extremely online

‘You’re Batting With Meme Steroids’

Photo: Netflix

When a new season of I Think You Should Leave drops, it has a palpable influence on internet vernacular and the way extremely online people express ideas. Fans tend to react ecstatically, like they’ve just seen a new color. They immediately learn that, say, a certain kind of shirt will now and forever be considered a Dan Flashes shirt, or adopt a new default phrase to describe feeling overwhelmed in any situation.

Because of the show’s off-the-charts memeability, an astonishing breadth of meme accounts has emerged on social media during the show’s four-year run. They range from straightforward meme-sharing, like the super popular @ITYSL account, to all manner of mashups, like the Twin Peaks–focused @ITYSPeaks.

As a bountiful harvest of fresh memes crops up with the release of season three, we assembled a roundtable with the people behind four ITYSL meme accounts the day after the season premiere to get a better understanding of the show’s inherent adaptability and why these people have devoted themselves to getting the word out about it. We’re all trying to find out why the guys who did this do this.

Of the five people who make up this roundtable, four asked to remain semi-anonymous:

Ryan Perry (I Think You Should League Pass on Twitter)
41, works at a digital-audience development agency. Lives by Jersey Shore.

Tyler (I Think You Should Affirm on Instagram and Twitter)
36, works as the lead designer for a fintech startup. Has lived in Brooklyn for nine years. Raised in the Midwest.

Nick and Ryan (I Think You Should Meme on Instagram)
28 and 48, respectively. Bartending colleagues who both hail from Chicago.

James (ITYSL_memes on Twitter and Instagram)
36, works as an actuary based in Atlanta. Also co-hosts the I Think You Should Leave podcast That’s a Chunky.

How does one come to start an I Think You Should Leave meme account?
Tyler (@ithinkyoushouldaffirm): I’m curious why you started, Ryan, because I think you were first.

Ryan Perry (@nbaleave a.k.a. I Think You Should League Pass): I think, like with most things, I got attention and I wanted more of it. It was 2019, and I did an ITYSL/NBA mashup on my personal account and it got some attention, so I was like, Let’s see if it will work on its own. These are my two favorite things, so I tried to jam them together as much as I could.

Ryan (@i_think_you_should_meme): Nick and I actually started with the show Big Mouth. We work together as bartenders, and we would just quote it back and forth all night. Then we saw ITYSL and became obsessed with it. One day, I found this meme-making app, and we started making memes about our job and our friends, taking little digs at each other, and that was it.

Nick (@i_think_you_should_meme): There was a lot of stuff about Big Mouth out there, and we had already committed ITYSL to memory. It was just how we communicated. Also, we had already seen I Think You Should League Pass and thought it was so funny, so we just started posting on Instagram. We banked 50 posts and figured we’d see what happens.

James: (@ITYSL_memes): I had been following a few ITYSL meme accounts in late 2019 and then in March 2020, it was early COVID in New York, everything shut down, and I needed something to do with my time, so I decided to make an ITYSL crossover account with COVID, since that’s what everyone was talking about. But then I realized this wasn’t something to be making jokes about, so I left it idle for a while, and then in the fall, I switched to a general ITYSL meme account, because I was still relating my day-to-day activities and the news to the show. Once I started getting positive feedback for it, it was like, I have to do this forever.

Tyler: I remember those COVID posts! I used to just make memes on my personal account, interacting with Ryan [Perry]. Then that weird @afffirmations account posted something like “I am not addicted to pornography,” so I tried something like that with an esoteric reference to the Hot Dog Guy sketch that was like, “I am not addicted to homegrown Simpsons stuff,” and it was so easy. I was like “Let me just do this. It’s funny.” Then I just got Canva, paid for the Pro version, cued up two months’ worth of quotes, and it just did its thing.

What is it about this show that makes people love using it to express themselves?
Tyler: I think it’s interesting how versatile ITYSL memes are.

