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Viral and Loving It: The Thoroughly Modern Comedy of Demi Adejuyigbe

You may not know his name. But you’ve seen his memes, his Vines, his parody videos, his airborne internet phenomena. Meet the funniest person on the internet.

Mario Zucca

It’s probably been a while since you thought about the short-lived internet sensation known as Darwin, the IKEA monkey. If so, a brief primate primer: In 2012, a Japanese macaque was found wandering near a Toronto-area IKEA, dressed in a shearling coat, looking both dapper and confused. The animal immediately became the subject of passionate memes and homages, until everyone collectively moved on to the next lunchtime distraction.

Demi Adejuyigbe, however, never forgot about Darwin. A writer and performer, Adejuyigbe has spent years taking in all sorts of random web-born phenomena. He’s also created some of his own. His hits include last year’s Lando Calrissian rap, which he recorded in the style of Childish Gambino (sample lyric: “Avoiding trouble chillin’ out in Bespin / Got a rap sheet longer than Jabba’s small intestine”). There was also his fake-out Drake diss track; his made-up Will Smith end-credits anthem for Aladdin; and a “rejected” theme song for Ready Player One. Not all of Adejuyigbe’s clips are musical spoofs. But a production like “L-A-N-D-O”—full of deftly edited visual gags and deep-cut references—encapsulates the comedic style he’s become known for: pop culture hyper-literate, deeply catchy, and capable of blowing up a seemingly one-off joke into something deeper and weirder.

Adejuyigbe keeps multiple Notes memos on his phone and computer, full of potential ideas for new videos and songs, as well as screenplays, TV shows, and web series. Earlier this year, he began compiling ideas for something he’d never tried before: a musical. “I didn’t want it to feel like any other kind of comedy-musical,” says the Los Angeles resident. “I’m always like, ‘Why do something, if it’s just gonna be like a lot of other things?’” He considered writing about the infamous Balloon Boy, but realized someone else had beaten him to it. Then he considered the tale of the IKEA monkey—just the kind of “small, specific incident,” he says, that would seem all the more ridiculous when taken seriously.

And so, on a Sunday evening in April, Adejuyigbe is on stage at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Hollywood, his slight frame partly hidden behind a rinky-dink Casio keyboard. “I’ve moved on to the next stage of my career,” he tells the crowd, announcing he’s now “a very important, prestigious, pretentious musician.” Anyone who’s followed Adejuyigbe’s work knows his preamble is a put-on. But the monkey musical turns out to be surprisingly elaborate: a nine-minute, multi-song tale of a lonely IKEA worker; his on-the-lam, epithet-spewing monkey friend; and a pair of murderous animal-control officers. Adejuyigbe had composed the score over the course of a weekend, and written the lyrics in less than two hours. The resulting songs—a mix of jaunty piano tunes and a brief hip-hop interlude—are succinctly silly, but also unexpectedly poignant: At one point, when Adejuyigbe rhymes “simian” with “really into him,” a few audience members loudly awww.

After his performance ends, Adejuyigbe takes a seat at a bar a few doors down from UCB, still dressed in his on-stage getup: dark jeans, a blue henley shirt, and a mustard-colored corduroy jacket. It has been just a few hours since he flew in from New Zealand, where he was visiting his girlfriend, yet he isn’t at all tired, instead wearing the same bemused, slightly expectant smile he often displays in his videos. The show marks just the second time he’s tried out the monkey musical in public, and while it was the kind of show other performers might use as a calling card—something to be expanded upon over months, even years—Adejuyigbe wasn’t sure how much longer he’d tinker with it. “The second anything I do is out there,” Adejuyigbe says, “I’m done with it. I don’t care about it anymore.”

It’s the approach of someone who knows the churn and impatience of the web firsthand. Adejuyigbe got his start years ago as a breakout talent on Vine, the now-defunct platform for which he created hundreds of ingenious, widely seen comedy videos. Since then, he’s worked in nearly every medium imaginable, writing for such TV series as The Good Place and The Late Late Show With James Corden, and cohosting the hit podcasts Gilmore Guys and Punch Up the Jam. It’s a remarkable run, especially when you consider he’s only 26 years old.

