We’re honoring some of the few good things the internet accomplished this year by revisiting the Ringer staff’s favorite memes of 2019.
Ruben Rabasa From I Think You Should Leave
Dan Devine: I’m no expert in virality; I can’t explain why certain things spread like wildfire. What I do know: Absolutely everything about the performance by 81-year-old comic actor Ruben Rabasa—a veteran of more than four decades on screen prior to his internet celebrity—in the “Focus Group” sketch from Netflix comedy series I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson is funny. More than that: It is immensely versatile, and eminently portable to your specific reaction/reference needs.
Any list of things someone might want can be improved through the inclusion of “a great steering wheel that doesn’t whiff out of the window while I’m driving.” Think something sounds smart? It can use a “That is a good idea.” Think something sounds dumb? It can use a sarcastic “It’s a good idea, and I stand by it.” A truly, truly terrible suggestion or performance? “Stinky!”
A well-placed “Oh, nice” can provide support or snark in equal measure. Is someone telling on themselves when they should probably just shut up? Got you covered. An ill-fated attempt at a tackle, a dig at someone’s clothes getting a smidge snug after too much holiday revelry, an insufficient proposed aid package to a vulnerable population—all could benefit from the punctuation of a Cuban octogenarian with Hulk Hogan hair tersely declaring, “Too small.”
Focus Group Guy communicates confidence. He radiates swag. He delivers withering insults. He eviscerates guys named Paul. He does it all, perfectly, and does not get old. (Well, older than he’s already supposed to be.) He doesn’t need to ask the question. He’s already provided the answer.
What It Do, Babyyyy
Paolo Uggetti: Only a handful of athletes are able to transfer their impact and celebrity from inside the sports bubble to the larger cultural pantheon. Kawhi Leonard is not one of those athletes. So you can imagine my surprise when someone I was recently having a conversation with, someone who, mind you, does not follow sports a single bit, dropped the line “What it do, babyyyy?” (four “Ys” is the proper spelling, I’ve decided) out of the blue. It was jarring and I immediately asked the person whether they knew where that was from. “Kawhi, right?” she said.
Of course, I followed up by asking whether she even knew who he was. A basketball player. And that was it. There was no knowledge of the team he had played for, or the fact that, well, he had just won an NBA title and the very moment she was referencing came from the celebration of that title. But she knew the meme, the phrase, and even the cadence with which Kawhi said it. Forget ringz culture; in 15 years the kids will be measuring Hall of Fame cases by how many viral memes their favorite All-Star contributed to the culture.
Sorry to This Man
Kate Knibbs: In September, Vanity Fair released a video of Hustlers actress Keke Palmer taking a lie detector test. Palmer strapped into the truth-measuring contraption with good humor, spelling the word “pulchritude” and going through her career, which includes starring as a child fashion label vice president on the Nickelodeon show True Jackson, VP. Then the questioner asked whether her character had been a better vice president than Dick Cheney. Palmer paused as she was shown a picture of Cheney. “I hate to say it, and I hope I don’t sound ridiculous—I don’t know who this man is,” she said. “He could be walking down the street, I wouldn’t know a thing. Sorry to this man.” She pushed his photograph away apologetically, and a meme was born. Part of the appeal is simply how charismatic Palmer is, and of course there’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained from seeing an unrepentant villain be reduced to an inadvertent punch line. But the reason the moment delighted me so much was simply the wide applicability of saying “Sorry to this man” as a way to dismiss someone as bloodlessly and simply as possible by declaring that they simply aren’t on your radar. It’s a new shorthand for a specific type of fantasy kiss off—you don’t have to think about “canceling” someone if you’ve literally never thought of them at all.
Katie Baker: I’ve spent an increasing amount of my online time this year retreating to the gentler corners of the internet, places like this one Facebook group about Instant Pot recipes that is run by a Canadian grandma named Ruth who begins every post “O Best Beloveds,” or Quilting Instagram, where I can be all: “LOVE this pattern, stunning!!! :)” in the comments and feel like my truest self. But nothing has brightened my days and put a skip in my step quite like some of TikTok’s wholesome content. Try to resist the charm of the Home Depot theme song! Try not to feel oddly moved by a room full of gummy bears! It’s harder than you think.