James: I’m constantly struck by how many styles of humor the show contains. Everybody’s preferences line up with it somewhere. I’ve seen a couple posts today asking “What’s your favorite new sketch?” and people name every single sketch. It’s folly to try ranking every sketch, because they’re all somebody’s favorite. There’s a basic level of the yelling, the silly props, the goofy situations where it’s just surface level, people laugh at that. And then there’s further depth when you rewatch it; you pick up on the absurd motivations of some character trying to get out of whatever faux pas, and that resonates with people who like the cringe stuff.

Ryan: It feels like Tim bases a lot of the things he yells from what a child would say. It’s very primal — all id — and I think we all can relate to that in a way. Like, if he yells, “I’m not worried about it! I didn’t fucking rig shit!” or whatever, those little sound bites are things you wouldn’t say, but somewhere deep down inside, the child in you would definitely think that or say that. And it applies to so many things, because it’s absurd and maybe a little rude and inappropriate, but fucking hilarious in his delivery.

Ryan Perry: My theory on why the memes spread and are so resonant is because the visuals are such a cheat code. When I think about what makes a funny meme, it’s usually just connecting two dots in an unexpectedly accurate way — just applying a visual or a line of text to a common experience. But when those visuals are inherently very funny already, like with ITYSL — the lines, the mannerisms, the goofy faces, the costumes — you’re batting with meme steroids. You already have a leg up. You’re funny because Tim Robinson’s funny. So, we could say the memes are so popular because the time the show first came out, everybody needed a laugh, but I think this show would have resonated whenever it came out because it’s universally hilarious and not really pegged to anything. It’s just humans interacting in heightened and weird ways.

The show’s meme appeal does seem to be timeless. Everyone had already seized on Focus Group Guy right away, and then a year and a half later, around the 2020 election, Hot Dog Guy breaks through in a topical way. That’s when ITYSL memes trickled down to normies.
Ryan Perry: Real ones were in before Hot Dog Guy.

Are certain memes from this show better suited to commenting on some things than others?
Tyler: The “Ghost Tour” one. Any time someone says jizz or mentions any white substance …

James: Aside from the surface-level things like that, Hot Dog Guy is obvious for deflection of blame for something you’re at fault for, but there are a couple other ones that are kind of just as obvious for something else. Brian wearing the hat with safari flaps can wordlessly be used to represent someone realizing that everyone else is talking about them.

Tyler: Anything funeral-related: “Coffin Flop” jokes.

Ryan: If it’s in a Facebook shitposting group as often as “This guy’s about to jack off” or “Oh my God, he admit it,” I tend to avoid those. Nothing wrong with using them, they serve their purpose, but I don’t want to live off of those. You have to walk that line of what people are going to connect with, while also finding deep cuts to use.

James: If a politician uses the Hot Dog Guy for a meme, that takes off because it’s unexpected that they would use this cultural shorthand, but if one of our accounts were to share the Hot Dog Guy about just a random person being hypocritical, what’s the value of that in this context?

Ryan Perry: Do you guys get DMs from people delivering joke ideas that are just layups?

Nick: Constantly.

Ryan P: How many times can there be a recall because steering wheels are flying off cars?

James: One I have to ignore now is the Captcha that’s like “Which of these are motorcycles?”

Nick: We keep a list of all the sketches with numbers next to them of how many times we’ve memed them, and there are sketches from seasons one and two that we have not made memes about yet. I can’t think of them, though.

Ryan: “Cherry chuck salad” was tough.

Tyler: People hate Herbie Hancock. The one with the award show and the dog? There are so many good jokes to make about that one, but people just don’t connect with it.

James: There’s an element of searching for that novelty of applying the show in a way that’s not become shorthand for average people. That’s the constant challenge, and it’s nice to have a new season now that’s a fresh world of things to pull from.

What was it like for you all when season two came out, after the show had already developed this reputation as a meme factory during the first season?
Tyler: It’s kind of a slow burn. You watch it and it’s all good, but maybe this one sketch doesn’t hit for me. Then you watch it again, and that one’s the funniest sketch of the season. You have to also anticipate what everyone else is going to want too, and I think part of that is looking to see what you guys are doing. Like, Oh, people really love “Coffin Flop.” “Dan Flashes” is hot. Once I had digested the second season, I knew what I liked, I thought I knew what other people were going to like, and I had a pretty good sense of which memes were going to hit.

