It’s been one week since Robert E. Kelly’s BBC interview via Skype was interrupted by his young children — an awkward goof that almost immediately became a viral moment. And as with almost all viral moments, it took only a few days for Kelly’s moment to spawn numerous imitators hoping to capitalize on the momentum of the original.
Current knockoffs include a little Star Wars droid interrupting an interview with Darth Vader, friends and families attempting their own personal takes on the clip, and, of course, The Daily Show’s political riff on it, which subs in Sean Spicer, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Kellyanne Conway for Kelly and his family.
Like all memes, BBC Dad presents a super simple formula in which the punchline is always the same. The reference in the knockoffs is instantly obvious, even if the setting is completely different. But none of these imitators have really managed to successfully replicate the appeal of the original, because the original doesn’t benefit from absurd additions as much as other memes like Tag Yourself or Whomst might. It’s already a collage of farce: a montage of the last century of popular comedy encapsulated in one 30-second clip.
First, and most obviously, almost every person in the video, except maybe Kelly himself, has perfected the art of Charlie Chaplin-style slapstick. His daughter comes bouncing in like a slots player about to collect her big jackpot. Then, Kelly’s son rolls in behind her, almost as if some unseen force is pushing his little wheeled orb. There are more modern references I could make, too: Kelly’s wife, Kim Jung-A, slides into the scene from offstage, slamming the door open like she’s in a Risky Business reboot for panicked parents. Kelly, at all times, remains the stoic father figure in a sea of amateurs, like Ice Cube in Are We There Yet?, James Caan in Elf, or Bud Abbott in every Abbott and Costello bit.
At first, Kelly almost seems to be trying to distract viewers from the commotion unfolding behind him, by continuing to talk and attempting to hide his daughter from the camera with his tricep. When it becomes obvious that his conversation has been completely derailed, Kelly just apologizes quietly and closes his eyes in resignation. His face is a comedy classic: you’ll recognize it in any scene where a character attempts to distract a teacher or boss from some mishap, only to cringe in embarrassment when they walk right into it.
Then there’s the element of dramatic irony at play. For a few seconds, the viewers know what’s happening behind Kelly while he remains unaware, focused on the task at hand. In those seconds, everything plays out as Kelly probably thought it would; his not-yet-distraught expression exists in a different world, one in which this moment never happened. We want to yell “Turn around!” as much as we want Kelly to remain oblivious to the disruption waddling joyfully toward him. It evokes the same feeling of pleasure and suspense as a live news broadcast unknowingly playing host to a prank, like this recent weed-covered Big Foot walking through a snowstorm in Springfield, Massachusetts.
And speaking of news broadcasts, there’s still rarely a better place to see bloopers than on live television, even if we rely on the internet to spread those bloopers. The unexpected news anchor blunder is a classic of the comedy world. It goes like this: a serious person is trying to talk about the weather, politics, or a new state fair in town, when a piece of the set breaks and whacks them in the face, or the wrong guest is introduced, or an angry goat rams into an unsuspecting pair of knees.
It’s funny because we don’t expect it, and because these bloopers immediately disarm what is usually a pretty mundane viewing experience. It’s a reminder that despite the stage lights and the starched suits, these broadcasts are still happening in the real, unpredictable world where we live, too.
All of this is why none of the attempts to imitate BBC Dad have really taken off yet, and they’re probably not likely to. BBC Dad is already the perfect storm of comedy. It’s old-school body humor and weird early-2000s family comedies and America’s Funniest Home Videos and DVD blooper reels all in one. It already contains so much that adding more to it is like eating a Baby Ruth candy bar with a side of nuts: weird and mostly pointless. And if your response to this is that BBC Dad isn’t even that funny in the first place, it’s worth noting that a lot of the comedies I’ve mentioned here aren’t that funny either. It doesn’t matter — you still get the joke.