An embarrassing laugh track starting in cyberspace morphed into a national television joke during several Saturday Night Live segments involving Lance Armstrong and Manti Te'o.
"This week, Lance Armstrong disappointed the last guy on Earth who still believed him," said Seth Meyers while flashing a picture of Te'o.
Ba-da-boom. We are laughing at you, not with you, boys.
Actually the laugh should be on us, too. Journalists. The gullible public. The rah-rah chorus of true believers.
Haven't we been here before? It seems that Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and the rest of those Sultans of Swat had a genie in a bottle, known in some places as the cream and the clear. Olympic track star Marion Jones benefitted from more than powerful protein shakes to make her fly. Joe Paterno's image went down in flames as people burned in anger over the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
Memo to everybody: Trust your instincts.
Seven Tour de France titles for a guy who had one of his testicles removed? Really?
Falling madly in love with a woman you never actually met in person? Seriously?
Now what? The proverbial road to redemption for these gentlemen is cluttered with a lot more potholes than Mr. Armstrong ever encountered on the Tour de Farce.
A lie is a lie, for sure, but there are obviously important distinctions between Armstrong's and Te'o's fabrications.
Te'o got scammed by a couple of insensitive jerks, eventually realized he had been duped, and reportedly continued to perpetuate the lie for fear of getting humiliated. Ask him how that's working out for him now.
Armstrong is The Biggest Jerk in the Universe, a guy who intimidated anyone who dare question his moral compass, all the while pumping a cocktail of illegal substances into his body. To quote another Saturday Night Live icon, "Isn't that special?"
I don't care how many mea culpas Armstrong has to offer, he's pretty much toast if he thinks he is going to rebuild his tarnished reputation. A sit-down with Oprah isn't enough to ignore the body of evidence stacked against Armstrong. It's not as much the doping as it is the deception.
Armstrong treated people like dirt along his ride to infamy, and a couple of "I'm sorry" shout-outs — like the text message he offered one of his most ardent supporters, Rick Reilly — isn't going to cut it.
His honesty came into question again during his two-part sitdown with Oprah: Armstrong denied allegations by the United States Anti-Doping Agency that he offered a donation in the range of $200,000 to $250,000 in 2004 to the agency through a representative. But USADA officials claim otherwise.
Who do you think we should believe?
Although Armstrong's rocky road seems insurmountable, Te'o at least has a shot at some amount of sympathy. Unfortunately, his best defense is, "I am a gullible yahoo." That's the only card he can play.
Either that, or he was in on the scam more than he'd like everyone to think.
After an interview with Jeremy Schaap of ESPN, Te'o and his team of consultants have picked Katie Couric for his public confessional. Te'o and his parents will be on Couric's syndicated daytime talk show that will be broadcast Thursday.
Will people tune in and tune out, much like the Armstrong deal? The angry mob can turn into your best friends in a hurry. Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant, Ray Lewis and even a United States president, Bill Clinton, have been involved or implicated in a number of sins and shenanigans, and they've all managed to crawl out of the gutter.
The key is always contrition and sincerity (or the appearance of it in a pinch). Lewis latched onto some Bible verses and became an inspirational leader. Vick got himself a dog. Bryant bought his wife a $4 million ring. Whatever works.
Repent and rise up!
America loves its flawed heroes. Even the ones with all the emotional scars and sins and occasional invisible girlfriend.