This week’s question comes from editorial coordinator Gwen Ihnat:
What is your favorite YouTube clip to share with friends?
Patti LaBelle is an American treasure with almost 60 years in the music industry, but sometimes even all the stage experience in the world can’t save you from the ineptitude of Washington. In 1996, the “Lady Marmalade” singer was scheduled to perform “This Christmas” at the annual national tree-lighting ceremony, but things went off the rails quickly—and just kept getting worse after that. There may be videos with funnier singular moments (many of them on this very list) but few have the stamina of a Broadway farce like “Where My Background Singers?” Be it at 0:11 when LaBelle realizes she’s come on stage too early and sneaks back off, or 0:41 when she starts to look around as though something’s wrong but she soldiers on, or at around 1:00 when you realize she’s having to make up lyrics because her cue-card holder is failing her and the background singers have not arrived, all the way to 2:35 when she tries desperately to introduce a soloist in the band, this video keeps on giving. Although cringeworthy, this clip only brings me joy because, through it all, Patti LaBelle is a consummate professional who just keeps going, singing right after the one-minute mark: “I’m gonna help them all I can / Because I don’t have the right words and I have no background singers / Oh, I don’t / Whoo!”
As much as I’d like to highlight a work of pure comedic genius or some jaw-dropping display of raw talent, for me there’s no greater comfort than the waving bear. With over 21 million views, chances are you’ve already seen it; and, even if you haven’t, the delightfully literal title gives it away: “Polite Bear Waves Hello.” At just six seconds long, the clip delivers exactly what it promises and nothing more. But the mere sight of the burly Kodiak, sitting upright, and flitting its chunky bear wrist has become a never-ending fount of pure, giggle-inducing joy. Just as “aloha” is much more than a way to say “hello” or “goodbye,” I’ve co-opted the waving bear as a universal signifier of good tidings for all occasions.
All the setup that this clip of a skateboarding bulldog really needs is that it’s a clip of a skateboarding bulldog. But if, for some reason, you need more context for what makes this one of the most joyous moments captured on camera, Otto—an adorable Peruano like Paddington—set a Guinness World Record for “longest human tunnel traveled through by a skateboarding dog.” It’s my go-to clip for cheering up myself and others, which is why it’s bookmarked on both my personal and work laptops.
My favorite go-to clip actually dates back to the pre-YouTube era: A (wholly speculative) Nutri-Grain spot from Turnpike Films, which first made the online rounds way back in 2003. Watching it now, “I Feel Great” still makes me crack up, mostly on the strength of the performances from a host of actors whose names I’m now finding it borderline impossible to ferret out. (Although at least one of them, Terence Bernie Hinds, has been in a ton of TV stuff.) There’s something warmly nostalgic about watching these youngsters run around yelling “Babies everywhere” in completely deranged voices that fills my heart with joy; it’s a quick-fire dose of internet 1.0 silliness that I’m shockingly happy to revisit 17 years after the fact.
I don’t meander into the “challenge” section of the internet very often. But a year ago I was searching for more content featuring one of my favorite foodie figures, Jen Phanomrat, when I stumbled upon a collaboration that she did with fellow content creator Julie Nolke titled “How Hot Can We Go?” For the first two minutes, it’s your standard issue hot-sauce challenge as two charismatic women try a selection of sauces on an upward trending heat scale. But at exactly 2:25, things fall entirely apart thanks to a demonic sauce made with ghost peppers. The ensuing chaos is so perfect: the ominous firing canon sounds that punctuate every mistake, violent outbursts, heat-induced babbling (“I just peed,” “I’ve never met a Dave I liked”), walking off the set… it’s a comedic gift. When she’s not endangering her esophagus with friends, Phanomrat is also an excellent food blogger and a total joy.
Of John Mulaney’s three triumphant Saturday Night Live hosting gigs to date, “Diner Lobster” gets a lot of attention, but for my seven-minute laugh budget, I’m going with the game-show parody “What’s That Name?” When it premiered in a 2010 episode fronted by Paul Rudd, “What’s That Name” featured white people who couldn’t be bothered to find out the name of their doorman or cleaning person. The version from Mulaney’s second time as host is a brilliant commentary on sexism, in which contestants Doug (Mulaney) and Courtney (Cecily Strong) fail to identify some women in their social circles, even though they know who Chrissy Teigen and Lil Xan are. The not-so-secret weapon is the reappearance of surprise guest Bill Hader as host Vince Blaine, who gleefully points out Doug’s failings when he can’t identify his best friend’s girlfriend of four years: “Guess you just don’t consider her a human being.” Hader almost breaks when Vince is asked to list the names of his friends’ spouses—“Those guys? They don’t have wives. I roll with a group of problematic bachelors and we call ourselves: The Squad”—but Vince Blaine remains committed to destroying Doug right until the bitter end, piling all the cameras on him until he just gets more and more flustered. I’ve seen it five million times, and it never fails to kill me.
