People actually donated money on a GoFundMe page to buy a bed for Bob Dylan.
People actually donated money on a GoFundMe page to buy a bed for Bob Dylan. (By Fred Tanneau / Getty-AFP)

Maybe it all started with the potato salad.

Remember when a guy on Kickstarter asked for $10 to make a potato salad, and ended up with $55,492? It was stupid and amazing all at once. Why did he think this was a good idea? Why did people actually give him money?


Is this what crowdfunding has come to?

Answer: It appears so. This week, maybe right at this very moment, Bob Dylan could be opening up a Sleep Number adjustable bed because ClickHole, the clickbait-mocking spinoff of the Onion, launched a GoFundMe titled "Let's Give Bob Dylan A Nice Bed!"

"Bob Dylan is probably America's most prolific and influential musician, so one of our writers, Steve Etheridge, thought it was time we all gave something back to him," ClickHole editor Jermaine Affonso explained in an email. "We wanted to thank The Man In The Hat for everything he's given us."

This makes no sense, of course: Bob Dylan certainly has a bed. A very nice one, we presume, maybe in the same room where he keeps his 10 Grammys or Presidential Medal of Freedom. Also, no one calls him "The Man In The Hat."

And yet, 156 people donated a total of $1,555 — enough to get Bob his fancy mattress, bed frame and wireless remote control.

"I cannot believe I am doing this when there are starving children in Africa," one contributor wrote.

"Keep on sleepin' on, Mr. Dylan!" said another.

Per Twitter, the bed arrived at Columbia Records Tuesday morning.

Zack Brown, the man behind the potato salad Kickstarter, is not at all surprised. Since his effort, crowdfunding for comedic purposes has become a widely-appreciated gimmick. 2,828 backers raised $65,783 to get the music group Run the Jewels to make an album of cat noises. 915 people bought a plastic rectangle to substitute for their phone ("Never again experience the unsettling feeling of flesh on flesh when closing your hand.")

Brown explains it this way: the Facebook people (AKA most people) don't get it. But the Reddit people — the ones who spend a lot of time immersed in Internet subcultures — think it's funny that other people don't get it. The more money that goes to a ridiculous prank, the funnier it becomes.

"It's their inside joke," Brown said. "They get to make it more absurd by driving up the total."

Just this week, John Oliver used his "Last Week Tonight" platform to start his very own donation-accepting church. The stunt was a jab at how the IRS makes it easy for scamming televangelists to take money from strangers, tax free.

He actually went through the steps of forming his church, "Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption" and gave it a New York City P.O. Box and phone number (1-800-THIS-IS-LEGAL) where people can donate.

HBO wouldn't say how much money has been sent in. But if comedy colleague Stephen Colbert is any example, it could be quite a sum. Colbert's effort to mock campaign finance by creating a Super-PAC brought in $773,704.83 in donations.


It was eventually distributed to Hurricane Sandy relief, the Yellow Ribbon Fund and two political transparency groups. The fine print on says those donations will meet a similar fate. "Upon dissolution, any assets belonging to the Church at that time will be distributed to Doctors Without Borders."

But Oliver never mentioned that on the show, just like the Potato Salad Kickstarter didn't say the money would eventually go to an organization called the Columbus Foundation.

The people who donate to a prank like this do so because 1) it made them laugh 2) they must have the funds.

Donating money is more popular in America than any other country in the world. In 2014, Americans donated $358.38 billion to charity organizations, a 7.1 percent increase from the previous year, according to counts from Giving USA.

The improving economy is to thank. But it also helps that it's so easy to make donations online now.

"Through the rise of social media, there is this potential to reach more donors and democratize philanthropy, so even small nonprofits can have this global reach," explained Una Osili, the research director at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

This is generally a good thing. But it also means the market is cluttered with chances to give your money away, like the totally pointless effort of giving Bob Dylan a bed.

For people with disposable income it begs the question: Are you putting your money where the savvy messaging is, or where it's needed most?

For nonprofits, Osili said, it's a reminder that no matter how important your work is, messaging matters.

"It's both an opportunity and a challenge, the ability to see what messages are working in real time," Osili said. "That doesn't necessarily mean you have to make it 'fun,' but they have to find out what works best for them."

Then again, if Zack Brown set out to raise money for the Columbus Foundation instead of potato salad, could he have raised the $55,000?