That one time, when I almost created a religion.
When I was 21-years-old I almost created a religion.
It’s 2006 and I am a sophomore in college at Morehead State University. I’m home on summer break.
On one inspired night during this summer, myself and two of my friends decided that we would get together at my parents’ house and watch a movie. We were not unique in the fact that we had a pack of four or five that hung out with great regularity. One of the places we frequented was our friend Zach’s parent’s movie store; the kind of place that has completely died off. At this point they were still around, and we had access to movies (of all levels of quality and obscurities) more or less any time we wanted.
For reasons unknown to me Zach decided that this would be a great night for us to watch the movie Congo, which was a “blockbuster” film in the mid-90s that united Laura Linney on screen (at last) with Tim Curry and a host of men in really ridiculous gorilla suits. I had never seen this movie, but I knew that when I was a kid they'd promoted the shit out of it (which usually means the movie is shit). Just the trailer of the film made pre-teen me get hyped up and ready to spend my parent’s money.
I could sit here and summarize this movie’s absurdity, but I could never top what Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas did on the How Did This Get Made? podcast. They nailed it. This is a bad movie. It’s very bad. There are tons and tons of scenes that make little to no sense, but the thing that I would like to focus on is one scene in particular that was pointed out by Paul Scheer on the podcast.
Near the middle of the film, this happens:
Our reaction to this scene was roaring laughter, obviously, because we were all in. We were embracing what this film had to offer because Zach has (apparently) intentionally withheld from us the information that painted this movie sucked, so we were on a journey of surprise as the movie went along. I had no idea it was so bad! The only memories I had were of the promotional materials, which I see now were clearly designed to trick children.
When the snake slithered down the branch, it seemed like 'oh, this snake is gonna cause some problems, so I (in an extremely asinine, high-pitched voice) yelled ‘SNAKE TIME!’ The comedic beat was perfect: my hyping of the scene was cut short by the solider immediately chopping the snake in half with a machete. We lost our minds. It was just too perfectly horrible, and it brought attention to a stupid bit of commentary that would've otherwise been forgotten.
What I did not know was that this was going to become a phrase that would infect our group of friends more or less immediately. From just saying ‘SNAKE TIME,' it quickly evolved to ‘SNAKE TIME, Y’ALL!’ and got applied to situations where it obviously had nothing to do with snakes or really any change in what time it was, chronologically or figuratively.
When I returned to school (two hours away, mind you — basically a different social world) I continued to say it and shared the story with some friends, and for some reason it caught on with them, too. We had stumbled upon an accidental mantra, and this mantra meant absolutely nothing.
After really sitting down and recounting what happened here, I think this is where things started to get bizarre. You read that correctly: it’s not bizarre yet.
I hung at a student center for most of my college life, and I even lived there at one point. Instead of rent, the residents there each had a job. We were janitors, mainly. Thomas Stevens, a friend of mine, decided that he would take the student center's enormous dry-erase master calendar on the wall and write several fictional birthdays and holidays throughout the year, to be funny. I didn’t know that he had done this, and I only found out about it by walking by and seeing that someone had penned ‘SNAKE TIME’ in all caps on January 29th, 2007.
After probably thirty seconds of discussion with some friends about how funny this was, we decided that the best thing for us to do would be to observe the holiday that Thomas had inadvertently created on January 29th by watching Congo and doing our best to recreate what had happened that night during the previous summer.
These are the kinds of things bored college students do.
So we did. We got together with friends (roughly eight of us if I remember correctly), watched the movie, had some snake-related snacks (no actual items containing real snakes to my knowledge) and had a great time. And that was that. The following year was my senior year of college, I was a little bit of a stick in the mud and I decided I actually didn’t even want to attend the very event that we had created. As pathetic as this seems it’s 100% true. I digress.
What I did NOT know was that some underclassmen enjoyed Snake Time 2008 so much that they decided to continue the event without my knowledge.
[Fast forward to 2011.]
I'm sitting in my apartment in Louisville. It’s a cold, January night and my wife is away on a trip. I'm perusing the internet and accomplishing little to nothing. The phone rings. I see that it’s Luke Day, one of my college roommates from my senior year. 'Odd,' I think. 'He never calls me.' It’s about 6:45 PM.
