Pained Effie (Musical Theatre Meme)


Pained Effie is an original humorous internet meme that parodies unfortunate experiences that are unique to musical theatre performers. These experiences are illustrated through captions set against a backdrop of Broadway actress Jennifer Holliday melodramatically throwing her hands in the air in a devastated manner.

The Pained Effie meme is based on Jennifer Holliday’s performance as the character Effie in the original Broadway cast of Dreamgirls, specifically her performance of the iconic power-ballad “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” on the 1982 Tony Awards. The title “Pained Effie” is derived from a line Effie sings just before the number starts: “I’m not feelin’ well, I got pain;” to which the other characters all retort in unison: “Effie, we all got pain” (seen at 2:56 in the video below).

Jennifer Holliday’s performance, while impressive and impassioned (she did win a Tony Award for it, after all), has also earned her a reputation for her melodramatic style of dramatic and musical interpretation. This style includes unapologetically aggressive physical gestures, highly exaggerated facial expressions, and passionate-but-self-destructive vocal stylings that often override what her voice can actually physically handle. Her unabashed mode of heightened self-expression, combined with her recognition among Broadway enthusiasts, is very appropriate as a representation of musical theatre-related angst.

As noted above, the construction of the Pained Effie meme is aesthetically simple: a screenshot of Ms. Holliday with her arms outstretched, superimposed with two captions in classic internet meme typeface (Impact font in white with black stroked borders). The first caption is placed at the top of the image, and establishes the given circumstances: a musical theatre-related activity that is expected to have either a neutral or positive outcome. The second caption, placed at the bottom of the image, reveals unexpected negative consequences. In order for the meme to have maximum comedic effect, the outcome ought to be relatively inconsequential from an objective perspective, but highly disappointing/frustrating from the perspective of a musical theatre performer. Humor is achieved through two major components. The first component is ambient affiliation among the musical theatre community, which occurs through the recognition of Ms. Holliday’s identity, and through empathy for the unfortunate circumstances being portrayed (which is validated by Ms. Holliday’s distress). The second component is overstatement, which occurs through ironically juxtaposing trivial consequences with the exceptional angst that Ms. Holliday exudes.

In this instance, the given circumstance is the purchase of sheet music from the popular website When customers purchase music from MusicNotes, they are only allowed to print one physical copy. Many people have managed to get around this rule by selecting the “Save as PDF” option on their print screen, allowing them to save the sheet music digitally and print as many copies as they would like. However, if the customer fails to take this step before clicking “Print,” the opportunity is lost, and the customer is left with just one physical copy of the sheet music that can be easily lost, and must be painstakingly photocopied if more copies are desired.

Summer stock theaters are theater companies that produce shows exclusively during the summer, and vary greatly in the opportunities they offer for union and non-union actors. Some summer stock theaters associated with Actors’ Equity Association (the actors’ union) offer either an automatic Equity membership upon being cast, or offer EMC points (Equity Membership Candidacy points; actors can earn one per week at participating theaters and obtain their card upon collecting 50 points). For this reason, summer stock is often a good opportunity for college students to work toward obtaining their equity cards before graduation. However, some summer stock theaters do not offer these options, and given the low pay often awarded to non-union actors, this can make non-union opportunities seem less than attractive.

Last year, NBC announced that they would be airing a live telecast musical production of The Sound of Music, which was very exciting news for the musical theatre community… until it was announced that the lead role of Maria would be played by country singer Carrie Underwood (who had no previous experience in musical theatre). Many disapproved of this choice, and her performance received many mixed (and mostly poor) reviews.

The screenshot of Ms. Holliday performing on the Tonys can be substituted with any other picture of her performing in a similarly melodramatic fashion. This screenshot is taken from a recent guest performance of hers on American Idol.

By: Dylan Stasack


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