The Best Name in Comedy.

Who is Steve?

This is something I get asked a lot. So I thought I’d try and answer it, because to be honest, the answer isn’t at all clear and as I write this sentence, I’m not entirely sure of it either.

For those not familiar with what I laughingly refer to as ‘my work’ I’ll quickly fill you in: I’ve spent the last six months or so drawing pictures on sticky notes and posting them on Instagram and Twitter. Much to my parent’s disappointment, this is now more-or-less a full time job and has taken over from my far-easier-to-explain career as an architect.

Most of the drawings I do are graphs or charts while the rest of them are very rudimentary comics involving stick figures talking via speech bubbles (pretty standard stuff really). Of these stick figure drawings a few of them involve a character called Steve, the enigma of which I’ll try to explain.

In short, Steve is everyone and nobody at all. Actually, that’s a really good line to finish this article with, so maybe just ignore this bit, carry on reading and I’ll hit you with this line again at the end. In the meantime, let me try to spin this out enough to get through to that killer, poignant punch line.

So, while I’ve used the name a lot in drawings, the first actual instance I can find of Steve popping up in a drawing that I’ve posted to Twitter (part of #ChazCanYouDraw, which needs its own Medium post to explain) is this one here:

And then he popped up again here…

And then here.

And then here.

And here.

As you can gather from the above comics, ‘Steve’ takes on a number of forms (which seem to get progressively more insane); from an ordinary guy, to a boring guy, to a socially insensitive alien, to an overly optimistic shark having a birthday, to an excited anthropomorphic waffle.

Which makes nailing down any personality that Steve might have a tricky prospect, however my gut feeling is that most people have a strong sense of who they think ‘Steve’ is, and that assumed personality presumably fluctuates wildly depending on who you ask.

‘Steve’ is undoubtedly a character I’ve untilised, however he’s not one that has been wholly informed by me. In many ways, Steve comes pre-set with character traits through his name. This is a large part of the reason Steve is called Steve in the first place. I didn’t so much create a character and name him, but rather took a name and used its character.

‘Steve’ is a near-perfect name for what is essentially a supporting role in a comic. The name itself incorporates a wide class spectrum, Stephen (or the alternative Steven) is a respectable enough name that it can be found on the head of boards, the names of professors, etc, yet, the shortened ‘Steve’ immediately reads as far more down-to-earth. This makes the name extremely versatile in application, Steve can be the CEO of a company, or he can be working in a fast food joint — neither seem out of place.

The name is also very common, which serves a couple of purposes: 1. Almost everyone knows a Steve, and 9 times out of 10, they’re probably a really nice guy (I have no data to back that claim up, but think of a Steve you know. Nice guy, right?)

Of course, I’m far from the first to utilise the name, and I’m sure at a certain subconscious level the mention of a ‘Steve’ in this Flight of the Conchords song was certainly an influence.

The name works beautifully in here, largely because it comes out of nowhere; “Did Steve tell you that” gets one of the biggest laughs. It’s that combination of the name having no fixed address in terms of preconceptions, meaning the audience is forced to fill in the gaps themselves. Within those few seconds of pause, they’ve automatically created a character in their minds, cobbled together by their idea of what someone called ‘Steve’ might be like, and given that most Steve’s are just friendly guys (either running a company or serving some chips at a drive in) his mention within a ‘rap battle’ is funny because he clearly shouldn’t be in there, it’s a one line long ‘fish out of water’ story, a trope that the audience knows well enough to place an awkward looking Steve in the middle of a rap battle. (the whole premise is then doubled down with the line “What’s he got to do with it”) — which serves to confirm the audiences suspicions, a quick reward for them resulting in more laughs.

As a side note: There’s nothing quite like dissecting a joke to take all the humour out of it. I find that once you really study the mechanics of a joke, and look at all its parts laying scattered across the workshop floor, it often no longer appears to be funny. My apologies for that.

Moving on. The comic that really took Steve to the next level in regards to my work was this drawing I posted last Friday:

Initially, I wasn’t sure the comic was going to be that successful. However, it seemed to strike a chord with people, specifically the chord connected to that deep suspicion everyone harbors, (but few like to admit) that perhaps all of this is for naught. That existential dread is always a good basis for comedy, and in this case the joke lies in the contrast between Steve’s unflinchingly brutal realist views and Linda’s blithe optimism over the notion of ‘Friday’.

From a quick scanning of the quickly growing comments, people seemed to connect with it because they either A: agreed with Steve, and found people like Linda annoying, or B: Agreed with Linda and know someone like Steve.

In both these cases though, ‘Steve’ is either the Hero, or he’s ‘That Guy’ that everyone knows, “you know, the guy who’s always saying shit like that”. Here’s a quick sample pulled from the comments thread…

So, as you can see, Steve fits into everybody’s narrative, be it as hero, villain, co-worker, friend, lover. He’s a vehicle for people’s preconceptions, easily commandeered and steered towards a thousand different conclusions, depending on the driver. Ubiquitous enough to be nobody, yet familiar enough to be somebody.

Steve is everyone and nobody at all.