But like so many creators of his generation, Adejuyigbe’s work mostly lives on the internet, where even the best sketch or song hangs around for only a few weeks, if not days. It’s what keeps him burning through his Notes lists, knowing that no matter how good his next idea is, it’s ultimately just another IKEA monkey⁠—a brief diversion, all but destined to be abandoned. “It’s a problem with my brain,” he says, adding: “Relaxing is a very hard thing for me to do.”

Adejuyigbe was born in London, where his parents worked in the data and computer science fields. But when he was 4 years old, his family relocated to the U.S., eventually settling in Plano, Texas. It was the late ’90s, and dial-up services like AOL were becoming a fixture in American homes. “From a young-ish age,” Adejuyigbe says, “I was deep in the internet.”

One of Adejuyigbe’s earliest online hangouts was the video-game site Destructoid, where he’d chat about his favorite titles, while also studying the memes and conversations surrounding the games he couldn’t afford to play—just so he could understand what everyone else was talking about. Around that same time, he became fixated on The Simpsons, a show that provided its own sort of survey-class overview of prominent 20th-century film, television, music, and literature. If a reference stumped Adejuyigbe, he simply investigated further on the internet. “So much of what I know about is from osmosis—from soaking in the culture from people around me,” he says. “The way they interact with these cultural touchstones is always more interesting to me than the things themselves.” When he finally did sit down to watch the Star Wars films, after years of scrutinizing them on the web, he was surprised by how many details he’d already digested, Sarlacc-style.

“Demi is so literate with everything,” says friend and collaborator Kevin T. Porter. “But he belongs to a generation that essentially learned about culture through the internet version of CliffsNotes.”

Once he got to high school, Adejuyigbe’s interests grew to include video production: He’d find a pirated copy of an editing program, study its online tutorials, and make his own short clips. In his junior year, he discovered a website soliciting pitches for a beef jerky commercial. He grabbed a Panasonic camcorder and dressed up his friends as junk-food mascots. The resulting video was his first hit, one that landed Adejuyigbe and his friends in third place, and earned a $2,300 prize.

Adejuyigbe continued to experiment with both filmmaking and comedy—sometimes by himself, late into the night, spending hours on his computer. “I sort of isolated myself from my peers throughout high school,” he says. By then, he’d experienced a brief, slightly uncomfortable brush with online infamy: In 2006, when he was 13 years old, he jokingly posted a photo to Destructoid in which he held up an ancient VHS copy of Space Jam to the camera, his eyes half-lidded from the camera flash. The picture found its way to various online threads, spreading beyond Adejuyigbe’s control, and turning him into a meme. “People were like, ‘It looks like he’s jizzing because he loves Space Jam so much!,’” he says. “I was like, ‘I don’t want this to become the thing I’m known for.’”

After graduating high school, Adejuyigbe headed to the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied film, with the hopes of becoming a writer-director. It was during his final of year of school, in early 2013, that Vine was introduced to the public. The platform had strict parameters, with each video, or “loop,” initially maxing out at just six seconds long. The format was an ideal fit for both Adejuyigbe’s editing acumen and fast-metabolizing comedy ideas: One of his first videos, which he released under the handle electrolemon, was captioned “the Michael Bay curse,” and consisted of a DVD copy of Bad Boys being thrown in a trash can, then mysteriously re-appearing on the same home’s front step. Some of his later efforts would be looped millions of times, like his “guy who keeps forgetting about dre” compilation. Or his simple, smart-stupid clip of an iPhone playing the first second of Barenaked Ladies’ hit “One Week”—It’s beeen—during an incoming call from Ben Affleck. (That video made its way to the band members themselves, even if it took a week or two: “I loved it,” says songwriter Ed Robertson.)

