The Wendy Williams Show, which ended its 14-year reign on June 17, was an institution founded on drama, scandal, celebrity tea, and one legendary Shoe Cam. It was also the meme mecca. The daytime gossip session pushed the boundaries of what people thought a talk show could be. As its host, Williams reacted live to the day’s entertainment drama, keeping her commentary as unfiltered and maniacal as possible. Beef became personal (cc: Omarosa), and anyone and anything was fair dragging game. In Wendy’s world, there were only two rules: Get as much iconique and deranged commentary on air as possible and make sure the viewer is having fun. With these two goals in mind, Wendy not only peeled back the layers of the famous people she talked about, but also herself. During her run, she became one of, if not the most, raw — and problematic — talents on television, even if the show never received an Emmy nomination. The facial expressions, quick wit, pauses, eye-rolls, farts and burps, and unwavering opinions were all never more visible than in her “Hot Topics” segments, where she trashed the infamous and famous equally — and where Twitter glowed with its references.
The internet BWWS (Before Wendy Williams Show) was a less chaotic place. In many ways, Wendy, the person and the show, is a predecessor to reaction GIFs and those silly little screenshots that now make up the best parts of social media. In trolling literally everything on “Hot Topics” — including sports, Dua Lipa, the dictionary (see below), “The Killer,” and Fergie’s 2007 song “Glamorous” — almost everything Wendy did during the segment became meme-worthy. There’s too much content, but also never enough. Take, for example, this image, found after you search “wendy shook meme” on Google.
“Wendy shook meme” represents the feeling we all get when we learn any type of information so crazy it’s dizzying. (This image is literally me after I drink a Nitro Cold Brew.) In her decades-long work in reacting to drama, Wendy also normalized social anxiety! In one episode, she shouted out both it (social anxiety) as well as those who have it, and told them: “I kinda feel sorry for you.” No notes! Take the screenshots of Wendy eating crow in 2014 after losing a bet that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West wouldn’t get married. Wendy on Wendy was a master of the unhinged, and the World Wide Web agreed.
A “good” meme is nothing more than a powerful template — a device used to transport an emotion, breaking news, or an answer to a random comment in a fun, cathartic way when words fully can’t. Memes help us interpret culture with humor. No one knew this better than Wendy, but the art was not birthed by the queen alone. Similar to franchises like Bravo’s Real Housewives and RuPaul’s Drag Race, the production crew and video editors aided in the magic. See: the fabled and fabulous “Aww, she passed away?”, the spooky “What was that?”, and the gorgeous Louvre Museum–worthy image of the network’s Twitter account asking people which J.Lo engagement ring was the best.
Even the mythical purple “Hot Topics” green screen that Wendy delivered the distinctive, unreplicable segment in front of is a pillar of meme history. On July 11, 2019, Wendy said of rapper Lil’ Kim: “She’s an icon, she’s a legend, and she is the moment … Come on now.” This moment really summarizes the transcendence of Wendy to something more than just a TV show. When a video or audio — or no audio at all — or single image can be recognized enough out of context and still be laughed at, to me, that’s a successful meme. From Peppa Pig to an actual green screen for eager meme-rs, Wendy didn’t just go viral; she’s embedded in the internet permanently. What Wendy gave the internet is special — it deserves an ode. Ahead, enjoy a few of the “Hot Topic” moments that changed the course of history. May the memes never die. And in the words of Wendy: “I’m for gay marriage.”
“Jen … was arrested.”
Azealia Banks’s beefs: