‘Silicon Valley’ And The Origin Of The ‘Driving Off Listening To Papa Roach’ Joke

Sunday night during a pivotal (maybe) scene in Silicon Valley, fictional dickhead billionaire Russ Hanneman (the originator of “this guy f*cks” and a character played magnificently by Chris Diamantopoulos), ended a conversation with Thomas Middleditch’s Richard Hendricks by slamming the flip-up door of his orange Lamborghini and speeding off, with Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” blaring from his open windows.

I knew about the scene before I saw the show, because as soon as it hit HBO Go, I was immediately bombarded with Tweets alerting me that “the Papa Roach story” had showed up on Silicon Valley. Bright and early Monday morning, Joseph Bernstein of Buzzfeed News even wrote an article entitled “How ‘Last Resort’ Became The Internet’s New Favorite Joke Song.”

The 1200-word piece referenced all the times the 2000 Papa Roach hit has been used as a punchline, framed around a tweet from TV writer Justin Halpern (previously of Sh*t My Dad Says, currently of Powerless), who last month Photoshopped a fake kicker onto a New York Times story about Paul Ryan’s post-canceling-Obamacare-replacement-vote press conference.

The tweet has more than 45,000 favs as of this writing, and got so big that Mashable and the The Washington Post, among others, wrote follow up stories about it.

Papa Roach even eventually responded (being good sports about the whole thing, to their credit) tweeting “When we feel defeated we listen to Paul Ryan. …but seriously Last Resort was written about suicide, if anyone is feeling defeated get help at @800273TALK.”

You know, in case you missed the part of the song where Jacoby Shaddix sneers “…and I’m contemplating suicide” right before the chorus.

Anyway, Buzzfeed‘s Bernstein rightly zeroed in on the Halpern Paul Ryan tweet as the centerpiece of his article, undoubtedly because of its specificity. Which is to say, “Cut my life into pizza, this is my plastic fork,” say, is a joke that also references “Last Resort,” but someone driving off in a fit of anger while listening the opening of “Last Resort” is a much more specific kind of a joke. None of the other “Last Resort” jokes Bernstein references involve that usage except Halpern’s and Silicon Valley. (The funniest part of the piece, by the way, was the parenthetical “a spokesperson for Ryan declined to comment about Papa Roach.”)

It’s rare that we know the precise origin of an internet joke, but in the case of “driving off listening to Papa Roach,” we do. Not only that, it came from real life. Halpern told the story on my podcast last March (it’s easiest to find at 3:21 of the Best of 2016 Frotcast). Halpern, so his story goes, was with the girl he thought he was dating at the time at her house, when she suddenly told him her boyfriend was home. With no time to hide, Halpern pretended to be asleep on the couch, from whence he heard the boyfriend come in, see him, burst into tears, storm out, start his car, and drive off blaring “Last Resort.”

The boyfriend’s last words were allegedly, “Oh, real nice. Real f*ckin’ nice.”

The Paul Ryan joke was a callback to that story, which Halpern says was cut from his book of relationship misadventures, I Suck At Girls, on account of it’s much harder to do justice to the humor of it in print. (Most of the humor is in the vocal inflection and the intro of the song, hard to convey on paper.) Naturally when I and lots of Frotcast listeners saw it show up on Silicon Valley, we got pretty excited, thinking “Nice, real f*ckin’ nice.”

I reached out to Halpern for comment, who wrote “There is zero chance my story inspired this joke, but regardless, the thrill of seeing it on my favorite show and knowing that it made Frotcast listeners happy, well, isn’t that really what it’s all about at the end of the day, Vincent?”

Sure, but you can’t expect me to read a 12oo-word piece about the Papa Roach joke that never correctly identifies its origin story without being slightly annoyed, can you? Come on, man, I’m only human. As for whether Halpern’s Paul Ryan Tweet actually inspired the Silicon Valley bit, it’s a little unclear. Admittedly I may be slightly biased, but it does seem like a crazy coincidence for them to use the exact same song in the exact same way (someone driving off listening to it angrily), with the exact same type of character (a sort of douchey bro), to perform the exact same function in the scene (a kicker, a bookend). Then again, if the idea of “Last Resort” is already out there as a punchline, how long before two people end up using it for the same kind of joke, independently of each other? (Even if one of the jokes was inspired by reality)

As Halpern points out, it makes a perfect punchline. “It goes zero to 100 in a split second.”

And that’s aside from the simple fact that it’s a really tough-sounding song that bros love, despite having the line “I’m running and I’m crying” in the bridge. It’s perfect.

The facts are, the show aired April 23rd. Halpern tweeted his Paul Ryan joke March 25th. A source at HBO told us it was merely a coincidence, though another admits that referencing the Paul Ryan thing is exactly the kind of joke they’d do. Timing would be a problem, though. Wouldn’t the show have already been locked by March 25th? To establish a clear timeline, we reached out to Papa Roach to find out when the song was cleared, and Papa Roach sources said HBO contacted them several months ago. Of course, that won’t tell with 100 percent certainty that the bit wasn’t inspired by the original “driving off listening to Papa Roach” story from the Frotcast, which first aired in March 2016 and showed up again on the Best Of episode in December. Which seems less likely, but not entirely out of the realm of possibility (they did mention Uproxx on a show, for instance). To quote The Leftovers season two theme song, “I think I’ll just let the mystery be.”

Despite never mentioning the origin of Halpern’s Paul Ryan tweet, Bernstein’s Buzzfeed piece almost gets it right in spite of itself, when he writes, “‘Last Resort’ is the anthem of the owned-but-owning-it, the internet loser’s performative cry of pain, the cuck’s winking lament.”

There’s a good reason for that. Perhaps the “Last Resort” joke, at least in driving-off-listening-to-it form, sounds like a cuck’s lament precisely because it came from a cuckoldry story. How about that for cosmic symmetry? Cuck my life into pieces…