Vine granted Adejuyigbe complete autonomy, allowing him to conceive and shoot nearly every video by himself, assemble it on his phone, and send it out to the world before getting started on a follow-up. “His videos were so impressive on a technical level, I was like, How the hell did you make this?,’” says Miel Bredouw, another prominent Vine writer and performer, noting a loop in which Adejuyigbe appears to magically send a stream of water out of one photo and into another (it makes a lot more sense when you watch it). “Demi was using Vine to showcase his editing abilities, and his ability to write punch lines. That was the whole exercise of Vine: How quickly can you write a hard-hitting joke and have it land? And how can you shoot it in a way that makes the most sense?”

The two met at a Vine meet-up in 2014, and occasionally appeared in videos together. Both were dubbed “Vine stars”⁠—a term that makes Adejuyigbe politely wince today. For all the innovation the platform encouraged, it was also crowded with showboats and brand builders trying to get famous. Once again, Adejuyigbe had become known for something he wanted nothing to do with. “A lot of people were like, ‘This is the gateway to my career,’” he says. “It felt like they were chasing a love of celebrity, not a love of creativity.”

As Adejuyigbe’s Vine following grew, @electrolemon also became a prominent name on Twitter, where he joked about rooming with Banksy, and documented the time he stockpiled his parents’ home with 57 copies of Adam Sandler’s Click (they never noticed). In the fall of 2014, Adejuyigbe responded to a tweet from Kevin T. Porter, a performer and writer who was looking for someone to cohost a Gilmore Girls podcast called Gilmore Guys. Adejuyigbe volunteered, even though he’d barely seen the series. “This was right before Serial happened,” Porter says. “Podcasts were still a joke.”

Gilmore Guys was an early entry in the world of genial, single-topic convo-shows. It topped iTunes’ comedy-podcast chart, earned constant press coverage, and eventually sent its hosts on the road for live performances. For a show about two friends yakking about television, it could be a demanding gig: “On tour, we were flying out on back-to-back weekends, and sometimes Demi was falling asleep in the dressing room,” Porter says. “And I just felt that sense of, ‘Oh, I hope he’s taking care of himself.’ Sometimes I think that, because his career is so important, and going so well, that he feels a responsibility to do as much work as possible.”

Gilmore Guys ran for more than 200 episodes before wrapping in late 2016. By then, Adejuyigbe was writing for NBC’s The Good Place, and would later head to The Late Late Show With James Corden. They were the kind of IMDb-fortifying credits to which most comedy writers would aspire. Yet Porter notes that Adejuyigbe often distances himself from even his most high-profile efforts: “He’d never say, ‘I’m the Gilmore Guys guy!,’ because he doesn’t identify himself with the thing that he’s doing, even when he’s really good at it—which is kind of a sign of genius.”

Adejuyigbe lives in a small, neatly overstuffed apartment in Los Angeles’s Los Feliz neighborhood. One recent afternoon, he was working in front of a large Apple monitor in his living room, surrounded by a pair of keyboards and a drum machine. A few low-budget guitars were hung on his bedroom wall, and several bookshelves were lined with DVDs and Blu-rays: Ocean’s Eleven, West Side Story, Michael Clayton. Adejuyigbe sometimes stays up late watching a movie⁠—and then stays up even later to take in its various bonus features. It’s partly for pleasure, partly for education. For a while, he’s been trying to finish his first feature screenplay, a crime caper that traces a real-life incident in which a few goons planned to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body in 1876.

Today, though, he’s testing out ideas for a new song, one he’s thinking of releasing over the summer. It would be another Childish Gambino–mimicking rap, this time tied to Donald Glover’s appearance in July’s Lion King remake. Glover, the creator and star of Atlanta, has served as a sort of high-profile role model to Adejuyigbe—as have Will Smith, Jerrod Carmichael, and, more recently, Eighth Grade writer-director Bo Burnham. All of them, he notes, are comedic stars who’ve managed to convince audiences to take them seriously.