I’m going to cheat a little, because this is a YouTube clip I just found recently and I haven’t shared it with many friends, but you’re all my friends so I’ll count it. It requires a basic knowledge of The Simpsons, specifically Rainier Wolfcastle’s McBain character, his partner Skoey, and the evil Senator Mendoza, as seen in the in-universe McBain movie, and it apparently originates from a Simpsons meme page on Facebook. Don’t be scared off by the words “Facebook” and “meme,” though; it’s impressively assembled and very, very funny. Unfortunately, saying too much more would spoil the gag. Just do one thing for me: Get… Mendoza.
For a time a handful of years ago, Scott McClanahan had a reputation for being something akin to a traveling preacher or carnival barker in the independent literary scene. He’d start his readings with prayer-like incantations, rocking back and forth with his eyes closed, before launching into whatever fiction/nonfiction hybrid he’d brought to read, sans explanation. Once, I saw him “marry” a crowd, sliding big plastic rings onto our fingers. I often fail at capturing the spirit of these readings, so I share this clip of the Crapalachia and The Sarah Book author to give people a taste. At the start of this Scott McClanahan reading, he offers a story about how he, Scott—both the writer and the character—used to punch himself in the face, before trying to get the crowd to sing his baby daughter to sleep, miles away. What really does it is his opening: I can think of no better way to begin a story than by shushing a crowd and saying, “I wanna tell you somethin’.”
I abhor ad copy and I adore Norm Macdonald, so when the two clashed on the early episodes of Norm’s bygone podcast, Norm Macdonald Live, I was a goner. I’ve written about Norm’s adventures in promoting the ManGrate, a grilling accessory that promises to “revolutionize the way people grill,” here before, but I can’t imagine answering this question with anything else, given that I’ve watched this supercut—variations have been deleted and re-uploaded to YouTube a few times, but the original has a forever home on Vimeo—at least once every few weeks since I first discovered it. Every second is gold—especially the bit from 2:08 to 2:28—but it really just serves as an encapsulation of everything I love about unfiltered Norm, from his grinning facetiousness to his potty mouth to his childlike refusal to play by the adults’ rules.
Is it bad that the YouTube clip that’s brought me the most amount of joy over the past—oh God, it’s been 15 years now—is a video of Kelsey Grammer biting it on stage at Disneyland? Known colloquially, at least in my household, as “Fraiser falls down,” this short 34-second video is almost as old as YouTube itself: The clip first circulated in May 2005, just three months after YouTube’s launch in February of that year. Basically, Grammer was at Disneyland during the park’s 50th anniversary celebration, delivering what one can only assume was a droll comedic monologue, when, mid-sentence, he accidentally steps off the edge of the stage and eats shit. I’ve watched it so many times, the words are burned into my brain: “…trip through ‘It’s A Small World,’ pretending I was a UN interpreter—oh, good lord!” There’s a muffled crash, then a deep sigh. Grammer’s a total pro; he doesn’t even blurt out any profanities, making his subsequent apology totally unnecessary. And he wasn’t seriously hurt, which makes it okay to let out a snort of amusement when his entire body suddenly drops out of frame just a few seconds in. (In a 2019 interview, he said he was bleeding profusely enough that he did go to the hospital afterward, but ultimately it was just a bad scrape.) That’s the only explanation I can think of as to why this simple clip is so fucking funny—and it’s certainly got something going for it, given its enduring popularity online.
It’s long since passed into the annals of the Meme Hall Of Fame, but I will never, ever get tired of good ol’ Leeroy Jenkins. There’s something so timeless about a clueless person charging headlong into a situation—especially when paired with an earnest group of people who were doing their best to control the circumstances before he blows it all to hell—and reaping the scornful results. From the World Of Warcraft team’s precise calculations by Abdul, their number cruncher (“I’m getting 33.33...repeating, of course”) to the dispirited words of the various members as they watch the pitiful outcome of their adventure (“Great job, everybody!”) to the fact that their team is named “PALS FOR LIFE,” it just remains so damn funny. I know there’s plenty of “the real story behind Leeroy” videos out there, but I don’t want to know anything else. I just want to bask in the purity of Leeroy Jenkins: Extremely Bad WoW Teammate.