Luke: Hey, what are you doing?
Me: Not much. Sitting at home. Why?
Luke: Snake Time is tonight. We should go.
Me: THEY ARE STILL DOING SNAKE TIME?!
Luke: Yes. It starts at 9. We should go.
Me: Man, I don’t know. Let me think about it.
Luke: Alright, man. I’m going.
At this point I am living a touch over two hours away from Morehead, KY, where this event is going down. For me to leave Louisville and make it on time to Snake Time (‘IT’S STILL HAPPENING?!’ is still running through my mind at 500MPH at this point) I would have to make a decision in the next ten minutes, tops. I decided that I was going to attend whatever Snake Time had become.
I arrive in Morehead in record time. As I pull into the back parking lot of the student center I look up and see that the top floor (the floor and huge room where all the events were held) is OBVIOUSLY in party mode. From the street I can see intense strobe lights flashing and hear thumping kick drum. I am beginning to get a little overwhelmed by anticipation. My friend Luke almost immediately pulls in behind me, and after some quick pleasantries we are going nervously and excitedly going inside.
I walk inside the ground floor of the building and it is standing room only in the lobby area. The upstairs is accessible through a stairwell in the center of the lobby. I have to emphasize that IT. IS. PACKED. This is the type of crowd that you barely are able to shimmy through. More astonishing to me is the fact that most of these people are total strangers. Anyone who has left college and visited in the two to three year period post-graduation can tell you that you immediately feel out of place and old when you visit the places you frequented. Unless you are a total legend (which is rare, let's be honest), your memory stays with your friends and that's about it.
Some of the people from my time there somehow knew that I was coming, so for once in my life I was a VIP and ushered through the crowd and into the upstairs area where the organizers were hanging out. They'd stationed stoic pairs of people at the doorways as if they were security. The floor was riddled with rubber snakes, like a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark was about to be filmed. They explain that they have something special planned for me. I am obviously wide-eyed and slack jawed, just taking all of this in. They give me some instructions, and I agree. Finally they open the doors let all these buzzing people into the main auditorium and begin a ceremony that would not disappoint.
After everyone had filed in, the music slowly faded and the lights came up on the stage. Up the center aisle strode Matt Stevenson (nickname: Sticky Stevenson) in a robe and carrying what appeared to be a knit sleeve of some kind. He stood center stage in front of the whispering crowd, and out of the sleeve slid a DVD case. He presented it to the crowd like Rafiki presented Simba for the first time. It’s Congo on DVD. Of course it is.
The crowd cheered. THEY CHEERED.
I'm completely dumbfounded at this point. I’m doing that constant laughter where you just can’t really cope with what’s taking place, so the only way you deal with it is by laughing. After the presentation of the Congo DVD, I am brought on stage as an honored guest and dubbed (what I am dubbed as I am not sure) with a rubber king cobra. As homoerotic as this sounds I found a way to stay faithful to my wife.
Now the lights go down. The energy in the room seems to be building, and I was the only person that didn't know why, somehow. Believe it or not, we actually watch the first forty six minutes of Congo. I can tell you with some certainty: even as a joke, this is a hard film to sit through without becoming restless. I had forty six minutes to figure out what was coming next. As the infamous snake-chopping scene played, the lights began to flash and 25-30 boys, ages 18 to 22, began to jump around the room and scream ‘SNAKE TIME!’ at the top of their lungs. Streamers were thrown. Chairs were flipped. New Year’s Eve party poppers were set off. It was pandemonium for about twenty seconds, and then it stopped, as did the movie.
Sticky appeared on the stage one more time and thanked everyone for attending, and just like that, one of the the most bizarre nights of my life had reached an end.
I would spend the next couple days reeling from what had happened. The enthusiasm that these people had shown in protecting this idea left me completely baffled. I told countless people the story to almost universal disbelief. The following year the event was held at the same place and my band actually came and played.
Tracing the timeline back to the beginning, I still have a hard time believing that one impromptu viewing of Congo in 2006 could grow into a campus event without me even knowing about it. It's especially strange to wonder why something like that would carry on. Do people just love getting excited, even if it's rooted in nonsense? It seems the answer is yes, and I am more than okay with that.