Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Who Chose Jif?
"Your mom is so stupid, she took the Pepsi Challenge and chose Jif!" And then everyone laughs after. This is the joke that i remember everyone telling each other when we were younger, and it always made the person receiving the insult submit to failure in the hands of the joke teller (usually the kid who got all the girls on the cheer team). In fact, one of the first instances I had with the joke was on an episode of Fresh Prince (Season one, episode five to be exact) when his best friend Ice Tray (played by Don Cheadle) shows up, they quote that joke and everyone laughs.
But why is it funny?
In all seriousness, how did that joke even become infamous? Also, who decided to use Jif as a punchline for that joke? These are the concerns I'm having with this specific joke. It's a strange joke in fact. It makes sense (or does it?), but the weird thing is why the creator (Fresh Prince perhaps?) decided to make Jif, or in this case peanut butter the wrong answer/punch-line. Or why someone would confuse soda with peanut butter? Sure, the joke makes sense in the sense that your mama is so dumb, but shouldn't jokes and the references/comparisons you pick make a little sense together? For example, "Your mama is so dumb, she tripped over a cordless phone." That joke makes a little more sense, obviously because you can't trip over a phone that has no cord, in which the stupidity of your mother lies in the over-the-top stupidity of the joke, which makes your mother really stupid, which concludes to your mother being really really stupid.
But in the case of the Pepsi Challenge joke, the set-up and punch line doesn't have the same kind of relationship. Sure, Pepsi, Coke, and peanut butter are things you digest with your mouth/taste, but the specificity of Jif vs. Pepsi, or in this case, the liquidity of soda vs. the liquidity of peanut butter is a whole different ballpark. You're dealing with the concept of the Pepsi Challenge and that the taster must decide which they prefer better, the contents in cup A or B. Wouldn't it be better if the joke was "Your mama is so stupid, she took the Pepsi Challenge and chose 7-up." or "...chose water" or "...chose evian." How could someone confuse the texture of peanut butter, which is in fact thick, pasty, and non-carbonated, versus something like soda which has the liquidity of water, but carbonated and has a different sweetness? Or was it that one of Jif's well-known slogans was "Choosy moms choose Jif",
Since i remember hearing that joke in the 1990s, i never got how it was so funny, so i never used it. Maybe it was something i didn't get? Something i missed about the challenge? I always remembered the challenge, and took it quite a few times at the mall (i picked Pepsi), but the Jif joke always was in the back of my head. Immediately, i decided to look into this joke and see if there was something else to the Pepsi Challenge that i didn't understand. Something that had to do with Jif. Hours of search pass, and there is NOTHING.
I didn't know what else to do.
I wasn't about to write to Pepsi, Jif, or to the writers of Fresh Prince. (Or was I?) I then started to think about how the possibility of this joke even started to circulate. My old conspiracy theory habits started to kick in, and then a possibility to this potential scandal came about. I started to think hard about Jif and Pepsi. Then i remembered the well-known slogan for Jif, which was "Choosy moms choose Jif!" Could it be that the person taking the challenge was a Jif representative and when that person took the challenge, they decided to throw in some humor and "choose Jif" as a way of product placement, thus offering Pepsi a deal to potentially promote the product? Or was it a sexist joke against women saying that moms are stupid? Probably not. Maybe the Pepsi representative who was there when the Jif representative took the challenge went back to the office after and told everyone what happened that day, which some how spawned an inside joke that eventually made it's way to the maintstream. Who knows.
I then started to think about Fresh Prince and those products. Then i remembered something potentially important. In the early to mid 80s, Pepsi released a handful of commercials with Michael Jackson promoting a "Pepsi Generation." Searching around for these commercials, i found one in particular that stood out:
And who do i find dancing around? Alfonso Ribiero himself, aka Carlton Banks from the show Fresh Prince of Bel-Air! Still stuck in my conspiracy-theory mode, I started to think of possibilities, such as the possibility of Alfonso hanging around at the Pepsi offices or on-set during filming and hearing people tell these jokes, considering the popularity of the Pepsi Challenge occured around the same time as that Pepsi Generation commercial (1984). In fact, the age he seems (around middle school/junior high age) is around the age i heard the joke. Albeit, Alfonso is quite older than us. Then again, do you ever notice how jokes seems to stay in the same age range? For example, you won't hear college students telling those jokes. Only kids in the 16-years-of-age or younger stage. Usually the jokes get really dirty in high school, and college is when everyone thinks they're witty over booze-infused conversations at local house parties.
So i thought about the possibility of our prime suspect, Alfonso Ribiero, potentially being the one in charge of this joke. Let's remember that he was quite the popular kid of his time. Before Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he was already doing Broadway musicals, commercials for Jesus Christ and the Latter-Day Saints, had his own product line of Breakin and Poppin Instructional packages (you can youtube this) and was on the hit show Family Ties. So you can see how the potential influence of the humor in this joke can be spread by such celebrity status. In fact, i can just imagine him at school telling this joke and a bunch of kids laughing with him just to be friends with a child star. I can even see the joke catching on so much that eventually when Fresh Prince comes along, the Pepsi challenge joke starts to circulate within the cast and crew of the show, which somehow ends up on the script, then ends up on that episode (which was released in 1990) thus bringing popularity to the use of that joke.
I remember what was going on in the 90s. I remember that is when i first started watching Fresh Prince, more specifically, i remember when kids at school were using that joke and even more specifically when that joke was used on me. This was around 1993, and by this time, that episode would have been re-ran quite a few times on television due to the success of the Fresh prince. Moving on, it was some kid (let's call him Ivan) i didn't like always tried to go after me with his jokes, but i was always the funnier one. I was that kid that made everyone laugh, especially when it came down to "yo mama" jokes. I remember hearing kids laugh at the "Jif joke", but in one instance, Ivan decided to pull the "Jif joke" on me. And when he did, no one laughed. I remember the kids around me slightly laughing but looking at each other with some confusion, maybe with the same logic as i had. I even remember saying "That ain't even funny, fool." because deep down inside, i didn't really understand it. We all knew what Jif was, it's not like any of us were allergic to peanut butter (maybe) or were too poor to afford it (maybe, i did live in Fontana where kids at school had free lunch due to their parents financial difficulties), but for some reason, that joke never really caught on. But the point was that other kids related to me. I wasn't the only one that didn't get the joke. I never used it, because i didn't really understand it. Which leads up to now.
I suppose the closest reasoning might be that of a potential encounter Carlton had with the writers of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and somehow it being included into the show, but that uncertainty is still there. It could have been any of the possible reasons listed above, or it could've been something else. Maybe Pepsi has real bones to pick with Jif (or Smuckers Inc.) and wanted to use the conventions of joke telling to make it's claim. Or maybe the use of the word "stupid" might be a good use of the word, considering the slang of the 90s specifically using the word "stupid" as a way to state a type of "good." In fact, the very first episode of Fresh Prince made good use of this example when Will teaches young Ashley Banks slang words, and during dinner Ashley is asked to "say grace" before dinner where she raps: "Hey there, Lord, my name is Ashley Banks / My family and friends want to give you some thanks / So before this dinner's all swallowed and chewed, / Thank you, God, for this stupid food." So maybe Jif decided to create this joke as a device to really ridicule Pepsi through its potential hidden meaning? Probably not. But that probability was more than enough for me to write to Pepsi, Andy Borowitz (the creator of Fresh Prince) and Smuckers (Jif) to really get to the bottom of this.
And for my first letter and who it was to be sent to, i chose Jif.