Bottom in a marching band with just one week to prepare for their Bubble Bowl performance. Hilarity ensues. In the episode’s most iconic line, the airheaded starfish, Patrick, asks: “Is mayonnaise an instrument?”
“I think ‘Band Geeks’ will be remembered as one of the top classics,” says Lucas The Cool Guy, a YouTuber who recites “SpongeBob” episodes from memory. “It has very notable lines, very amusing scenes, and a big hit song.”
His “Band Geeks” video is one of the most popular on his channel, accounting for more than 232K of his nearly 1.5M views.
After Squidward exasperatedly disbands the band, SpongeBob gives an unusual inspirational speech. The band comes together to surprise Squidward at the stadium, giving an epic performance of “Sweet Victory,” a 1986 rock ballad by Glen David Eisley, and the episode ends on an ’80s-style freeze frame of Squidward jumping for joy.
“We were listening to marching band songs in a royalty-free library of songs we could use … and stuck in the middle was ‘Sweet Victory,’” Greenblatt says. “That’s maybe why people like it because it’s this surprising musical number that comes out of nowhere.”
Memes only work when many people are in on the joke, and band memes work so well because no matter where you are, the band experience has some of the same touchstones and archetypes to identify with. Smiling and laughing at these moments, no matter how awkward, bring people together across the internet.
“Ultimately all of us are awkward, whether it’s today or at some stage in our lives,” Chernack says. “We all went through periods of being uncomfortable with ourselves or with our family, and what we’ve always tried to do is celebrate those moments instead of hiding them or shying away from them.”
For some, it’s about finding a community to belong to. “Through meme pages, we become more connected [and] support each other no matter how far away we live,” says an Instagram user nicknamed Shamwow, admin of @the_band_life_is_better. “When something awful happens to a member of this community, we all feel it, and I think that’s really special.”
Although there’s no way to predict which band meme could go viral next, marching musicians will continue to share experiences and appreciation of music.
“All bands are different, but the one goal in a good band should be to spread good music and the love of good music to the general public,” Kaylee says. “And I think that’s what our followers like to see and share themselves.”