USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘USC’
Folk speech

“Dark in Here!”

Context & Analysis

The subject is a BFA in USC’s School of Dramatic Arts Acting program, which is extremely competitive. I asked him if he knew of any theater traditions or sayings specific to USC’s theater program. I included the full dialogue of our conversation below for clarity.

Main Piece

Subject: ‘Dark in here’ is a big one for the BFA’s. Any time the lights turn off someone just has to go ‘Dark in here!”

Me: What’s the context of that?
Subject: It was a line in a scene and we—Mary Jo probably made them do that line for an hour straight.

Me: Who’s Mary Jo?

Subject: Mary Jo Negro is the head of undergraduate acting at USC, she’s our acting professor, she’s the one that cuts us [laughs]

Me: So what play was it taken from?

Subject: It’s a 10-minute play called ‘Tape’. It’s very bad. [laughs]

Me: So why did it become a saying within the BFA’s?

Subject: Uh, because we’re the ones that had to run through it for an hour—it was just that line. And so then every time the lights turn off we’d have to go ‘Dark in here!’—so the lights turn off and he [the main character] goes ‘Dark in here” and so now any time any professor ever turns the lights off somebody goes “Dark in here” and I hate it [laughs].

Folk speech

The SoCal Spell Out

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about some of his experiences at USC; particularly, I asked him if he knew of any strong traditions at USC (aside from the obvious ‘Fight On’). The subject is a member of the USC Triathlon team and is very active and involved on the team. He proceeded to tell me about this particular tradition he enjoys on the Tri team, which is also a tradition shared by many other USC sports teams.

Main Piece

“My favorite tradition is, like, the SoCal spell out, and it’s basically a lot of things that I think, like, USC athletic teams do here. It just consists of basically spelling out “Southern California”, like, really quickly and really loudly and then just, like, erupting in cheer at the very end. That actually is, like, really really fun to do and a good tradition to have, plus it also fills you up with adrenaline. So that’s a tradition that we have.”


Bosco Tjan

Item (direct transcription):

So, the professor was something like a computer visions expert, right?

So the joke was, if he’s such a visions expert, why didn’t he see this coming?

Background Information:

The informant read this joke on Facebook; it was posted by someone from USC (the University of Southern California).

Bosco Tjan was a USC professor who was murdered by one of his students in 2016. The joke refers to those events.

Contextual Information:

The informant expressed that he would only tell the joke to someone he knew well and thought wouldn’t be offended.


This joke fits the common pattern of jokes forming in response to tragic events. Interestingly, though, in this case the event was not a national or widely publicized—it would only make sense to members of the USC community.

Thus, the joke is a counter-example to Christie Davies’ hypothesis from “Jokes That Follow Mass-Mediated Disasters in a Global Electronic Age” (from the book “Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture,” 2003). Davies claims that jokes about tragic events form as a counter-impulse to hegemonic pressure from the mass media (particularly television) to feel sorrow for strangers. There was no such hegemonic pressure after the murder of Bosco Tjan, yet this joke formed anyways.


The Helicopter Story

Main piece:

There were really vicious pranks between USC and UCLA for most of the schools’ history. Like, we set their lawn on fire. They kidnapped Traveller. We ran fake Daily Bruins, they ran fake Daily Trojans. We swapped out their card stunt directions. We stole the Victory Bell. All kinds of stuff.

So, the greatest UCLA response of all time was allegedly – some guy hired a helicopter. He gets a ton of horse shit together, puts it in a cargo net, flies it over campus, then drops it on Tommy Trojan.

I’ve never been able to find proof that this happened, but ask any alum and they’ll tell you about it. Especially the older dudes – it’s an infamous prank.


Drew is a sixth generation Trojan, and is a Trojan Knight. He is intimately familiar with USC’s history and culture.


USC and UCLA are two Los Angeles-based universities with a long history of athletic/academic rivalry punctuated by inter-campus japes.


This story combines many LA-area stereotypes. Wasteful spending, helicopter use, and the UCLA/’SC rivalry are all characteristic elements of the myth. The regularity of football season and the continuity of the rivalry have given this myth particular longevity.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

TMB Band Name: Cumquat

While interviewing my informant, Audrey, I decided to document her Band Name. She got her Band Name from the upperclassmen of her section in the Trojan Marching Band (TMB). Audrey is a member of the Mellophone section. I asked her to perform her band name to me as if she were asked to “introduce herself” by another member of the band:


Killian, who was sitting near Audrey during the interview, chimed in to start her off just as he would when asking another band member to introduce themself: “Who are you!?”


Audrey: “Once upon a time my name is Cumquat.”


Killian: “Why?”


Audrey “Because I Cum Quat-ly.”


My informant would usually perform this Band Name/Joke ritual in a social setting with other members of the TMB. Sometimes she is asked by alumni of the band who are interested in hearing the new Band Names their section has come up with. Members of the band also frequently ask each other because they are often humorous or come with humorous jokes attached. It is also used to test the band Freshmen to see if their jokes are up to par with the standard set by current band members.


According to my informant, everyone in the band has a Band Name that they have been dubbed by their older section members. The Band Names are different in each section. Some sections give their members short names that function as traditional nicknames (example: “Egg”). My informant was mostly able to give me knowledge of how the Mellophone section names its members.


