On Jokes and Dave Matthews Band
Hi, my name is Annie and my deep dark secret is that I love Dave Matthews Band. Ok, it's not even a secret. I'll tell anyone, DMB RULES. FIRE DANCERS FOR LYFE.
But I'm also fully aware that culturally, DMB has come to signify a certain *type*—white dudes whose formative years were the 90s. Sitcoms, while delightful, are also a bastion of mediocre, semi-adult white dudes as supposed "heroes." It's a match made in heaven (or at least in the medium place). While there will probably always be a mediocre white guy protagonist in 90% of the comedies on TV, the decent sitcoms address this and use it for joke fodder. Hence, the micro-genre of "the Dave Matthews Band joke," usually deployed to poke fun at a white dude. I am absolutely here for that, but it's more complicated that you might think.
At its core, the premise underlying the DMB joke is simple: This character is lame because he likes Dave Matthews Band, and Dave Matthews Band is lame because this character likes them. Happy Endings, the gloriously silly but short-lived ABC sitcom, excelled at this style. It poked fun at erstwhile protagonist Dave Rose, who was the Gen-X male equivalent of a "basic bitch" with his deep V t-shirts and DMB obsession. (HIS NAME WAS EVEN DAVE.) Here, Penny has bad news, and Dave makes a hilariously irrational guess as to what the news might be:
Other easy targets included men Max tried to date. The message here was clear: most DMB fans are straight white men, but sometimes they're *gay* white men, and they're just as insufferable:
Another show that made frequent DMB references is of course the Mike Schur masterpiece Parks and Recreation, whose Andy Dwyer not only embodied the stereotype of a true Dave-head, but was the frontman of a band whose music sounded like the bastard child of Dave Matthews and Pearl Jam. Sadly NBC has blocked nearly all their content on Youtube, so you'll just have to trust my intimate and hard-won Parks knowledge when I say that in S2E15, "Sweetums," Andy is the victim of DMB-based prejudice.
In this ep, April's boyfriend and his boyfriend can't hide their disdain for Andy.
Andy: Hey what's up guys? You come to help Tom move too? Too late! We already almost got all of it.
Derek: No we just thought it'd be funny to see April do physical labor.
A: It's been an awesome moving day. I got the little robot to play Dave Matthews. [Singing] A little baby**
Derek's boyfriend [scornfully]: What's he talking about?
Of course, because this is a Parks episode, the joke is there to be funny as well as serve a purpose. It's simple, but it's subtly different: Andy is a goofball, but April's friend's attitude toward him is cruel and patronizing. It's something viewers will see April grow out of as she falls more in love with Andy, and this moment is something of a catalyst for that change.
That's not to say she's going to become a fire dancer herself. On the contrary, this hilarious scene from Parks and Rec shows that the "DMB is bad" punchline is still alive and well (start at 14:25). Because he's been going to therapy 7 days a week, Chris is emotionally raw and can't stop crying during Ben and Leslie's engagement party. Andy and April try to help out, ending in Andy naming DMB as a cheerful example of something good, and April immediately countering with DMB as an example of something bad. Nailed it. So simple, yet so funny.
But my favorite DMB jokes are more complex, a bait-and switch: the premise that DMB is super lame remains, but the ability to write the joke comes from a more-than-surface knowledge of DMB. Paradox, or subtle multi-level humor?
Let's start with a joke from Andy Bernard of The Office. Andy Bernard: former a capella singer, avid banjo player, Cornell University alum who without QUESTION got in because of his privileged, well-connected family. The literal definition of white male mediocrity, and a flavor of DMB fan (the preppy wing, as opposed to the Andy Dwyer-represented grungy wing). Yet, as is often the case with The Office, we come to love that which we thought we would hate. By season 7, Andy is fully endeared to the audience, questionable taste in music and all.
In S7E12, "Ultimatum," Andy's killing time at a roller rink with Darryl and Dwight. Don't worry about why they're there in the middle of day, they just are. Andy talks with the DJ.
DJ: It's just you guys. Anything you want to hear?
Andy: Dave Matthews Band. No hits. Deep tracks only.
DJ: [starts playing "Ants Marching" by DMB]
Andy: I said no hits! [After a pause, starts bopping his head in appreciation and skates away.]
First of all, this joke is hilarious because its punchline is silent. Automatically funny. But the pre-punchline is that when Andy says "no hits" after Ants Marching starts playing, you have to know that that is undoubtedly one of DMB's biggest hits. Then you have to appreciate that even if you say you want "deep tracks," there's no getting around the fact that the opening chords of Ants Marching absolutely slap.
On to the next one, an absolute gem from Happy Endings.
Not much to say here, just that "Carter Beaufort is the Dave" gets me every time, and this joke was made possible by someone in the writers room knowing the actual names of the band members. Which only adds to the funny.
Recently, I watched the entirety of New Girl for the first time, and I'm glad I did, because I was living in ignorance of what is now my favorite DMB joke ever. In S3E15, "Exes," Nick and Jess navigate the well-worn sitcom territory of "how can my current partner be friends with their ex?" Jess tries to prove that exes can be friends, but she's in for a rude awakening when she discovers that her ex boyfriend, Berkley, is in fact still in love with her and wants her to leave Nick. As the three try to hash things out, Berkley presents his case that Jess has led him on for years (start at 10:40 of this awkwardly-sped-up video to follow along!):
Berkley: 2004. You brushed my hand at a Dave Matthews concert. During Two Step.
Nick [mock-aghast]: Two Step?
While this joke follows the same pattern of using Dave Matthews to bolster the ridiculousness of the character (and Berkley is patently ridiculous), it's also such a deep cut joke it makes me love the writers a lot. (Nina Pedrad is the writer of this episode, listed alongside staff writer Camilla Blackett.)
"Two Step"—a song addressed to a person Dave is definitely maybe about to make sweet white love to—is exactly the kind of song a deranged (and lame) DMB fan would bestow unnecessary meaning upon.
Nick obviously wants Berkley out of the way and believes that Jess didn't intentionally lead Berkley on, but he's also enjoying being right about Berkley. His familiarity with the Dave catalog makes for a perfect "oh shit, girl" facial expression and own against Jess—he sees the gravity of the Two Step situation. Once again, the true punchline of the joke is best appreciated by those in the know, making me believe that the writers are my kindred spirits.
(Kudos also to Jake Johnson, who I have to admit I was sleeping on before watching New Girl. But damn that man is funny. *Breathtakingly* perfect delivery from Jake, who—as Nick—is ALSO a perfect embodiment of the DMB bro.)
I love when my love of comedy and the ultimate 90s jam band collide, don't you? There is truly nothing in this world I love—but derive equal joy from ragging on—as much as the beautiful jangly music of Dave Matthews Band. If I've missed any solid DMB burns or recurring jokes in these or other shows, slide in our DMs!
** FYI this is from "So Much to Say," off of DMB's 1996 album Crash.