The savage art of the comeback is something that we should all take the time and dedication to master. There are very few things in life as satisfying as completely and utterly decimating someone with your wit, your snappiness, and your banter. And if you throw some good old-fashioned logic and common sense into the mix? Whew, you’re a legend.
The place that celebrates these “well-constructed put-downs, comebacks, and counter-arguments” is the legendary ‘Murdered By Words’ subreddit. Boasting a whopping 2.5 million members, r/MurderedByWords shares the best comebacks that we all wish we came up with ourselves. And, well, during the actual arguments, not days later while we’re shampooing our hair in the shower.
One of the moderators helping manage the vast r/MurderedByWords community answered some of my questions about the community. "The way we see it, a murder should (but doesn't always have to) be more than a quick response or retort. The best murders are well-constructed, thought-out responses that leave the opening argument completely without any ability to reply. In other words, their point has been totally demolished," the mod explained to Bored Panda.
"Now, obviously there's more than one way to murder with words, and sometimes a quick rapier thrust or stab to the heart (a short, swift reply) can be just as deadly as a drawn-out murder, and you'll frequently see both types in this sub," they added. Scroll down for the moderator's insights about how they and their colleagues tackle the challenges that come with managing such a large online community.
Check out the best online verbal put-downs, upvote the ones that impressed you the most, and be sure to give r/MurderedByWords a follow if you’re a fan of their stuff. When you’re done with this article, you’ll find some more inspiration for your future epic comebacks by checking out our previous features of the subreddit here, here, and here. Somebody call the police and the coroner because these ‘word-murders’ are out of control.
The moderator representing r/MurderedByWords shared with me that they have a very thorough vetting system in place for new mods. "We manage the community by being a tight-knit group of moderators who are all carefully vetted before being given the position, to ensure the stability of the subreddit and that good content gets through," they said. However, it's not just the mods who decide whether or not a comeback can be classified as a 'murder.' That honor is also given to the community members themselves.
"Overall, we believe in letting the subreddit determine what is or isn't a murder, and try to step in or remove posts only when the rules are broken or we see the same post for the gazillionth time," the mod explained.
According to the moderator, the community has its own challenges, just like any other large subreddit. "Every single post will always have someone who says, 'Not a murder,' 'This sub is dying/dead,' 'Mods suck,' etc. That comes with the territory of any subreddit, from smallest to largest," they told Bored Panda that these sorts of comments are completely unavoidable, no matter what the community might be. However, a bigger issue is... politics.
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"Another challenge that came up was when we decided before the US Presidential Elections to ban politics from the sub (there is a sticky at the top of the subreddit outlining what is/isn't allowed). Somehow, we managed to have both sides of the political spectrum pissed off at us for that one. Democrats complaining we had caved to the Republicans who kept getting 'owned,' and Republicans complaining because this was one big left-wing [echo chamber] and now they couldn't even respond with their own posts. We then made the ban permanent, but we still have to remove plenty of posts which fit the criteria for the no-politics rule."
But at the core of it all are practical challenges like finding ways to keep the subreddit growing and full of fresh content that will keep redditors happy. "We're lucky in that we frequently create posts that reach the front page and receive tens of thousands of upvotes (many have even passed the 100k upvote mark), which in turn helps draw attention to the sub, which creates more content, etc."
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Nearly two years ago, I had a friendly chat with redditor Xor50, who’d been one of the moderators helping run r/MurderedByWords. They told me a bit about the community that has been running since December 2016, the type of content the subreddit features (and how it differs from similar subreddits like r/clevercomebacks), and how to give your put-down more substance.
“A ‘real murder’ in terms of this subreddit would be [this]: A murder should be a response to something or someone that totally, for lack of a better word, destroys them. They are, of course, subjective, and should be more or less based on fact,” Xor50 told Bored Panda previously.
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“What is the difference between a ‘murder’ and ‘burn’ anyway? The mod team and even the MBW community has struggled for over a year to try and define the difference. It’s quite subjective and nearly an ‘I know it when I see it!’ situation, however, there are some generalities,” the redditor explained that there have been debates about the details of what constitutes a ‘murder.’
“Murders tend to be longer. It’s nearly impossible to ‘murder’ someone inside of a tweet. It’s just not long enough. You can burn them pretty good yes but a ‘murder’ is far more complete,” they said.
“Basically, anything that you would think is a witticism, one-liner, snappy comeback, or hot take is going to be a burn. Those may be a better fit for /r/clevercomebacks. Murders tend to be long-form, taking a minute or several to read, and thoroughly deconstruct an argument and/or the person making it.”
Murdered By Wit
Xor50 added that your personal passion for a topic can help inspire you to find a clever way to put down someone’s bad arguments. “Think about a topic you’re really passionate about and imagine you’re talking to an idiot who just doesn’t get it. That’s how I imagine it,” they said.
The art of the comeback isn’t out of reach for us, no matter how epic and unreachable some of these slap-backs and roasts might seem.
British comedy writer and stand-up comedian Ariane Sherine explained to me during an earlier interview what the most important parts of a comeback are. “I think the most important thing with comebacks is speed. Even if the joke isn't a total zinger, people will be impressed by your quickfire response," she told Bored Panda.
According to Ariane, most stand-up comics actually have a “repertoire of comebacks” that they rely on while on the stage. This way, they can be prepared for hecklers and (at least some) unexpected situations. There’s a lot of prep that goes into being a good comedian!
“We're not all as fast and talented as it seems! But if we're doing stand-up, our own routines will be original—it's just heckle putdowns that might not be," she said.
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Ariane revealed to Bored Panda that comedy professionals build up emotional resilience with time and experience.
“Heckle putdowns are generally shared among comics so there's no code of honor when it comes to using them (but you mustn't nick original stand-up material!),” Ariane told me where we can find some inspiration for clever comebacks.
The comedy writer also pointed out that comebacks can either be spontaneous or more planned out (if you’ve got the time), depending on the actual comic.
"It [the comeback] needs to be very fast, well-timed, and take people by surprise as well as being clever, witty, and immediately understandable,” she said, adding that it’s relatively rare in her experience to have spontaneous eruptions of genius all the time. “That's relatively rare in my experience. I'm sure many other comics are more natural than I am!"
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