My informant’s section gave her a strange because they have to figure out how it applies to them/ what the other section members know about them. My informant is not entirely sure why she is dubbed ‘Cumquat.’ She knows that it’s a reference to the movie xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Other than that, she is unsure why the older section members decided to call her that.



I have seen my informant introduce herself on many occasions with a few different Name Jokes. The particular joke she gave me is about average compared to the usual raunchy, outrageous jokes the section normally uses, although it requires a little more thought to understand. I think this is a good representation of how Mellophone Name Jokes usually are. I personally enjoy this social band tradition. Everyone has a name, so it’s fun to get to know all the members of the band just to hear them. The tradition of Band Names also further unties the band as one entity.



“I’m just sayin’… *HACK*”


Among the Interactive Media and Games Division at the University of Southern California, a strange joke occurs in which if one person utters the words (on purpose or to trigger this joke) “I’m just sayin’,” the rest of the IMGD students will all do a hacking, coughing, or vomiting impression.


My source J explained it as such:

J: When ever like a group of us are together one of us will go, “I’m just sayin’,” and then the rest of us will all go “HOUGH”.

Me: Do you know why?

J: I don’t know… I’ve heard its a combination of two YouTube videos but the actual source of where this joke started is completely unknown, but we all know that the joke is funny.


Its very interesting to me how each major at USC has its own culture. This is but one example of the types of jokes, proverbs, and legends that I’ve heard out of the IMGD major at USC. Despite being such a small group (30 students per class), the program is still able to develop its own forms of folklore specific to their major.

Folk speech


This folk term refers to the “free Lyft” given by USC at certain hours. Lyft is a popular ride-sharing app, and USC partnered with them to give free rides to students to help prevent drunk driving. My friend and bandmate mentioned the term at a rehearsal. I asked her when she had first heard this word. ‘A’ refers to my friend, and ‘B’ refers to me.

A: Um, I started hearing it my first, like, week here at USC. As a young fresh. Um…

B: And it’s just USC campus that you…

A: Yeah. I’ve used it other places, and no one knows what I’m talking about. Or I’ll talk, like, “Oh yeah, I was at this party and then I Fryfted home.” And they’re all like, “What the hell…is a Fryft?”

This implies that the term is only used locally, by people who use USC’s free Lyft. Here is an article that uses this USC-centric slang:



Daddy Nikias

This USC-specific internet meme was described by a friend after class. It refers to USC President C.L. Max Nikias.

“So, uh, there is this whole thing at USC, that like, uh, Nikias is kind of like the father figure, but also in kind of a kinky way? Uh, so people like to say he is, uh, ‘Daddy Nikias,’ um, which is of course a play on a very sexual way of uh, of uh, talking to someone. Um, you know? So, yeah, of course people are going to take this sort of older authoritarian figure and sort of bring him down to our level as college students and say, ‘Yes, let’s make him very kinky.’ So that’s ‘Daddy Nikias.’”

I thought his observation that the students were attempting to “bring him down to our level” was astute, as jokes like this can help to poke fun at authority figures. This joke originated, as far as either of us know, on the Facebook page “USC Memes for Spoiled Pre-Teens.”


Marshall Snakes

This USC-specific internet meme was described by a classmate after class had ended. It refers to students in the Marshall School of Business.

“Um, Marshall students are, like, known for being, like, snakes. And, I guess the snakes are supposed to be like, that they’re sneaky and like mean and bad, and like, um, cross you over. And so they get a lot of shit on the page for being, like, assholes really. And so like, there’s all these memes about, like, snakes, and how Marshall students are like snakes, and how it’s funny, and how everyone should hate them.”

This meme originated on the Facebook page, “USC Memes for Spoiled Pre-Teens.” She described this page to me as well:

“All of this information is…information can be found, basically like on this USC memes page, um, that a lot of USC students are on, um, or have gotten invited to, and add little posts to, and um, things that are basically just funny to the entire student generation. Or, yeah, student…not generation, I don’t even know what we’re called. Um, body, yeah that’s it.”


The Nazi Tree

Main piece:

The legend goes that VKC (who was a Nazi and a eugenicist in addition to being President of the University [of Southern California]) got a donation of a tree from the Nazi party that’s still on campus today.

Some people think that it’s the Fig tree by Moreton Fig, but that’s definitely not right. If you dig around it’s supposed to be an oak tree behind Bovard.

Now, a ton of people deny this – including administrators. But I am pretty sure that it’s the one on the back corner of Bovard – closest to the old Annenburg building. I’m sure that if more people knew, they’d want to cut it down or something. But for now, we’ve got a Nazi tree on campus.


Drew is a sixth generation Trojan, and is a Trojan Knight. He is intimately familiar with USC’s history and culture.


Recently, USC’s former president Rufus B. Von KleinSmid has come under fire for his Nazi affiliations. The Nazi tree story plays into this contemporary controversy.


Trees are inherently monumental. That a progressive and diverse college campus like USC could have a flagrant and distasteful symbol on campus as a Nazi tree is entertaining in a sick way. It’s also a little mysterious that there is uncertainty about which tree is the Nazi tree. It adds to the drama of the story, and causes more mental nagging on the part of USC students who hear the story. Any tree could be the Nazi tree.