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In an episode of the BBC nature documentary Life, we learn that red-sided garter snakes survive winter by hibernating underground, then emerge to warm up and mate. One particular male on the show has overslept and is still cold, so narrator David Attenborough calmly explains “Right now, he has no chance of mating.” This matter-of-fact statement turned into a savage insult on the internet, and now the sleepy snake meme is the funniest way to say someone will never get laid.
Life aired in 2009, but it gained a new audience when it came to Netflix in 2015. A screengrab of the “this male has overslept” scene was a big hit on Reddit’s meme-focused me_irl subreddit in May of that year, and has now been viewed more than 6 million times.
Recently, a series of remixes has revived the image and greatly expanded its meme potential. In a typical snake meme, people will erase “has overslept” and fill in some other unattractive quality, whether it’s sincere or ironic. It’s a joke all about who should get laid and who shouldn’t.
Don’t play the online children’s game Roblox? No sex for you.
Like anime? So sorry, no sex.
And you’d better not create any boring, mainstream “normie” memes if you’re hoping to have sex.
Also, being completely socially inept might hurt your chances.
The snake meme is more flexible than it may seem at first. Some memers have replaced the key elements—the snake and the sex—and still managed to stay within the format. For example, this is a joke about the oft-memed kids’ show LazyTown, and how its hero, Sportacus, is less appealing than the villain Robbie Rotten.
Inevitably, some people have tried to subvert the snake meme’s punchline altogether. Here’s an anti-joke stating the obvious: the snake is a snake.
Perhaps the best part of this story, though, is its twist ending. It turns out that the cold snake who overslept has a better chance to mate than his competitors. He releases female pheromones, which attract other horny male snakes to him. As they form a pile and attempt to mate with each other, they warm him up so he can slither away in search of females. So much for “no chance of mating!” Knowing the real story could subvert the meme, but it just ends up making it funnier.
This is a years-old meme that’s just now reaching its full potential. Even so, it may end up overshadowed by this year’s very strong crop of summer memes. At the moment, it stands no chance of winning “Meme of the Month.”
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.