In 1996, a 2.5-minute short sandwiched between a bunch of other shorts premiered in an episode of The Simpsons. No one thought much of it at the time, but over the last couple decades, “Chalmers vs. Skinner” — rebranded to “Steamed Hams” — would go on to become one of the most iconic Simpsons moments.
A new oral history of the short published on Mel Magazine by Brian VanHooker dives into how it came to be, featuring interviews with then-showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein. The oral history does a wonderful job of tracing how this short came to be where it is now, an incredibly popular meme that got its start in a Facebook group before moving to YouTube and other social media platforms. It’s a rise that surprised Oakley considering that during the initial table read, the sketch didn’t garner much laughs.
“After it broadcasted, we never really heard anything about it for years afterwards,” Oakley told Mel. “‘Steamed Hams’ didn’t even become a thing until 2016, when some Australian grocery store kept getting calls from people asking for steamed hams.”
The latter half of the history is a beautiful example of just how quickly something can spread online if there’s enough ignition. From a popular Facebook group to a BuzzFeed story in 2016 to endless new versions of “Steamed Hams” popping up, once it became a phenomenon, it never really stopped.
“I’m delighted that people actually did think the sketch was funny, because it took me approximately 20 years to find out that people liked it,” Oakley said. “I’m even more delighted that people find it so user-friendly because I love all these remixes. It’s hard to get into the specific weirdness of its success, but I think that part of the reason it’s successful is because it pushes that nostalgia buzzer for Simpsons fans.”
The full piece is available at Mel, and it comes with a beautifully curated selection of “Steamed Hams” memes to enjoy.