Do you feel like you have a role in choosing which ones become big memes, or do these things just organically emerge, and your role is more curation and helping them evolve?
Tyler: I think people decide.

James: One of the things I did shortly after season two came out was cut things up into reusable meme templates — like, pouring water on a steak, but with a blank space on the steak where people could fill in something. Some were hits, but they would have been hits without my involvement, and some of the ones that I thought would be versatile templates just didn’t take off. I think it has to be something that crosses over between a sketch that people think is really funny and remember independently, and it also has to convey something very clear visually. Right after the second season dropped, everyone was clamoring to post pictures of shirts they could make fun of by calling them Dan Flashes shirts, but the Karl Havoc “I don’t even want to be around anymore” took off too, and it wasn’t even immediately obvious which situations made the most sense to use it for, but it was such a funny moment that people had to post with it.

Ryan: When season two dropped, the things that made us laugh the hardest ended up being the ones that popped quickly. Also, we pretty much doubled in followers right after it came out.

Nick: The community just got so much bigger with season two. The show started out way more as this niche thing, and then by season two, I would hear people at the bar talking about sloppy steaks.

Ryan Perry: My season-two experience informed my season-three experience, because when season two came out, I was so consumed with screengrabs and captions and video clips that it kind of ruined my viewing. I was laughing, but I wasn’t really enjoying it as intended, because I was pausing it every ten seconds. So that informed my initial season-three viewing. I didn’t watch it right away. My wife and I watched half of it last night after putting our kids to bed, and I have the rest left for tonight. I’m savoring it. I’m gonna watch it like 500 times, but you only watch it for the first time once.

Ryan: Nick and I watched it at 3 a.m. after work, and I think it was just overload. But then on the first rewatch, it was already a million times better.

How many times have you seen the third season already?
James: Twice.

Nick and Ryan: Twice.

Tyler: That’s it? I’ve done it four times.

Tyler: The comments I’m getting are like, “I can’t wait for the Fred Armisen one to blow up,” and I’m like “That’s the one you want? Not the pay-it-forward drive-thru chain? I think Patti [Harrison]’s — the one where she’s a rat mom — is gonna blow up, but it will take some time.

Nick: We have a lot to process. It might be because it was so late at night when we first watched, but we would get done with a sketch, and all we could say was “What was that?” It reminded me of when I watched season one and I was laughing the entire time, just in a stupor. By the time we were finished, I couldn’t remember a single sketch.

James: The sketches have so many left turns and quick-hit funny lines, so you get through one, finally understand what you just watched, and then here comes another one. So it’s been fun to see the little details that other people have picked up on right away, and then go back and watch the sketch again and get more out of it.

Tyler: Does anyone else think the Jason Schwartzman one is a commentary on meme accounts? The people who are just following Tim around, waiting for him to do something funny, then doing the thing that he’s doing?

James: Yeah, I immediately thought of it as a metaphor. I felt like I’m one of the guys in his little pack following him around like, “What’s gonna be next? I don’t want it to be dancing.”

What other memes are emerging already?
​​Nearly everyone: Nude egg.

Ryan: We jumped on nude egg right away. I was like, I’m making an OnlyFans page for the nude egg. I hope this post gets taken down by Instagram.

James: I think another one that’s taking off is “The Driving Crooner,” just because it’s such a simple visual gag. People are sharing that a lot. I don’t think it’s gonna have a lot of longevity, though.

Ryan Perry: You’re gonna start seeing those decals on cars.

Ryan: I saw someone on a general meme account say “I’m gonna watch my diet” and follow it with a clip of Tim at the drive-thru screaming, “55 burgers! 55 fries!” I’m sure I’ll end up using that clip but in a different way.

Nick: I need to watch the season again before I think about memes and take the time to really sift through it, because there’s gonna be those first few impressions, and then two months down the line …

Tyler: Rat mom!

Have you ever been surprised by any memes that caught on or didn’t catch on?
Ryan: I would have hoped Little Buff Boys would be bigger. Anything Sam [Richardson] does, I’m into. There’s some that just don’t hit, though.

