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Remembering the Time Justin Timberlake Was Slapped in the Face With Some Ham

For a pop culture moment so rare and beautiful, it is criminally under-analysed.

26 May 2016, 12:03pm

Justin Timberlake is a Very Cool Guy. There’s really no two ways about it. Like, if there is one absolute truth in this volatile and conspiracy-filled universe, it’s that Justin Timberlake is smoother than two freshly shaved dolphins in a vat of butter. In much the same way it’s impossible to imagine Jonah Hill as a hard-bodied gymnast or Ryan Gosling shitting himself on a bus, it’s difficult to imagine Timberlake as anything but the charming, permanently suited pop lothario who gave us “SexyBack”, “Mirrors”, and at least one instance of being uncomfortably aroused at work.

Yet, while our image of Timberlake is one of a suave and angelically sculpted man who cannot be touched by anything except light, quenching facial cream and soft feminine hands, the fact remains: Justin Timberlake has also been slapped in the face with a fistful of meat.

Say that to yourself one more time: Justin Timberlake has been socked in the mouth with a bundle of ambiguously re-formed meat. Justin Timberlake has been walloped in the kisser with an allotment of ham. Not even once. Three times. Timberlake. Ham. Face. Thrice.

Consensually.

On purpose.

On national television.

This rare and beautiful moment in pop culture history has, inexplicably, gone almost entirely undiscussed, which – in our era of rampant nostalgia and archive footage-based embarrassment – just isn't on really is it? So let's take a closer look at the situation.

For those who are unversed in trawling YouTube for bootlegged clips of noughties pop-stars, Timberlake was appearing in an episode of British TV show Bo! In The USA, a spin-off from the madcap Bo’ Selecta! hosted by Leigh Francis in his guise of celeb super-fan Avid Merrion. But that doesn’t really offer any respite from the strange nature of it all, does it? The beauty of this clip is that the closer you look at it, the weirder it gets.

For starters, Timberlake is wearing a pair of winged y-fronts that look as though they were crafted for a nativity where every part is performed by someone’s crotch. He has also just been asked about jerking off in front of a mirror, and is about to be punished for losing a fake, crudely constructed board game. Whichever way you spin in it, this whole saga is the sort of thing Salvador Dalí would have struggled to dream up on a Glastonbury comedown.

And yet, it’s in these moments that Timberlake has never been more human, more vulnerable, or more exposed. For a few seconds – from the moments Leigh Francis says “I get to slap you in the face” in a problematic accent, to the point where Justin interjects with a meek “How many times are you…” as he is struck repeatedly with deli slices – Justin Timberlake is no longer international pop star and sex person Justin Timberlake, but an ordinary man who knows he has made an error in judgment and yet possesses the steely determination to see it through to its bitter end. Biting the bullet like a champ, the ladies’ man, reigning pop king, and all round cool dude accepts his fate and, wincing, allows scripted entertainment to take its natural course.

If there is anything at all to take from all of this, it’s that even the very best of us have made mistakes. Mistakes that have knocked us down and, in some cases, left us greasy-cheeked and smelling faintly of pig. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, been Justin Timberlake, confused and frightened, out of our depth, doing our best to remain stoic while being slapped in the face with cheap ham? But we all get back up, don’t we? We all dust ourselves off, scrub our skin raw with disinfectant, and get ready to face another day. If Justin Timberlake can somehow make it so that nobody remembers that time he was once assaulted by ham on a spin-off of Bo! Selecta, not even actual Bo! Selecta, then anything is possible.

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