Yes, it was technically still the closing days of 2018 when a user named David Kasprak uploaded a TikTok that opens with a lone red gummy bear performing a live cut of Adele’s “Someone Like You” and then pans out to reveal hundreds of gummy stans all singing along. But all of Online had already published its year-end meme roundups by then, and besides, it was in the early days of 2019 that the global movement truly coalesced, a viral cross between Domino Rally (only ’90s kids will remember) and that primo Vine with the moaning rubber geese.
Each “Someone Like You” copycat entry represents the hard, earnest work of a human being somewhere out there on planet Earth who has just spent what has to be hours hand-placing gummy bears—or stuffed animals, or pairs of Vans, or Uno cards—all over floors/counters/staircases/creation. The last time a Haribo challenge hit the ’net, in 2015, it had to do with fake sugar and physical pain and intestinal distress. But 2015 was decades ago. The gummy bears of 2019 were about creativity and craftsmanship (and wastefulness, fine). They was about community and hope. They were “We Are the World” in glucose-filled meme form, and they soothed me.
40 Pizzas in 30 Days
Andrew Gruttadaro: On November 26, John Schnatter—perhaps you know him better as John, Papa?—looked into another man’s eyes and said, “I’ve had over 40 pizzas in the last 30 days.” Weird flex, but OK. He then said some other stuff, like how the people who took over Papa John’s after Schnatter was ousted for spewing racial epithets ought to be in jail because they’ve “never been in the pizza category,” and then he ominously promised a reckoning with a weird laugh and a concerning demand for us to “stay tuned.” And of course throughout all of this he was sweating profusely:
The Papa John interview is lovely pic.twitter.com/bpDMDm9t9G— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) November 26, 2019
What is a “pizza category?” I don’t think anyone knows, but it is still one of the funniest sentences uttered this year (perhaps enhanced by the fact it was said by a man who objectively deserves to be laughed at). And of course it led to a brief memeassaince that I still haven’t gotten enough of:
"i've had over 40 pizzas in the last 30 days." pic.twitter.com/pkfPkTLOkg— maurice (@tallmaurice) November 26, 2019
Paul Rudd on “Hot Ones”
Megan Schuster: Have you ever gone on vacation with a friend or loved one, looked across a fancy dinner table/exotic beach/sunset-filled landscape and said, “Hey, look at us?” Have you ever caught your reflection in a mirror after a long, but productive day at the office, smiled, nodded your head, stared yourself right in the eyes and said, “Hey, look at us?” Well, if either of those apply to you, then you might be Paul Rudd.
More specifically, you might be Paul Rudd in his appearance on the YouTube series “Hot Ones,” where guests are brought in to answer questions whilst eating hot chicken wings. I don’t actually know the context of what Rudd and host Sean Evans were talking about at this point in the segment, nor do I intend to find out. But I do know that this clip has been used to celebrate drug use, imitate divorced parents seeing one another at a child’s graduation, and even to unite the various feuding sides of Knicks fandom (sorry to David Fizdale). It is truly the meme equivalent of a utility player, and I for one hope to use it on myself 10-plus years from now.
You Were at My Wedding Denise
Amelia Wedemeyer: While this meme is truly for anyone who’s ever felt betrayed by someone they considered close enough to invite to their wedding, this choice is especially for the two other people who read this website and watch The View. Recall March 25, when conservative commenter Denise McAllister took to Twitter to ponder what the purpose of The View is, only to have View cohost (and daughter of the late John McCain, if you didn’t know) Meghan McCain clap back with the following:
you were at my wedding Denise....— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) March 26, 2019
You. Were. At. My. Wedding. Denise. Simple and succinct, those six words created a meme template for anyone who has ever felt the sting of deception from someone close. And better yet, McAllister backtracked almost immediately, responding to McCain by saying her words were meant for McCain’s cohosts and not McCain herself. To quote another meme, Sure, Jan.
Justin Charity: I hope y’all read the Morning Consult report about Zoomer boys listing PewDiePie and Elon Musk as their favorite celebrities. I hope y’all saw the GoldenEye 007 meme about the Tesla Cybertruck, which is, essentially, the Cadillac Escalade reimagined by libertarian cyborgs. I hope y’all like polygons. I hope y’all are ready for your little cousin or, worse yet, your son to turn this meme into the hottest car in the cul-de-sac. I hope his auto insurance is straight.
30-50 Feral Hogs
Legit question for rural Americans - How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?— Willie McNabb (@WillieMcNabb) August 4, 2019
Kate Halliwell: This summer, in the middle of what has become a constant debate about gun rights, Jason Isbell tweeted “If you’re on here arguing the definition of ‘assault weapon’ today you are part of the problem. You know what an assault weapon is, and you know you don’t need one.”