Adejuyigbe’s not yet sure what form his latest Gambino tribute will take; he’s got a Notes page full of lyrical and musical ideas, but none has taken hold yet. “If you do a parody, there’s always the most obvious idea everyone would think of,” he says. “And you’ve got to go two steps past that.” He gets started by tracking down a ripped copy of the original film’s anthem “Circle of Life” in MIDI form, which will make it easier for him to rearrange it. Then he loads the song into Logic Pro, a program that lets him manipulate individual audio parts, known as stems, however he wants. It takes only a few minutes for him to loop the famous opening Zulu vocals from “Circle of Life”—Nants ingonyama!—into their own staccato rhythm: Naaaan!-Na-na-na-naaaa! Then he grabs some sticks, turns to his drum machine, and adds a few pummeling beats, modeling them to resemble the aggro drums on Gambino’s 2011 hit “Freaks and Geeks.

Adejuyigbe has worked out countless music projects this way, often with this same at-home setup. For Late Late Show With James Corden, he put together a ’90s-hip-hop ode to Venom musical-parody video, and has demo’d several more that have yet to air, like a series of tunes devoted to the Disney-Fox merger (in one track, he tells the story of Die Hard through The Little Mermaid’s “Under the Sea”). Despite the ad-hoc recording studio he’s assembled in his apartment, Adejuyigbe has little formal musical training. Instead, he’ll learn an instrument by finding a particular song—like St. Vincent’s 2011 hit “Cruel,” with its bumblebee-thick guitar riff—and figuring out how to play it in full, giving him just enough knowledge, he says, to figure out the “series of patterns” he can use as a shortcut. It’s similar to the way he studied movies and TV shows when he was younger: Homing in on a particular detail or cultural entity, and learning everything he can about it before seeing where it leads next.

Growing up, Adejuyigbe’s main music influence was his parents’ record collection, which included Nigerian Afrobeat, KC and the Sunshine Band, and, in particular, Earth, Wind & Fire. Adejuyigbe had heard the R&B group’s 1978 smash “September”—with its opening verse of “Do you remember / the 21st night of September?”—frequently around his house, and rediscovered it while playing the 2006 Nintendo DS game Elite Beat Agents. “Everyone knows it,” he says.

And so, on the evening of September 21, 2016, a new one-minute video appeared on Adejuyigbe’s Twitter account. It finds him wearing shades and a gray shirt, the words SEPT 21 stenciled on the front. His own remixed version of “September,” which continually repeats the words September and 21st of September, plays in the background as Adejuyigbe giddily dances around his apartment. Before the video ends, he turns around mid-boogie and reveals another message on the back of his shirt: THAT’S TODAY.

When he posted the “September 21st” video, Adejuyigbe was a well-known Vine performer with a sizable Twitter following. But the bit made @electrolemon all the more infamous, and almost entirely by accident. Adejuyigbe had come up with the song, the shirt, and the video at the last minute, primarily to amuse his roommate. Had it been released just a few years earlier, the jubilant clip—which was smart-stupid in the best way possible—would have been just another digital-era novelty hit. But this was the fall of 2016, a time when Twitter was finalizing its transformation into a hand-held Hades. With the “September” video, it seemed as though Adejuyigbe was the last person still having fun on the platform, and the video would go on to earn nearly 2 million views. He recorded follow-ups in the next two years, each more ambitious than the last: confetti, props, even a childrens’ choir. “A lot of the joy that comes from these videos,” he says, “is just seeing people go like, ‘How did you do this? Why did you do this? What the fuck?’”

The “September” clips are the closest thing Adejuyigbe has to an ongoing franchise, one that people have come to expect, if not demand of him. (Last year, he had to plead with his Twitter followers to not constantly send him countdowns to the big day.) There’s an obvious delight he takes in releasing the videos, as well as the music parodies for which he’s become known. But he also worries they’ve been keeping him from trying something bigger. And for someone who so judiciously disposes of so many of his ideas—Why do something, if it’s just gonna be like a lot of other things?—it’s a bit unsettling to be doing variations on the same bit. “I don’t want people to only know me as ‘the guy who occasionally does something fun on the internet,’” he says. “It’s fun, but ephemeral. And I can’t let that become the biggest thing that I do, or I’ll get burnt out very quickly.”

