He Said She Said First

Long before anyone had heard of Michael Scott or Dunder-Mifflin, someone else was already saying “That’s what she said.” I looked long and hard online to see what others claim was the origin of this phrase. What I found were pages that I won’t share because they don’t meet my PG/PG-13 criteria. Many were funny, just really not appropriate. Most importantly, none of the explanations I found were accurate. I know the real story. Because I was there. (I swear this is true. I even have witnesses.)

His name was Johnny Davis, and it was more than twenty years ago. I’m convinced that he was the first, and that it simply took years and years for its brilliance to travel person-to-person through our culture until finally it reached the “right” people to wind up in a television comedy show.

My friend Kurt and I were working summers for some friends from church, installing commercial windows as a way to pay for college. We primarily did new windows for schools and hospitals. It was hard work and exhausting, but it put me in probably the best shape of my life, I got to work outside, and I met the real most interesting man in the world in the summer of 1989: the one and only Johnny Davis.

Johnny was an African-American gentleman who was a “glazer,” a tradesman specializing in working with glass. Although he had shoulder-length Jheri curled hair and a gold tooth displayed prominently on one of his incisors, he fit no other stereotype that I’ve ever heard of. He was absolutely an original. A deceptively wise man, Johnny worked slowly and carefully, favoring never having to re-do any task. He was probably in the 5’10” to 6-foot range, and he always wore a really nice baseball cap. (Most guys working construction did.)

Johnny was the quintessential ladies’ man. Although he was married and a grandfather (I’d have placed him in his late 40’s or very early 50’s), he would occasionally talk vaguely about one “girlfriend” or another. And at least twice that I can remember, a young woman in her mid-20’s came to visit him on the job site. Also I should clarify: It was not the same young woman each time.

Johnny wore very nice silk boxers. I know this because for one particular job, at Deaconess Hospital in Oklahoma City, we all had to wear matching t-shirts with our company logo on them. (Some months earlier, a woman posing as a nurse at the hospital had walked out with a newborn. Although if memory serves, the child was found unharmed and reunited with her parents just a short time later, it was traumatic and scary for the entire city at the time, and it caused Deaconess to lock down the security at their facility.) Anyway, on our first morning there, our boss handed us our t-shirts in the parking lot. Johnny took off the nice buttoned shirt he was already wearing over a white t-shirt, pulled his new company t-shirt on over that…and then proceeded to unfasten his belt, unzip and drop his trousers, right there in the parking lot, so that he could appropriately tuck his shirt in. I averted my eyes, but it was too late. I would never be able to un-see those metallic hunter green silk boxers.

Johnny had a number of unusual phrases that he would spout at random, and one of his favorites was, “Somebody’s gonna shoot ‘em a black man today here in Oklahoma.” His manner of speech had a certain rhythm, an almost musical cadence. His musings often seemed like random unrelated thoughts that he was simply stringing together and then presenting as fact. If you offered him something that he didn’t want, he’d say, “No. I don’ like it. I don’ like what it does to me.”

I honestly never could tell when Johnny was just teasing us and when he truly was being serious. He once tried to convince me that Dr. Pepper’s primary ingredient was prune juice. (Dr. Pepper was my preferred drink at the time.) There was a type of caulking filler that we  used to have to tuck into larger voids around windows before sealing them up, a kind of insulating foam that came on a roll, and he once insisted to me and Kurt that one of its main ingredients was horse urine.

He also used to randomly sing little snippets of songs we had never heard, usually about women, love or partying, or combinations of all three: “Met a woman named Sadie / She was a big, fine lady / And that girl had herself a big fat ba-by / This lady named Sadie.” One of the oddest things Johnny used to say was the name Gladys, usually long and drawn out, with an inexplicable emphasis on the first two syllables, and adding an unnecessary syllable at the end: “GUH-LAD-diss-ah!” We asked him if Gladys was one of his lady-friends, and he’d just laugh knowingly and not answer. When we did some task that went particularly well, he’d gleefully shout, “Au-to-mat-ic!” sometimes even adding an “Automatic today in Oklahoma!”

But of course what would become Johnny’s most famous phrase was, “That’s what she said,” used in exactly the same way Michael says it on The Office. If you’ve never heard any of Johnny Davis’s other sayings, well, I expect it’s just a matter of time. And when you do, now you’ll know the truth about where they came from.

Did you ever hear “That’s what she said” earlier than twenty years ago? Liar. No, seriously, if you did, tell us about it. Lord knows I strive for historical accuracy at this site, so we NEED to know the truth. What are other catch phrases that The Office and other programs have stolen from your past?

6 Responses to “He Said She Said First”

  1. Mark Morris November 8, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    Sad to say I did not remember all of this until you posted the story. I did remember Johnny, but had long since lost his last name in the recesses of my memory, and I did not recall you working on that job with us. Anyway, great story

    • Brannon November 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

      Hm. Did you work for Ron Moore and Al Wangler? If so, I don’t think you and I worked for them at the same time. (Pretty sure I would have remembered that.) Kurt and I worked for Al for two summers. I came back a couple of times on a third summer and did a couple of jobs that were just me helping Al, but never five days a week again. Al told me several years later that Johnny had continued working for them. Did you work for Al with Kurt?

  2. Cooper Strange November 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    That Mark sure is a joker! Of course he did not work with us on the Deaconess job. Wait…Johnny She Said…I thought that was going to be a good band name, but turns out, it is just a tongue twister, lacking the necessary fluidity.

    I can only attest to “that’s what she said” making it to the northern regions of Texas by the late 1990s. And that would stand up to sound reason, actually. The hardest growth years for any saying, business, or prospective movie star is the beginning. It looks like nothing is happening, then the fame jumps state borders, and in no time, it is global. However, I can also attest to the fact, because I have tested this myself as a part of a region linguistic survey project, “that’s what she said” has not yet gained ground in China…or rather, 就是她说的, as they say.

    • Brannon November 8, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

      That’s messed up.

  3. Kendra Golden November 9, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    I forgot about, “Don’ like it. Don’ like what it does to me.” That was a fun one. (And I will serve as one of your witnesses if subpoenaed.)

    • Brannon November 12, 2010 at 5:28 am #

      “That was a fun one.”

      “That’s what she said.”
      (See above)

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