If you’re unfamiliar, the “Robert Pattinson meme” is a popular meme that began as a joke comparing Pattinson’s acting skills to those of Stephen Merchant’s character, Lloyd Kaufman. Now, the “Pattinson Meme” often appears alongside other famous celebrities’ photos on social media websites like Twitter.
Where did the meme come from? Did it begin with Lloyd Kaufman’s iconic ‘Merchant’ character? Did it take off from there and exist in some kind of viral vacuum? Perhaps it was inspired by a certain Hollywood celebrity, whose photo is often used in conjunction with the meme?
The Merchant Character
While it’s true that Stephen Merchant’s character, Lloyd Kaufman, was the original creator of the “Pattinson meme,” it is also true that his character was based on an incident involving the actor Robert Pattinson. You may know the story; Lloyd Kaufman was supposed to host an episode of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” opposite the actor Roger Ebert. But, before the show aired, Kaufman was hospitalized with leukemia. He was replaced by Roger Ebert and the episode became known as “Roger Ebert’s Version.”
Because of Roger Ebert’s involvement, the “Pattinson meme” has always been closely associated with the ‘Sixty Minutes’ host. So, while Lloyd Kaufman may have been the original inspiration for the meme, it is also true that it has always been tied to one of Hollywood’s most notable journalists and talking heads.
The Biggest Star
While the ‘Saturday Night Live’ host has always been associated with the ‘Pattinson meme,’ it was initially used to mock another popular Hollywood personality; the actor Ryan Gosling. In 2014, when Gosling starred in and directed the apocalyptic thriller, “Into the Wild,” he was photographed on the set holding a sign that read: “Hey, it’s me, Lloyd Kaufman.”
The meme’s popularity seems to have stemmed from its combination of comedic timing and reference to a serious issue. In 2016, while covering the presidential campaign, political humorist and social media personality Charlie Jane Anders wrote: “Even when I didn’t agree with his politics, I admired [Andrew] Yang’s enthusiasm and charm.”
Anders expanded on this sentiment in a comment directed at Yang’s chief of staff, Richard Brookhouser. “You’re getting a glimpse into the brilliant and charming (and sometimes annoying) mind of Lloyd Kaufman,” wrote Andres. “One of the most prolific and successful comedy writers/executive producers in Hollywood history. A man who has created some of the most iconic and funniest characters in American pop culture. Basically, he is a genius.”
A Comedic Cliché
Like most comedians, Kaufman uses comedic tropes and clichés in his writing. But while most comics use these tropes and clichés to highlight the absurdity of society, Kaufman tends to use them in a more subtle way. It is this ability to subvert our expectations that makes him a comedy legend. The ‘Pattinson meme’ perfectly captures this elusive quality, as you will see in a moment.
One of the most famous examples of this is Kaufman’s character, Arthur Bach, from the film “Scared Stiff.” This Is a 2019 remake of the 1963 original, which starred Henry Thomas and was directed by John F. Wilson. (In the original version, Arthur Bach is named Louie Kane and he is played by Jack Albertson.)
In the remake, Arthur Bach is a horror movie buff who runs a classic-horror-movie festival with his brother, Lester. They use a chainsaw to slay a large pig at the end of each film, as a way of celebrating the end of the movie.
As the pig is being gutted, the camera shows Arthur’s face, obscured by a butcher’s apron. Suddenly, the screen goes black and the audience is left laughing and screaming at the same time. This is a comedy bit that would become one of Kaufman’s most famous routines.
The comedian often uses his work to comment on current events or celebrities. So, it is not surprising that the ‘Pattinson meme’ was used to comment on the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. That same year, in a short film entitled, “Brexit,” Kaufman said: “The European Union was meant to be a temporary thing. It was never meant to become this thing that it has. That was the whole point of the whole Brexit vote.”
If you are unfamiliar, there is an Irish exit strategy that is often used when someone in the United Kingdom wants to leave, but cannot find the proper legal document, known as a “derogation from EU citizenship.” The Irish strategy is for the person to become a citizen of an Irish country: such as the United Kingdom, or the Republic of Ireland. It is therefore likely that many individuals in the UK will take advantage of this strategy.
While the ‘Pattinson meme’ may not seem that creative to you, we must always keep in mind that Hollywood is a place where many funny ideas are born. So, it is important to not completely dismiss this particular iteration of the meme as just another example of Hollywood’s creative imagination. While we may not find Kaufman’s ideas ‘original’ in the sense that he copied someone else’s joke, we must remember that this is simply humor. It is up to the individual reading the ‘Pattinson meme’ to find the humor in it.