Before The Boss Baby was released, two things were abundantly clear from the earliest trailers: This was going to be the butt of jokes for months, and it was just weird enough to garner the attention of millions.
The Boss Baby, which is set to receive a sequel in 2021, is comparable to Minions and Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It wasn’t merely a harmless animated film; it became an obsession. Like Minions, the Boss Baby (voiced by Alec Baldwin) was the perfect combination of strange and adorable. The adult antics and overtly sexual jokes juxtaposed with a cherubic tiny human laid the groundwork for The Boss Baby to become more than just a movie.
It became a trending meme, and DreamWorks’ seemingly innocent creation morphed into one of the most detested jokes the internet had seen.
In order to understand how the “I called the Boss Baby” joke started, people who haven’t seen the movie will have to understand the throwaway scene that inspired it. At one point, the Boss Baby gives out his phone number, and — as with any other instance of phone numbers, website URLs or social media handles appearing on screen — people thought the team at DreamWorks had decided to play into the joke. Mike Schur, the creator of series like Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, has spoken about this exact phenomenon in the past, and the difficulties that come with trying to use a throwaway joke in a piece of media today.
“You have to make those things jokes,” Schur said during a Hollywood Reporter roundtable while talking about messages that appear onscreen. “Every time there’s a collection of writing [...] people are going to go one-by-one [...] and they have to be jokes.”
The Boss Baby was not immune to this. On April 17, a popular young British YouTuber who goes by the name Durv uploaded a video to his YouTube channel named “Calling the Boss Baby!” The video, which has over 1.8 million views, starts out with Durv praising the film. He notes that despite his positive opinions, the video shouldn’t be taken as an advertisement for the movie.
It’s only when Durv gets through to the Boss Baby that viewers realize it’s all a grand hoax.
The joke isn’t great, but there’s nothing about it that implies the video is anything more than a harmless prank created by a kid for other kids. The issue, however, is that this has become an entire subsection on YouTube, with more than 7.2 million search results popping up if an “I called the Boss Baby!” query is submitted.
People of all ages, and a number of YouTube personalities, have gotten in on the joke. There are outtakes of the prank taken from within Minecraft and other iterations of the concept, including calls to the Boss Baby’s older brother, Tim.
But while the Boss Baby meme may have caught the attention of kids who saw the movie and thought this was funny — or possibly real — the trend also landed on the radar of some of the most popular YouTubers, who argued it was a perfect example of a growing issue on YouTube: clickbait.
“These videos, they’re definitely not calling the Boss Baby,” said YouTuber Pyrocynical, who has more than 1.7 million subscribers, in a video about the trend. “As always, stellar content on YouTube.
“I think they should just destroy YouTube and build it from the ground up.”
YouTube has had a clickbait problem for quite some time. Channels, even the most popular ones, use titles and thumbnails meant to attract attention — and the videos often fail to deliver upon what they’re promising viewers. Popular YouTube personalities like Anthony Padilla, Philip DeFranco and PewDiePie have all posted lengthy videos talking about the problem with the way people are using YouTube to promote their content.
Just a couple of weeks earlier, PewDiePie released a similar video riffing on the clickbait joke. After neglecting to answer a call from a lesser-known YouTuber, PewDiePie becomes the focus of a video titled “Calling PewDiePie!” The tone of the video is similar to the style of joke that would go on to define the Boss Baby prank. It’s a clever take on a trend that has been dominating YouTube and, in the wake of the Boss Baby prank, seems more timely than ever.
In that same video, PewDiePie goes into detail about the issue of clickbait, which he is passionate about. In a 2016 video, PewDiePie spoke about the realities of making content for YouTube and how, despite absolutely hating it, understanding that clickbait was one of the only ways to make money on the platform.
“Clickbaiting, almost everyone does it,” Pewdiepie said. “If you don’t do it, you’re not going to get views. I can spend days on a video and it will get less views than a video that we shit out for 10 minutes that has a better title. YouTube is really unfair in that regard, and what it leads to is good content sometimes getting buried by ‘clickable’ content.”
People on YouTube and Tumblr agree that the Boss Baby prank is a terrible joke. It’s gotten to the point where YouTubers have photoshopped the character into other Boss Baby-adjacent videos to poke fun at the clickbait style of videos on the website.
The Boss Baby joke is still going on, with videos uploaded as late as yesterday trying to get in on the prank. Whether or not this continues through 2021 when the sequel will be released, well, people will have to wait and see.