Before the pandemic, Dennis Feitosa was a comedian struggling to make it in L.A. and experimenting on YouTube. But since last March, when lockdown forced him to focus his efforts on the internet, the 25-year-old’s online persona of Def Noodles has taken off as a drama channel, a drama-channel parody, or both, depending on whom you ask. Not up for debate is the fact that he functions as an agent of chaos: Feitosa’s character blows hot air, pointing out hypocrisy, ridiculousness, and dangerous behavior among the YouTuber set. In turn, a subset of the online commentariat responds with cold air, arguing that it’s Def Noodles who is the actual hypocrite. The result is a tornado of discourse. Def Noodles is a test to see if satire, irony, and paradox can work on the internet, and the results are decidedly mixed.
In fairness, Feitosa doesn’t exactly make it easy. When people criticize him, it’s because they believe he is hiding behind his character. They’ll point out that Feitosa says he doesn’t care about the goings-on he covers, and yet he spends 16 hours a day following every movement of fringe celebrities. Or they’ll point out how he’ll sometimes note that stories are “serious,” even though he says the point is that it’s all “irrelevant.” But to Feitosa, that’s the character. If you find him annoying, then to him, you are finding what he is satirizing annoying, which makes it a success. And not unlike The Colbert Report–era Stephen Colbert (one of the channel’s biggest influences), the amount of Feitosa that’s present in Def Noodles is constantly shifting, which can make him even more infuriating. Did I mention he’s an agent of chaos?
On Vulture’s Good One podcast, Feitosa discusses the acute challenges of creating satire on the context-stripping internet for an audience that sometimes lacks comedy literacy. You can read excerpts from the interview or listen to the episode below. Tune in to Good One every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.
➽ The Inspiration for His Def Noodles Persona
“If you look at the intro of the episodes, I purposely chose an intro that was similar to DramaAlert. Keemstar is a guy I watched a lot of for a while, and I pull a lot from him. I pulled a lot from Perez Hilton. The delivery itself was kind of an accident. I did a Gilbert Gottfried impression in one video, and people loved it. They started saying that Gilbert was my uncle or whatever, so that’s where that voice came from. But as far as takes and how things are done, it’s those two guys, and then different people in the commentary community too. I’ll see things that they do and incorporate it. There was this guy named Xander Hall. He’s a political guy, and he got a lot of heat from the commentary community because a while ago he said we should make YouTube commentary political. People got so livid, but I thought, Wait, that is something I could probably incorporate in a funny way.”
➽ What He Thinks of the Stories He Covers
“They’re the most banal and irrelevant stories that anybody could be talking about. I didn’t go to journalism school, but I’m aware of the differentiation between hard and soft journalism. This is all soft journalism, and a lot of the time it’s just presented with such seriousness, and people take it so seriously. You read the comments, and people are just taking stuff like ‘So-and-so had a cup of coffee today’ and going, ‘How!? Why would they ever do that?!?!?!?’ So I’m making fun of how these nonstories are presented and framed in this way that ends up generating all this outrage. At the end of the day, it’s a commentary on this independent social-media sphere that fuels so much of this outrage and backlash. I remember Tana Mongeau was getting backlash last year because she wasn’t making a public video apologizing, and I was like, Well, how do we all know she didn’t reach out personally and apologize? Why is it so important that we get a video of her apologizing to someone else?
“I’ve been seeing all this stuff happening as my page grows, so what I’ve been learning is a lot of context is lost on social media. Usually the more context is lost, the more captivating the story becomes and the more outrage something generates. It’s so easy to flatten something to the most basic thing and just appeal to emotion. It completely removes all the humanity from it.
“Tim Dillon was being interviewed by Logan Paul, and Logan asked him, ‘What do you think about everybody having a podcast?’ And he said there’s a big problem with that. You don’t want everybody having a podcast. What’s going to happen is you level the playing field for all opinion. Everybody should have the right to have an opinion, but what if somebody has tens of millions of followers but they have the worst opinions — ones that are going to disenfranchise people — and they become completely viable as a result of who brings it up? That’s one of the dangers that I see with this whole situation. I’m trying to bring awareness of this situation on the macro level. You’ve got to be careful with what you say.
“I feel like social-media platforms don’t really educate the people who are building audiences on their platforms about the dangers of misleading their audiences. Not even just misleading them with fake news, but leading them down certain paths of thought. When I was performing stand-up, the most people that I ever had in a room in front of me was about 200-something. That felt insane to be the only person standing there having 200 people laughing at you. I was buzzing for three days off of that energy. The biggest stand-up show I ever attended as an audience member was Bill Burr — maybe 15 or 20,000 people. Right now, people who have 20,000 followers, I don’t think they realize just the amount of influence they have. And if each one of those 20,000 gets the ideas that they’re pushing out and passes it on to two people, it grows exponentially. I just think that we have to have more awareness of what our conversations are, how we’re shaping conversations, and how all of this is treated. At the end of the day, that’s what I’m trying to convey on the macro level.”
➽ When Viewers Don’t “Get” His Comedy
“Context gets lost. There were people who genuinely thought Colbert was for real. Right now, on the internet, where I’m connecting with people from all over the world, I don’t know how they’re arriving at my content — whether they’re just arriving because they want to hear the latest tea, or because they want to hear about a certain person, or because they love the jokes. At one point, I was trying really hard to walk people through and help them understand what it was. But, eventually, I decided there’s no way to do it. I can’t do it, so I started writing like I wrote. I have a disclaimer on my channel explaining the thoughts behind it so that people can, hopefully, understand it. But I was talking to my friend, who is a stand-up, and he said, ‘It’s almost like you’re paying the price for understanding comedy, whenever you get harsh criticism.’ I guess that’s what it is.
“I recently posted a Rodney Dangerfield quote, and it got completely taken out of context. I posted it knowing that I would get a reaction, but I wanted to see how many people would get it and how many people wouldn’t. And it is interesting to see that my most loyal followers were responding with GIFs of Dangerfield. The majority of my followers get it. The people who are there for other reasons were confused for one reason or another.
“I feel like there’s an idea on the internet of what comedy is, but I don’t feel like a lot of people really know what comedy is like. A lot of the people who have the strongest opinions about comedy haven’t been in a comedy club maybe ever in their lives. There are a few commentators who like to say that comedy is dead and this and that. And you look at what they think is comedy, and to them it’s saying racial slurs and using the Confederate flag. I’m like, How is that a punch line? You try to have a conversation with one of them and it’s, ‘Well, you’re not edgy. I don’t see what’s edgy about it.’ Like, Louis C.K. is edgy. But at the end of the day, there’s a format to what he’s doing. He’s got a point of view. That’s his voice. He’s not just going up onstage doing a bunch of racial slurs. So when there isn’t an understanding of what comedy is and there isn’t an investment in learning it, then it just becomes a wasteful conversation almost. That’s why I stopped really trying to explain it to people.”
More From This Series
- Terms of Service: Your Guide to the Lingo of TeaTube
- Glimpsing Behind the Curtain of YouTube’s Anonymous Tea Channels
- Tiffany Ferguson Reacts to Her Video That Won Over the Elusive YouTube Algorithm