Tyler: I didn’t expect Tables to be the thing it became. And I don’t really know where it came from. Maybe it’s the way he yells “Tables!” and the big reveal of what the tables are for. But I did not think that one would be bigger than “Little Buff Boys” or the Dave sketch, and it definitely was.

How well do you all know each other, and how did you come to know each other?
James: I “met” Tyler through interacting about the show pretty frequently, and we’ve texted/DMed a decent amount to talk shop and such. Ryan [Perry] and I messaged once or twice before also.

Ryan Perry: Tyler and I met in person for the first time this past weekend. We’ve been in the group chat Chunky Boys since 2020, and this was the first time we happened to be in the same area.

Tyler: It was beautiful. We rode a ferry, ate meatballs. I don’t know how we first got together. I think I was just replying to a bunch of your stuff, and you asked me to Photoshop Ruben Rabasa’s face on this one meme.

Ryan Perry: I saw on your profile you were a graphic designer, yeah.

Tyler: And look at us now!

What’s up with the big account that has the @ITYSL handle? I saw a salty tweet from it last week but I didn’t know the context and the tweet has since been deleted.
James: The trailer had just come out so a lot of fans were excitedly sharing it, and it seemed kind of surprising that the biggest ITYSL fan account on Twitter hadn’t posted anything about it all day. Then he eventually just posted that he wasn’t going to watch the trailer, that he wanted to go in blind. I had seen similar sentiment in some replies to me that day, and shortly afterward I separately posted a thread musing about how it was kind of silly that people were worrying about getting spoiled by an ITYSL trailer — just basically encouraging people to watch it — and I was surprised to see he took that as if I were trying to trash talk him specifically. Then he posted about it, saying some harsh things about my account. His account has had me blocked for over a year now. I don’t know what the deal is, but apparently he’s not a fan of mine.

Tyler: A few years ago, he did this mass block of me and Ryan and some other meme creators, but then he unblocked everyone later on. I thought the whole trailer-discourse thing was kind of unfortunate, because this is a community that is so inclusive and fun.

Ryan: Did any of you ever go to an ITYSL convention?

Nearly everyone: No.

Ryan: We went to one in Peoria, Illinois, and had the best time. We were hanging out with this couple and ended up telling them that we run our account, and they were like “You’re the reason we flew in from Seattle!” You all should come to the next one.

What’s the most work you’ve put into creating content from the show for your account?
Tyler: Making Reels is tough. The work that goes into it feels less like a fun thing to do than a time-consuming hobby.

Ryan Perry: To contrast that, I do zero work. I just watch basketball and hope some synapses fire, and that’s about it.

James: I would say I’m midway between those two. I try to always have some ideas saved into drafts. I edit photos on my phone sometimes, but I don’t do a professional job of it like Tyler does.

Ryan: I don’t have a graphic-design background at all, but I got a Canva Pro account and did this eight or ten-panel slide thing of the entire hot-dog sketch but as Among Us. That took fucking forever. And then I did an “Oops! All Chunky,” and that took a long time too. But I did the OnlyFans meme of the nude egg yesterday and realized I’m getting better at this.

How many times have you seen each season?
Ryan: I couldn’t possibly tell you.

Nick: Combined, it’s over a hundred.

Ryan: More than that for me.

James: Yeah, I feel like my consumption has been chopped up into such fine pieces that if I need one part of the Tables sketch, I know exactly where to go.

Tyler: I’ve watched it all the way through tens of times, maybe 50.

How far into watching the new season did you feel, like, They did it again. We’re eating?
Ryan Perry: I felt pretty good from the second Barley took out his phone.

Tyler: That’s going to be the meme this time too — where he’s just like, “I’m on my phone the whole time.”

Ryan: It was the zipline one for me.

Nick: The water-bottle thing, where he’s splashing the fake water. I was like, This is it. We’re back.

Does anybody have anything else to add?
James: Just that I think it’s cool that several people I’ve interacted with about the show have transitioned into friendships. Maybe the real memes are the friends we made along the way.

‘You’re Batting With Meme Steroids’