A few weeks after his UCB show, Adejuyigbe was seated on stage at Los Angeles’s Regent Theatre, a makeshift crown tipped on his head. It was a weekday-evening taping of Punch Up the Jam, the music-comedy podcast he cohosts with Bredouw. The show finds them dissecting some iffy or archaic pop hit—“L.A. Woman,” “Mambo No. 5”—and breaking it down verse by verse, before unveiling their own “improved” version. Tonight’s victim is Spin Doctors’ 1993 hacky-sack staple “Two Princes,” with the show’s guests riffing on the song’s scatty vocals in front of 214 audience goers.

Punch Up the Jam launched in late 2017, and according to Adejuyigbe, it already pulls in about $10,000 a month from the crowd-funding site Patreon. In one early episode, the podcast returned to one of Adejuyigbe’s go-to foils—Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week”—which Bredouw and fellow Viner Ian Edgerly reconstructed as an icy synth-pop track. “Even when they’re poking fun at songs, it’s coming from a genuine place of appreciation,” says Barenaked Ladies’ Robertson in an email. “It’s not just two pop culture nerds dissecting a jam. It’s two musical geniuses deconstructing something in order to better appreciate how powerful it is.”

The podcast demands plenty of work from its hosts, with Adejuyigbe sometimes tweaking songs late into the night, or during downtime on The Late Late Show. “The way Demi works best,” Bredouw notes, “is when he gets to kind of run the ship, and then has a cabinet of people that get to change and punch up and add to it.”

That approach has made his late-night TV career tricky at times. For many writers and performers, moving from making web stuff to working on lucrative, big-network TV would be a satisfying kicker to a years-long hustle. And Adejuyigbe was proud of the Late Late Show songs he worked on that made it to air, like a musical sketch for which he worked with Eric Idle. Yet he grew impatient working within the confines of a daily late-night show. “The levels of bureaucracy attached to something like [Late Late Show] are a little bit of a bummer⁠,” he says. Every writers’ room concept, Adejuyigbe notes, “has to fit around the singular vision of the host. I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s a little frustrating for me, because I come from the internet.”

At the same time, working online has its own downsides: Platforms can die off unexpectedly (like Vine), or become crowded with creeps (like Twitter, which Adejuyigbe looks at less and less these days). And for all the fun of putting together a sketch or a Punch Up the Jam track, Adejuyigbe’s often left wondering: What does this lead to?

This was all on his mind earlier this year, when Adejuyigbe realized that his workload—the Late Late Show gig, the Punch Up the Jam duties, the multiple online sketches he was chasing at once—had distracted him from that Lincoln-theft movie he’d long wanted to make. So he’s decided, for the first time in a long while, to log off⁠—at least for a bit. From everything. This month marked his last on The Late Late Show, and he’s planning on leaving Punch Up the Jam sometime this fall. There’s a good chance he’ll finish that Lion King track he was working on, and he’ll probably make another Earth, Wind & Fire clip (you’ll know for certain on September 21). But in July, Adejuyigbe plans to head to New Zealand, stay with his girlfriend, and spend the month finishing his screenplay. “I’m trying to slow down,” he says. “I’m cutting everything else away.

“The internet is something I don’t care about, and have never really cared about. It’s just been the greatest venue for me to be like, ‘Hey, look at me, look at what I can do.’ But film has always been the goal.”

Before Adejuyigbe can do that, though, he has one more overcrowded Notes list to get through, this one featuring the names of all the films and shows he wants to watch while working on his crime caper script. In his apartment, he opens up his computer and starts reeling off names: O Brother, Where Art Thou?; A Fish Called Wanda; Raising Arizona; Bottle Rocket; Pain & Gain. There’s also Dennis the Menace, Lincoln, episodes of Drunk History, and, for reasons he can’t remember, the Natalie Portman drama Jackie. Like so many of his lists, it could just keep going on forever. “I’m always trying to calm down,” Adejuyigbe says, “I’m always like, ‘Finish everything, and then you can relax.’ But then I just keep adding things.”

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly credited Adejuyigbe for the Punch Up the Jam version of “One Week.”

Brian Raftery is the author of Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen. His work has appeared in Wired, New York, and GQ.

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