The madness began in a cramped Hoboken apartment. It was 2009, and like many Americans, I was watching the Super Bowl, having recently graduated college and being in my prime “I’m a cool girl who likes football” phase. The commercials were used as commercials should be — time to refill your drink, go to the bathroom, check your texts, or do anything else but watch whatever bullshit these brands had spent millions to put on screen. But then:
My friend Jeremy figured out something weird was up first, and tried to shush the room. I caught the tail end of a jingle — ”Guess what? I love pancakes” — coming from the puppeted body of a banana peel carved to look like it had tentacles, sitting on a stack of pancakes, a single googly eye affixed to its “face.” The next time it aired I was transfixed. It was an ad within an ad; Nannerpuss (short for Banana Octopus) being the showstopper breakfast of some sillier, frillier operation, before a Denny’s Grand Slam burst onto the screen and a deep-voiced narrator asked if we were ready for a “serious” breakfast. We were not. We only had eyes for Nannerpuss.
In 2009, the Internet was beginning to seep into corporate advertising. Quiznos already had the spongmonkeys, and the Dos Equis man was being memed. But Nannerpuss didn’t feel like a cynical attempt by Denny’s attempting to monetize a meme — it was an organic attempt at Internet irreverence before every brand figured out how to “clap back” on Twitter. People made their own Nannerpuss memes. For Valentine’s Day that year, I bought my partner a handmade Nannerpuss card from Etsy, two Nannerpusses (Nannerpi?) linking banana arms and declaring “Guess what? I love you.” For a moment, Nannerpuss was beloved.
But Nannerpuss died as fast as he lived, and never caught onto the bigger meme zeitgeist, unlike the Kool-Aid Man or the haunting visage of the Burger King. And that’s what makes him great. The fact that Nannerpuss lingers in slight obscurity is just proof of how “far” we’ve come when it comes to the dissemination and monetization of the weird. Now, brands rely on influencers, publications, and anyone on Twitter to share their creations, whether it’s because they’re amazing or absurd. They thrive on obsession and haterade. I have no doubt that if Nannerpuss dropped today, Denny’s thirsty Twitter presence would have catapulted him into meme stardom, and everyone would have loved Denny’s all the more for him.
The thing about Nannerpuss is that it didn’t work. In fact, when Denny’s tried to capitalize on Nannerpuss by giving the character his own Twitter account, it backfired, with Nannerpuss tweeting increasingly disturbing and inappropriate thoughts. But even then, Nannerpuss never inspired me to eat at Denny’s. I developed no warm feelings for the brand who made him. If anything it made me slightly more averse to bananas. The only thing I felt warmly about was Nannerpuss, and the hypothetical restaurant he came from that Denny’s wanted destroyed.
And any time I see another chain restaurant go viral, I long for the brief time when Nannerpuss exited on his own, a creature that Denny’s couldn’t control.