You can easily recall a time when you turned your friend’s slack, pretzel stuffed face into a gaping cavern of laughter by the mere utterance of this phrase. Typically the exclamation is spoken after a negative occurrence, however, the phrase has become quite versatile and can produce a reaction without a preceding comment or event.
In fact, there have been studies on Rhesus monkeys that lead researchers to believe the words spoken in this sequence can even make animals burst out in large belly laughs (a horror movie based on this concept is in the works). The phrase is “Thanks Obama!” -spoken sarcastically of course. But where did this phrase come from? How does it work?
The earliest recorded mention of “Thanks Obama (sarcastic)!”, or TOBS as I’ll now refer to it, is from a letter post marked 1986. An elderly man, Otis Lowback, sent a letter to then president Ronald Reagan inquiring about his strategy on how to handle the troubling snap-bracelet trend.
It is not entirely understood how, but somehow the man confused president Reagan with future president Barrack Obama, and at the end of his letter wrote the now well-known phrase “TOBS”. It is not known if president Reagan found the words as funny as we now find them, but what researchers do know, is that the words were never written or spoken in that sequence again until 2008.
TOBS has received many accolades, ranging from being the savior of dreary day to salvaging parties gone awry. It has even risen to the top of the entertainment industry, being mentioned in major motion pictures and popular television shows. And it is funny every.single.time.
In the vein of my favorite social experiment, the Pepsi challenge, I decided to test this theory out. I randomly approached strangers and spoke 3 phrases to them, “Who let the dogs out?”, “That’s what she said,” and “TOBS.” I purposefully left TOBS for last. I didn’t want laughter from the phrase to bleed over and contaminate the other phrases. And just as I predicted. “TOBS” made my test subjects laugh every time. In fact, I couldn’t help but produce a little giggle myself. Hehe.
I’d like to end with a personal anecdote that I feel really highlights what a hilarious, original piece of comedy TOBS is. It was a frigid night in Western New York. A friend was having a housewarming party and invited a group of close friends over. After stomping the sticky snow off my feet I greeted the host with, “Stayin warm?” As you can tell I was already prepared to make some jokes; however, upon entering the house I noticed the rest of the guests where sitting looking bored in the dimly lit apartment. Low key, sap music leaked from the speakers as the guests looked around room, avoiding eye contact and frequently sipping their beers to keep themselves entertained. I knew I had to act fast. What was resulted was a super soaker stream of TOBS's. There was even a point where I was saying it without letting people finish their sentences.
Laughter began to fill the room like a toilet tank filling with water after the flush of a particularly difficult turd. And then some magical happened. During a lull in the laughter, “Tarzan Boy” started playing on the sound system, followed by the host entering from the kitchen with a pot in one hand and a pan in the other. Instinctively, the rest of the us joined him and formed a conga-line that circled the entire apartment three times!
I’m sure everyone has a similar story. A nightmare turned into delightmare, by the just speaking those lifesaving words. Yes, they’re just words, but words have power. We still aren’t any closer to figuring out how TOBS works, but that’s part of the fun. If you have to explain a joke, that is a good indicator that it wasn’t funny in the first place. And as far as I know, everyone in the entire world thinks TOBS is funny no matter how many times it is spoken.