Enlightened twitter user @WillieMcNabb responded “Legit question for rural Americans – How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?” Twitter promptly exploded with questions. What was a feral hog? Why do they travel in packs of 30-50? Where does this man live, that feral hogs are a rampant problem? And thus, a meme was born.
And I will kill 30-50 feral hogs— dylan matthews (@dylanmatt) August 5, 2019
And I will 30-50 more
Just to be that man who killed 30-50 feral hogs
And leaves them at your door
my milkshake brings 30-50 feral hogs to the yard— industry dante (@videodante) August 5, 2019
At first, the “30-50 feral hogs” meme seemed to live out the full extent of its life in a 24-hour period. After all, how much staying power could something as niche as feral hogs really have? As it turns out, a lot. It was like when you learn a new word and then immediately read it somewhere else the next day. As soon as we learned about feral hogs, they were everywhere. And what’s the only thing worse than 30-50 feral hogs? 30-50 feral hogs on cocaine.
He tried to warn us.
Alyssa Bereznak: Brittany Tomlinson’s first foray with cola-flavored kombucha is pure drama. “You know what,” she says, trailing off as she brings her lips to the can with determination. She sips and her eyes go Homer Simpson–wide. She pauses to process the moment, and from there on out it’s a roller coaster of emotions: disgust, contemplation, dismissal, reconsideration, and then a kind of reckless embrace. She hates it! But maybe she also likes it? Both things can be true at once! The human brain is a complicated temple of contradictions!!
The internet could relate. Tomilson’s viral TikTok video became a template applied to everything from dating, to going out, to choosing a nail polish color, to looking at yourself naked in the mirror. To me, it captures a certain human resilience specific to 2019. The past few years have left us tired and weathered, overwhelmed from the constant barrage of information that, more often than not, seems to signal the end of the world. We’re far past any kind of optimistic Kool-Aid drinking. We have instead moved on to sipping on cola-flavored kombucha, a beverage that one contemplates deeply and tries their very best to like.
Woman Yelling at Cat Meme
Michael Baumann: The components of Woman Yelling at Cat—a still from a 2011 episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and a photo of an unhappy cat sitting athwart a plate of vegetables—are each memeworthy on their own. These expressions of frenzied but helpless frustration on the part of both woman and cat give voice to the silent inner hysteria that is life under postmodernity. They fit together so perfectly that after months of seeing them together I was shocked to learn that these images had come from entirely different sources.
Combined, they are immensely powerful. So many great memes of the past two years—the Predator Handshake, the Existential Butterfly—go beyond expressing a concept or a reaction to a concept by tracing its origins and placing it in context. Where memes once only recalled “that feeling when,” now they must explain why and how. The art form, in short, is evolving. This is not to say that Woman Yelling at Cat has the pedagogical power of the American Chopper Meme—which is not a fair standard, as I’ve had graduate-level political theory courses that lacked the thermonuclear dialectical power of American Chopper—but perhaps this heightened emotional state and simplified rhetorical structure fits 2019 better. Certainly the implied intractability of both parties does.
This Shot Is Brilliant
Ben Lindbergh: The final season of Game of Thrones deeply disappointed on a narrative level, but it did deliver memes until the bitter end, including Staring Bran, Sansa Stark Vaping, wayward coffee cups and water bottles, and my personal favorite, This Shot Is Brilliant. After the finale, Twitter user @jhill1181 tweeted an image from the episode of Daenerys framed by Drogon’s wings, accompanied by the caption, “This shot is brilliant and should be shown in any film study class.”
Although the image was striking, its symbolism was extremely on the nose, and the backlash to Hill’s lofty praise was swift and comical. Others on social media soon repurposed the initial tweet’s text in ironic tributes to even more obviously less-than-legendary shots.
This shot is beautiful and should be taught in any film studies class. pic.twitter.com/yKo8WccnC9— chris person (@Papapishu) May 20, 2019
Like many of the internet joke cycles inspired by Season 8, the viral response to “This Shot Is Brilliant” was, at its heart, a critique of the quality of Benioff and Weiss’s storytelling in the absence of source material. As Thrones’ reputation among many critics and A Song of Ice and Fire readers went up in flames like King’s Landing, memes were the way we processed our pain. Poking fun at the flaws didn’t fix the series’ seemingly rushed ending, but gallows humor helped heal the wounds inflicted on fans.