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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ahead of his time: Chevy Chase, a meme before the Internet, comes to the Fox on Friday

If you don’t know what an internet meme is then you probably don’t have children or grandchildren in your house. Or you haven’t seen a very confusing recent photo of Rocky Balboa with completely the wrong head on top of Stallone’s ripped body.

Just so that we all have a common point of reference, an internet meme is basically an image or video or text that quickly spreads throughout the interwebs. Sometimes they’re funny. Often they’re good at illustrating an emotion or an idea, kinda like a common shorthand for the disinformation superhighway. In some situations, they’re modified to make different points from a common starting point.

The word meme is literally abbreviated from the Greek word “mimeme,” which means “something imitated.”

Before there was even such a thing as internet memes, there was Chevy Chase.

For a certain group of Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, especially those who are often told they are a word that rhymes with “smart ass,” Chevy Chase’s deadpan delivery of funny one-liners became instantly repeatable in almost any situation. He was the masterful and mirthful Walter Mitty of the movie screen – especially if you had a PG-13 sense of humor and an overly developed sense of goofiness.

There probably isn’t a week where I still don’t quote a Chevy Chase line at a mildly inappropriate time.

Sometimes, you do just need to “be the ball.”

If you’re driving into one of those new fancy-schmancy roundabouts in Spokane Valley or Airway Heights and don’t say, “kids, Big Ben, Parliament” at least a couple of times, you’ve missed comedic gold. I laugh every time I say it.

And when you grew up in the 1980s knowing you’ve wanted to be a journalist since the third grade, you’ve memorized every silly line in all of the Fletch movies and can recite them as if they were the gospel according to Irwin M. Fletcher. That’s why when you walk into any records room in a courthouse or city hall, you have to say, “Do you have the Beatles’ White Album? Nevermind, just bring me a cup of hot fat and the head of Alfredo Garcia.”

It’s a fairly safe bet that it’s because of Chevy Chase in those Fletch movies that I’m not afraid to show up in costume at any time of the year and for almost any reason. Or why I’ll wear a Kansas City Royals jersey into the newsroom, for no particular reason … which isn’t the same as Fletch’s Lakers jerseys, but I look bad in tank tops.

Chevy is the reason every journalist should have a pair of pliers and a set of 30-weight ball bearings. It’s all ball bearings nowadays.

This is why when I found out Chevy Chase was coming to Spokane for a screening of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” followed by an on-stage discussion with the actor, it was like Santa had come early. Then I tried to buy tickets.

It was already sold out.

This was a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency, but I was going to press on. We were still gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny frickin’ Kaye. Even if it meant not seeing Chevy.

A few days later, there was a frantic flurry of interesting voicemails, text messages and emails. Normally when this happens, it’s not good – like “we have lawyers on retainer for a reason” not good. But this time, it was good.

In each city Chase visits, the local venue has to identify a local host for the event. The folks from The Fox Theater have been to more than a few of our Northwest Passages events and knew there isn’t a microphone I don’t like, coupled with no known fear of saying odd things in front of large crowds that include my boss.

More importantly, I ask questions for a living.

They wanted me to lead the discussion with Clark. I mean Chevy Chase. It was like I had just received a one-year membership to the jelly of the month club – you know, the gift that keeps on giving for the whole year.

So, tonight’s the night.

The guy who delivered so many of the lines I hear in my head during nearly every conversation I have every day at the office is going to be here in Spokane. “Fletch.” “Caddyshack.” “The Three Amigos.” “Spies Like Us.” “Community.” “Hot Tub Time Machine.” All of those movies with Goldie Hawn. Of course, the Vacation movies. Heck, even that Big Bird flick.

I’m sure a lot of the talk will be about one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time. The stories about making it, and definitely about the holiday movie with the most one-liners thrown out each holiday season.

It will be fun. The key is for a nerd like me to not get obsessed with desires to ask him to say the lines we all hope he says. The Zen philosopher, Basho, once wrote, “A flute with no holes, is not a flute. A doughnut with no hole, is a Danish.” He was a funny guy.

Just like the guy who was the human meme well before Al Gore invented the internet.