In 2003, parody versions of G.I. Joe PSAs from the 1980s cartoon took over the internet. 20 years on, they’re still funny as hell.
If you’re an ’80s kid, you probably watched the G.I. Joe animated series. And if you did, you probably remember the short public service announcements that were part of the program. They covered topics from fire safety to stranger danger and starred characters from the series alongside kids like us. It’s where the iconic “…and knowing his half the battle” catchphrase comes from.
In 2003, new versions of these iconic G.I. Joe PSAs started popping up on a website called Fenslerfilm. They were edited by Chicago-based writer and director Eric Fensler, with overdubs provided by his friends. The humor was surreal and esoteric, and in a pre-YouTube internet, they would become an inspiration and a prototype of sorts for the decades of comedy-based viral content yet to come.
The Fensler G.I. Joe PSAs: A Fan’s Oral History
I was lucky enough to have a younger brother (Nate) with a web-savvy friend (John) back in 2003. John stumbled on Fensler’s website and the PSAs and they became our obsession for the bulk of that year. I reached out to both of the lads to get their memories of the PSAs and that period of internet history. I’ve shared our conversation below, and all of the G.I. Joe PSAs, of course.
Adam: I’m working on a 20th anniversary piece for the Fensler G.I. Joe PSAs. When you get a minute, hit me back with some thoughts/memories you have of them and that time period. Gonna put it together like an oral history.
John: Ahahaha that’s fantastic! I’ll drop some memories in a bit. But right now I gotta Help Computer…
Nate: That’s awesome dude! My main memory was when we caught on to it they were still dropping new ones randomly, and once John called me up at home and was like: “Dude, they just dropped a new Fensler! I’m coming over!” And we shot up to your old bedroom in the attic where the computer was and we didn’t “stop all the downloading” lol (jk) and it was the “Hey whoa whoa yeeeeeah!” one and we were just dying watching it over and over. So much fun! And John eventually burned a DVD of all the PSAs that I still have and cherish to this day.
John: Ahahah dude that memory is so vivid! We watched it like 50 times! Yeah, I don’t know how we figured out when he was gonna drop them on what day. My other memory is we were at our friend Sean’s mom’s house when a bunch of people lived there and I forget who showed me the first batch of them, but I was the lost kid at the carnival one and I remember laughing so fucking hard at how funny and absurd they were. And yeah, before the days when it was easy to find them online I put them on DVD so we’d have them all in once place.
Adam: These are so great! I still have the DVD, too. Gonna break it out and show it to the kids this weekend. And I remember that anticipation and excitement so well. Pre-YouTube, pre-social media. There was no way to know when a new one was coming. Which made it so much more exciting when we finally got one!
John: Exactly! And I was so bummed when they were over. The shirts still fit me!
Adam: I wish mine still did! (Fensler did a limited run of tshirts with four catchphrases on them. I own them all.)
John: Those shirts are ultra rare now! Probably make hella cash on eBay. Though I don’t think I’d ever sell mine. It’s a piece of internet history!
Nate: What a wild time that was! Dudes, we came up at the best time, the literal birth of the viral internet. Pretty awesome.
Pretty awesome indeed. Thanks to Nate and John for the memories. And thanks to Eric Fensler for the PSAs. Let’s watch them.