Where does Debbie Downer come from?
While a downer has been used to refer to a “depressing person” since at least the 1970s, the name Debbie Downer was popularized by a hit Saturday Night Live sketch starring Rachel Dratch, who played a character named Debbie Downer. This character consistently ruins a group’s fun with sad remarks. The original Debbie Downer sketch aired on May 1, 2004 with Dratch’s character interrupting a family vacation to Walt Disney World with negative contributions to each conversation topic. Featuring host Lindsay Lohan, the first Debbie Downer sketch is considered one of the greatest moments in the run of the comedy series, due to nearly every player’s inability to keep a straight face for the duration of the sketch. Installments of the Debbie Downer sketch regularly ran on Saturday Night Live from 2004–06.
Although many assume Debbie Downer was an expression prior to the sketch, Dratch confirms that the term actually took off once the sketch character became popular. According to Dratch, the idea for the Debbie Downer character came to her when she experienced a sudden drop in a conversation’s mood herself: "I was on vacation in Costa Rica, and when I told someone that I was from New York, they asked, 'Were you there for 9/11?' The conversation froze. When I got back, the name [Debbie Downer] popped into my head."
The original SNL sketch opens with a short theme song with the defining introductory lyrics:
You’re enjoying your day,
Everything’s going your way,
Then along comes Debbie Downer.
Always there to tell you about a new disease,
A car accident or killer bees,
You’ll beg her to spare you, ‘Debbie, please!’
But you can’t stop Debbie Downer!”
In a later Debbie Downer sketch, writers created a companion for Debbie called Bob Bummer. Similar variations on the name include Negative Nancy and Negative Nellie, which harken back to Nervous Nellie, a constantly timid or worrisome person, a derisive nickname used to mock US politician Frank Kellogg in the 1920s.
Who uses Debbie Downer?
While the term began on Saturday Night Live, it’s become such a recognized character trope that it is commonly now used widely to refer to an extremely negative person.
“When you're excited about somethin but Debbie Downer comes in just to remark how hard and joyless their life is ”
@_kerrisays Twitter (April 10, 2017)
“We all have a friend named Debbie, Debbie Downer to be precise.”
Madeline Rocco, “How To Keep The Party Lit With A Debbie Downer In Your Squad,” Unwritten (December 9, 2015)
“It’s usually easy to identify that Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer who wreaks havoc on office morale or who drags down the festive spirit at a family function.”
Amy Morin, “5 Ways to Stop Giving Debbie Downers and Negative Nancys Too Much Power in Your Life,” Huffington Post (February 19, 2015)