Jamie Loftus Gives the Internet’s Main Characters Their Sixteenth Minute (of Fame)

Comedy Features Jamie Loftus
Jamie Loftus Gives the Internet’s Main Characters Their Sixteenth Minute (of Fame)

Disclaimer: Jamie Loftus used to be a regular contributor to Paste Magazine, but I, Clare Martin, have never worked with her. Do I have to disclose I think she’s really cool, though?

Jamie Loftus is not afraid to be the podcast she wants to see in the world. About a year ago, the comedian, writer, and prolific podcaster was looking for a show that revisited the internet’s main characters of the day—relatively unknown people thrust into the limelight after going viral for any number of reasons. No podcasts she looked into really fit the bill; some interviewed the subjects again, but tended to repeat the exploitation the person experienced in the first place, rather than analyzing the social context around that particular internet moment. And so she made it herself: Sixteenth Minute (of Fame), which premiered last month via iHeartMedia’s Cool Zone Media. 

Much of Loftus’ solo work has happened in this vein, where she looks for a project examining a certain topic, and finding nothing satisfying there, takes matters into her own hands. Previously, she documented her foray into the surprisingly chauvinistic world of IQ test weirdos with My Year in Mensa (which she also wrote about for Paste), explored the spiritualist movement in Ghost Church, analyzed the cultural impact of the Cathy comics with Aack Cast, and thoroughly delved into Vladimir Nabokov’s most famous work in Lolita Podcast. Her book Raw Dog looks into the social history of hot dogs in between her own thoughts on America’s most famous tubular meats. Loftus’ work is always thoughtful and well-researched, accentuated by moments of levity thanks to her off-the-wall sense of humor (and, in the case of her podcasts, liberal use of air horns).

So far on Sixteenth Minute, Loftus has revisited the “bed intruder” story from 2010, the famously controversial dress, the Boston slide cop, the woman who dared to enjoy drinking coffee in the garden with her husband, and the Philadelphia man who endeavored to eat 40 rotisserie chickens. Picking her subjects is a tricky and ongoing process; Loftus has assembled a “scary spreadsheet” listing internet main characters that could end up on the podcast.

“There are so many internet stories that are a woman saying something innocuous and then being told to die,” Loftus tells me over Zoom, referencing coffee wife. “I don’t want the show to be that week to week to week to week, but [I choose] the stories that feel like they happened at an interesting moment and the response was unique.”

One particular main character hangs in front of Loftus like a portent of doom: Bean Dad, a.k.a. musician John Roderick, who was accused of neglect after making his daughter figure out how to use a can opener. 

“The dread that comes with thinking about Bean Dad, I cannot undersell it. I don’t know why. I don’t know why. I was thinking about, like, having to interview my own therapist when I do the Bean Dad episode. There’s a mental block there,” Loftus explains. 

When I try to get Loftus to talk about her favorite internet incident instead, she declares a truth known to most anyone who spends too much time online: “On a long enough timeline, I feel like almost any moment on the internet grows to suck.”

Case in point: the dress, an episode which Loftus had initially enjoyed putting together (“The discourse around it was very intense, but genial”) until the recent revelation that the husband of the couple at the center of the story was horrifyingly abusive and appeared in court after attacking his wife. 

The viral dress discussion occurred in 2015, a pivotal year in internet history. 

“There’s doctoral dissertations that should be written about it, because at the beginning of the year, you have the dress, and then at the end of the year, there’s been a clear shift that can be traced through business decisions, that can be traced through legislation, and that can be traced through the increasing heat on the 2016 campaign in the US,” Loftus expounds. “The function of the internet is shifting, and the priority is monetizing your time and attention and keeping you there for as long as humanly possible, all while there’s increasingly less oversight on whether what you’re seeing is real or not, which is how your aunt becomes a fascist. Anyways, my aunt became fascist.”

And while the internet’s ability to radicalize people into fascists is terrifying, Loftus finds hope in its use as an organizing tool on the left, citing the Black Lives Matter movement in summer of 2020 and campus protests for a free Palestine.

“It’s incredible how students who are 10 years younger than me have gamed the system to their advantage, but it’s still a game, and you still have to know how to navigate the system, and it’s still not trying to help you,” she says, later adding, “I think, like 10 years ago, we were being played, but no one quite understood what the game was. Now everyone knows what it is, but you’re still not really able to extract yourself from it, and I feel very much a part of that. Everyone said they were going to stop using Twitter, and some people did, but most people didn’t. And what kind of brain fuckery is that?”

Logging off is indeed a privilege, one that most people can’t afford. Everything from work to healthcare to communication with loved ones centers on being online. Ironically, Loftus finds that “more I write about [the internet], the less time I spend online—I don’t know if that’s good for me or not,” though she still loves long YouTube essays, TikToks, and Wikipedia.

“I’m in an eternal Wikipedia hole, and that has crossed over from just being sort of what I do to keep the Midnight Man away, and it’s just like a full time thing now. It’s all the time,” Loftus jokes.

Since it’s clearly not going away, I ask Loftus what she would do to make the internet a better place for us to use. Her main suggestion is to get rid of algorithmic feeds that drive engagement at the expense of everything else (in particular, the truth). Oftentimes the main characters of the day are the result of the algorithm at work, even if the person themselves and all the people seeing their post aren’t seeking this kind of interaction.

As for what she hopes the public glean from Sixteenth Minute, Loftus advises the prospective listener: “Use your head, don’t be an asshole, and free Palestine.”

Sixteenth Minute (of Fame), Loftus’ new series from iHeartMedia’s Cool Zone Media, is out now. 

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

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