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'Sad Oompa Loompa' Is All Of Us — Why Kirsty Paterson's Viral 'Willy Wonka Experience' Moment Hits So Hard

Photo: Mlenny, AI generated | Canva
Sad Oompa Loompa

If you've been anywhere near social media the past few days, you've likely seen the scores of photos, videos, interviews, memes, crying children, police officers, and overall outright mess that recently ensued over in Scotland.

We're talking, of course, about the 'immersive' Willy Wonka 'experience' in Glasgow that is the internet's latest favorite trainwreck. 

And as the internet has fallen into hysterics over this debacle, one woman has become the face of it. Actress Kirsty Paterson, who played what has become known as the "Sad Oompa Loompa" after a photo of her despondently staring into the middle distance, seemed to encapsulate the entire hilarious mess, not to mention our times. 

But it's not easy, of course, to suddenly become the internet's laughingstock, even if the majority of those people are laughing WITH you rather than AT you.

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Paterson's experience touches not only on the nearly universal experience of the work-related crap show if you will, but also the ways working people always end up bearing the brunt of their employers' incompetence.

Not to mention the way unasked-for viral fame is now always a possibility any time we leave the house. But Paterson's good humor and valiant aplomb just might win her the last laugh in the end.

The immersive 'Willy Wonka Experience' in Glasgow was an unmitigated disaster in every possible way. 

As Vulture's David Mack put it, "the internet loves a fiasco," and production company House of Illuminati's "Willy Wonka Experience" is right up there at the very top of the list of viral trainwrecks.

The event was advertised as a "journey filled with wondrous creations and enchanting surprises at every turn," but as one attendee who spoke to BBC Scotland News described it, it was actually more like "an abandoned, empty warehouse." 

This of course has led to countless comparisons to the infamous Fyre Festival of 2017 that was such a mess the producer went to jail.

That would honestly be a fitting punishment for House of Illuminati, too. The company — it must be pointed out, has a website with imagery that is so off-center it makes you feel like you're having an intracerebral hemorrhage — used obvious AI "art" full of bizarre typos in advertisements that now seem like an obvious tip-off that the event would be equally incompetent. 

   

   

What in God's name is "Encherining Entertainment?" The ads also list "catcagating," "catchy tuns" a "pasadise of sweet treats," and, most intriguing, "exarserdray lollipops" as among the attractions patrons could expect at the event.

The fact that at no point did it occur to House of Illuminati to, oh, I don't know, FIX THESE ADS really says everything you need to know. But the event itself made even those ads look like the kind of expertly executed tight ships that icons like Beyoncé and Madonna typically run.

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The sets were laughable, the costumes perplexing, and the performances? They terrified children to the point of literal tears. 

No, seriously — in one of the most viral videos of the event, literal children can literally be heard literally crying "nooooooooooo." (I'm not laughing AT you, children, I'm laughing WITH you, in about 20 years from now, when you've recovered from this trauma.)

   

   

Eventually, police were called after parents nearly rioted when they were denied refunds of the THIRTY-FIVE BRITISH POUNDS ($44!!!) they paid for what was essentially a Willy Wonka-themed tour of a haunted insane asylum full of props made from old refrigerator boxes and those subpar Rose Art crayons. (They did eventually get their money back.)

Naturally, this being the internet, the event instantly became a meme — even at one point becoming a joking explanation for where on Earth the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, has been for the past two months. 

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But as always, it's the hired actors — the workers — like Kirsty Paterson who have borne the brunt of the producers' shocking (if hilarious) incompetence. 

Paterson is not the only actor done dirty by the House of Illuminati who's been out-blowing the whistle. Comedian and actor Paul Connell, who played the titular Wonka, has also spoken out about the debacle in a hilarious TikTok, most notably detailing the "15 pages of AI-generated gibberish" the actors were given as a script.

   

   

We're talking lines like, "There is a man we don’t know his name. We know him as the Unknown. This Unknown is an evil chocolate maker who lives in the walls." LOL WAT.

It's Paterson who has become the face of the mess, however. Her 100-yard stare into the abyss while trying to do her job as an Oompa Loompa is undeniably hilarious in its absurdity and has spawned a gazillion memes in the process.

But part of what has made her particular situation jump off as the meme du jour is how relatable it is.

Who among us, but the lucky few, HASN'T been trapped in a job made miserable by someone else's rank incompetence? And it turns out that's precisely how her now-viral photo happened. She told Vulture's Mack that the photo was snapped "at the exact moment" when the House of Illuminati told her and the rest of the cast to "abandon the script" and improvise in an attempt to salvage the debacle. 

Worse still, it was Paterson's job to hand kids jelly beans as they entered "The Jelly Bean Room," but there weren't enough jelly beans.

"I was already rationing the jelly beans to three per kid," she told Mack, calling the situation "just humiliating."

"I’m laughing about it now," she went on to say, "but I was so angry for the kids and the parents. I know people spent a lot of money coming here. It’s a disservice to what I do."

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Paterson has maintained her sense of humor about the uproar but says the attention has been difficult. 

From the sounds of it, much like Connell, Paterson knew from the start that the event was going to be a mess, but "the start" was basically the night before the event when she finally got the bizarre AI-generated script. By that time, she'd already signed a contract.

That didn't hold a candle, though, to the state of things when she arrived, which she told Mack left her "shocked." But not even that could have prepared her for her global viral fame.

"I’m not going to lie or sugarcoat this: This has been quite a lot for me," she told Mack, saying that she, too, finds the whole thing hilarious. "But the flip side of this is that this is embarrassing for what I do, and I hope this doesn’t tarnish that."

   

   

Harder still has been the cruelty that has come along with it. "Because it’s such an ugly photo, people were commenting on it and saying I look ugly or like a meth head," she said. "I found the negative comments really hard."

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In response, some online have shared other photos from the event that show just how dedicated Paterson is to her craft.

The photos particularly highlight how diligently she tried to make this absolute disaster as fun and positive as possible for all the kids who came.

And in a testament to that dedication, it wasn't just the contract that kept her from bailing.

"Part of me didn’t want to disappoint the kids going to this," she told Mack. "I knew it was shocking, but I know I’m good at what I do, so I was like, 'if I can bring a wee bit of something good to this …'"

Her fellow performers, too, weighed heavily on her mind. "The actors I was working with are amazing people, and this has got nothing to do with them. So I just thought, 'I’m going to make the best of this.'"

In the end, she seems to have done just that. Of course, in our world, and particularly in the workplace, no good deed goes unpunished, and the fact that Paterson has had to endure public cruelty in exchange for how hard she tried to salvage this dumpster fire really is a sign of the times.

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Be that as it may, she now has legions of fans on the internet ready to make her an icon.

And if producers and entertainment companies in the UK have an ounce of sense, they'll seize on Paterson's dedication and viral fame and make her the biggest star in the universe. 

As the old saying goes, there's no such thing as bad publicity, and it's the least she — and every other actor there for that matter — deserves not only for trying to bail out a sinking ship but for giving us all so many laughs along the way at a time when we desperately need them. 

   

   

No one has ever better captured the drudgery of our modern existence, and no one has ever done it so hilariously either. So thank you, Sad Oompa Loompa Kirsty Paterson — and may you never have to toil in obscurity again!

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.