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There’s an old joke about how common things get their names, and it’s short enough to be perfect for the age of Twitter comedy:
What should we call this giant advertising board?
PHIL: A philboard
BILL: I have a better idea
— not mad (@InternetHippo) April 6, 2015
Years after the joke first went viral on Twitter, Bill and Phil have become their own meme template, complete with stock photos. In the world of “I have a better idea” jokes, everything is named after somebody who screwed someone else out of the naming rights.
Like, for example, a chimney.
Or the Oval Office. Even Joe Biden is a Phil.
How about a Welsh village? Sorry, Liam.
Or an entire empire?
Or a fancy polyhedron?
Even political hot potatoes like abortion aren’t immune to the Better Idea meme.
As you can see, the players don’t need to be Bill and Phil—or have real names at all—but the meme is known on Reddit as “Bill and Phil.” Since November 2016, it’s even had its own subreddit, r/BillAndPhil.
Over the past week, though, I Have a Better Idea has blown up as never before, appearing on one of Reddit’s leading meme incubators, r/me_irl. Observers who treat the “meme economy” as a stock market flew into a panic about a bubble that would pop when “normies” on Facebook started posting Better Idea memes.
To be fair, Better Idea is a perfect candidate for mainstream Facebook success. The joke format isn’t hard to master—just pick any object and alter the names you need for the punchline—and it offers almost unlimited variety. People will inevitably get bored and move on to the next thing before all the possible name puns have been exhausted. Plus, the original example is totally G-rated, and so are many of the popular spinoffs. It’s essentially a dad joke, and Facebook is central to the Dad Internet.
There are already signs that the Better Idea meme bubble has popped, and that Reddit’s meme vanguard has abandoned the meme. First and foremost, it has been discovered and exploited by #brands, which is usually something that kills a meme dead:
It has also made its way to both Facebook and Tumblr. In fact, it’s on a Facebook page about Tumblr:
That’s usually a death sentence for a meme’s dankness, but don’t let it stop you from making up your own Bill and Phil jokes. Most people on your timeline probably haven’t seen them yet, and—in the spirit of the meme—you’ll get to steal all the credit.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.