Deconstructed Burns



Even as a child, Pee-Wee Herman’s “I know you are but what am I?” just seemed really lazy, until no doy and the unfortunate “Not!” craze came along. “Not!” is the first popular phrase I remember both kids and adults overusing, which made me hate it even more. I guess it was the 80’s version of today’s “Fake news!” so no wonder it tastes like rancid orange soda in my mouth.

I know you are but what am I? starts off strong by psyching out your opponent with TOTAL AGREEMENT. I know you are. Then it naturally morphs into passive aggressive existential confusion. But what am I?

What am I?


I know you are but what am I? relies too much on who you’re talking to. Whatever they say – you’re a dink, you’re a pickle, you are way too fucking tall – you just agree (I know), lob back their insult (you are), then demand another round (but what am I?). I KNOW YOU’RE A PICKLE BUT LET’S FOCUS ON ME.

Your opponent gains style points for making you sound like a self-centered, unoriginal asshole.

I know you are but what am I? is only acceptable when used by Pee-Wee Herman, or the occasional drunk adult, fighting with their spouse at two a.m. about pants when everyone knows it was really about Tanya.

Not!” was over for me around 1986, but every aunt and uncle in America came together to keep it alive indefinitely. “Not!” was the poor man’s sarcasm, the long way home with no view. I overheard a friend screech “NOT!” at a party last year – like a verbal sneer that ended with a forced high-five – and like I said to her at the time, I wish her well in all future endeavors.

I do enjoy sarcastic clapping, though, as long as it doesn’t last too long. I’m also a fan of side-eye, the classic eye roll’s millennial cousin. The eye roll can’t really be improved upon; it’s a rare, unpairable cheese. What act or gesture could one use adjacent to an eye roll that might convey something more than the original message? I’ve shrugged, crossed my arms, or sighed theatrically in conjunction with the eye roll, but those were just physical manifestations of an eye roll through my shoulders, arms, and mouth. The very act of rolling our eyes is a monotone scream, an OH GOD WHO FUCKING CARES…but silent. Your face doesn’t need a hype man.

Try rolling your eyes while

-high-fiving someone

-giving two thumbs-up

-doing finger guns

-eating spaghetti

-watching Game of Thrones

It doesn’t feel natural, not like giving people the double middle finger on the freeway. I like to think of that as an awards show where I honor fellow citizens for staying alive on I-5, against all odds. I wish I could thank each one of them personally for reminding all of us, so early in the morning, of life’s most precious gift: the horn.

I’m underwhelmed by the middle finger emoji, though. It has all the pizzazz of a high school math teacher flipping you off. No flair, too pointy, and not cool enough, the middle fingermoji gets a half-hearted, beige thumbs-up. The only time it really delivers is when you use five or more in a row, which means I’m serious about how much I loathe our conversation topic, which is usually a woman named Tanya. (Side note: Tanyas have their own Tanyas, except their names are usually Amber.)

“As if!” wasn’t something I could get behind, even though I loved the movie Clueless. First off, it’s a fragmented sentence of meager means. Second, it’s missing punctuation; while designed to be said like a total valley girl, it’s really two incomplete sentences: “As? If!” then sped up a little. Third, try saying “As if!” like a


-kindergarten teacher






See, it doesn’t sound right. I’ve always preferred the timeless “And how!” for all my defensive two-syllable needs.

I will admit I doubled-down hard with “That’s what she said” and “Treat yo self!” – from The Office and Parks & Rec, respectively – but they’re still an outer-rim peripheral part of the cultural zeitgeist. “That’s what she said” was fairly neutral, so your grandpa and toddler and dentist and best friend and trainer and mother and everyone made your day-to-day life just an ongoing chorus of THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID HA HA in surround sound, wherever you went.

But what did it mean? Imagine going through life and alerting everyone, anytime a woman said something.

My favorite borrowed phrase, if I had to choose one, comes from TV’s Wokest Show.  Even though we’re five seasons in, I’m still all about Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s updated version of “That’s what she said,” which is “That’s the name of your sex tape.” It’s so simple, and it works with everything.

Tagged , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: