In 2011, Michael Agger wrote about Cool Story Bro,“a meme for our information-saturated moment.” We’re reprinting his essay below.
Every now and then, a meme arrives that fills some void in the culture and the language that we didn’t know existed. For me, that meme is “Cool story, bro.”
Let me start by saluting the anonymous prodigy who wedded this Hercules panel by Clayton Henry (and colorist Raúl Treviño) with 7th-grade sarcasm, creating an image macro that is prickish yet charming. While the comic-book artist was clearly going for a sincere thumbs-up moment, placing “Cool story, bro” underneath highlights the phoniness and false cheer in the Greek hero’s face. Indeed, the best image macros reframe their subject in an unexpected way, the most famous being the “O RLY?” owl that helped start this madness.
I rely on the resourceful scholars at Know Your Meme for my meme-origin facts. They place the birth of “Cool story, bro” either with the YouTube poop community (not what it sounds like: they specialize in unclassifiable YouTube weirdness) or with that Oort cloud of Internet slang, 4chan. “Cool story, bro” was used as a cutting response to long-winded and off-topic posts on message boards. This happens a lot on message boards, so many variations sprung up: Riveting tale, chap!, Belle histoire, frere!, and Epic saga, Luke! Here’s one that’s most apt for the piece you’re reading: Frigid dissertation, homeboy!
What stilled my mouse was how “Cool story, bro” presented a more sarcastic version of the older insult of “tl;dr”—too long, didn’t read. For a journalist, the “tl;dr” sensibility cuts both ways. The Internet is full of trolls who can’t be bothered to read seven words strung together that don’t discuss orcs or anime. Or, if you’re feeling more generous, the Internet demands that you stop wasting everyone’s time and get to the point. Viewed in this light, both “tl;dr” and “Cool story, bro” can be seen as the distress call of a drowning reader/viewer/surfer—albeit one who is kind of a jerk.
But “Cool story, bro” has an even more powerful connotation. Here’s an example cited by Urban Dictionary:
Troll: “Halo invented the FPS video game genre!” Other Guy: “Cool Story Bro”
When someone writes a statement obviously designed to enrage other commenters or demonstrate their indestructible superiority, any response simply feeds their ego. Along comes “Cool story, bro.” Those three words kick the knife out of your opponent’s hand. You’ve called them out as a troll, but left them no purchase for a counterattack.
Thanks for reading, bro.