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‘Johnny Johnny Yes Papa’: Top memesters try to understand the bizarre video’s rise

The haunting animated video was around for years — but how much longer will stick around?

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“Johnny Johnny Yes Papa” is a strange, disturbing and bewildering meme that has driven innocent bystanders down YouTube rabbit holes trying to determine where it came from and, in a more existential search, why it exists.

Originally uploaded to a YouTube channel called Shemrock Nursery Rhymes in July 2009, the short video, which has now been viewed over 3 million times, became a favorite of 4chan and Reddit. Over the years, users have dedicated subspace to its wonders and remixed the footage to see just how much more disturbing it could get.

I asked Patrick Gill, Polygon’s resident shitposter and the employee most obsessed with Johnny Johnny Yes Papa, why this meme drew him into the internet’s weird vortex more than any other in recent times.

“It’s like archaeology,” he said. “You’re this explorer who just tumbles into a bizarre tomb full of unknowable, weird objects and you’re sure that nobody else has ever been there but then you notice scrawled messages on all of the walls and it becomes clear that people have been there. Somehow, millions of people. But none of them have ever told the rest of the world. Then you realize the tomb has dozens and dozens of other chambers, nearly identical to the one you’re in but somehow different. And all of those chambers are also full of undeniable evidence that these hidden vaults of eldritch knowledge have been plumbed by countless before you, but again, nobody ever talked about it. Until now — and the knowledge is out.

“Now everyone knows and nobody can forget.”

Why certain memes take off and reach mainstream success is the quantum mystery of the internet. To better understand this oddity, Polygon convened a panel of some of the most popular meme creators and aggregators to make sense of Johnny Johnny Yes Papa’s recent resonance.

Johnny Johnny Shemrock Pre-Schools/YouTube

Why is the “Johnny Johnny Yes Papa” meme so popular right now?

Dolan Dark, YouTube’s top meme creator (936,000 subscribers): The increasing popularity of surreal humor definitely played a part in Johny Johny getting popular. All it really takes is a few popular posts or creators posting about a meme before it can become a full fledged trend.

Don Caldwell, Managing Editor of Know Your Meme: The recent resurgence was almost certainly caused by a tweet posted by @b6ner, which highlighted a clip taken from the Billion Surprise Toys YouTube channel. The video featured a strange animation of a baby and father singing a mashup of “Johnny Johnny Yes Papa” and the “Baby Shark” song, which seems to have been a winning combination.

Creator behind Free Memes Kids (1.8 million Twitter followers): I think it’s popular now because it’s so weird and people can’t believe that little kids actually watch this and they are creeped out by the voices and the characters in the video. It already had over a billion views on YouTube but nearly all of them were little children and only now the older audience has seen the video.

Leon, co-creator of Cartoon Shitposts (258,000 Facebook followers): Virality depends heavily on when something finds enough exposure. When it comes to memes, that often depends on what kind of humor is popular. Sometimes the average user is not ‘ready’ for certain content just yet. This meme, in particular, was enabled through a viral sensation of 2017 called “Nick India Dab,” which originated as a commercial for Nickelodeon India and featured similarly poorly animated characters. We here at Cartoon Shitposts have personally made great contributions to Nick India Dab, to the point where we were featured on The Fine Bros., BuzzFeed, and PewDiePie’s channel.

As for Johnny Johnny Yes Papa (JJYP), my assumption is that the source is a similar one: an amateur animator stemming from the subcontinent of India. How I believe these two items correlate heavily is the similar style and how questionable they seem to most people. I know for a fact people started looking for the next Nick India Dab the same year still, in anticipation of popularizing it. We’ve certainly tried. So that might be how it’s been (re)discovered.

Tyler Cage, creator behind Memes by the Hour (popular meme account on Tumblr): Memes come and go. Many start off extremely slow and some come and go. A very good example is doge. It was incredibly popular back in the day, used unironically. Nowadays it’s still used in a much different sense. It’s not the same jokes but it’s the same format, sometimes even distorted versions. A good example is how the jokes were mellow and now you would see one with an angry doge with a red color overlay and text like ‘mom stole my weed’ / ‘I have to kill her in her sleep now.’ While that caters towards ironic it is still the same meme essentially just re purposed, I believe this is just the rebirthing of the Johnny Johnny meme.

Creator behind Welcome to My Meme Page (300,000 Facebook followers): I think Demons have descended upon our world. We are thrashing under the fever of a Great Sickness, yet we do not know it.

Johnny Johnny
A different version of Johnny Johnny published in 2014.
ChuChu TV Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs/YouTube

Why do some bizarre videos take off and others don’t?

Dolan Dark: Relatability and nostalgia always play a part though. Which would explain the GameCube meme, and JonTron first popularized the Flex Tape meme and I think people just followed along from there.

Leon: I’ve seen a certain trend over the years. Take 2012 memes, for instance, where Bad Luck Brian was the pinnacle of humor. Even 2013, we were still mostly spreading images with short impact font phrases on top of them. That is, until niche communities on social media started making more abstract forms of memes. Shout-out to ‘R u trying to make me cry cuz you did; on Facebook for being an OG in that field! Those more abstract memes really gained traction in 2014, reaching more average social media users. The average humor continued to devolve and become increasingly abstract until the aforementioned commercial became a meme last year. Without it, JJYP wouldn’t have made it big these days.

Tyler Cage: There’s a science behind it, but a lot of is random. You never know what’s going to pick up. A good example is the Walmart Yodeling kid. It wasn’t uploaded for comedy, but it took off. The internet is weird and there’s no denying it. People cling on to an idea or joke or image and a lot of it is random of who picks up on what, the art of it spreading also relies what accounts and popular internet users share it.

Don Caldwell: I suspect that many of these YouTube video trends become memes because people are baffled at how these bizarre children’s videos are able to generate such enormous view counts. For example, we saw a similar interest in the strange Spider-Man and Elsa and Peppa Pig videos last year.

Creator behind Welcome to my Meme Page: I think that the more disgusting and wicked some thing is, the more popular it will become.

How do Twitter, Facebook and YouTube help move along memes compared to Reddit, Tumblr or 4chan?

Dolan Dark: YouTube helps normally to extend a meme’s life span, you can be a lot more creative with visual-audio aspects. A lot of memes these days get a second run on YouTube once people start adding musical related elements to them and remixing into popular songs as well. GameCube, for example, start-up theme but to the tune of Africa.

Creator behind Welcome to My Meme Page: It’s easier to create and access personal pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. There’s more reach potential for individuals and it’s easier to make sure the content is associated with the person who made it since it’s all organized in one place under one name.

Creator behind Free Memes Kids: Most of the big memes in recent times started of on Twitter because someone posted a video of it and other meme creators tried to recreate a better funnier version of the meme (shooting star, bart hitting homer).

Leon, creator behind Cartoon Shitposts: Twitter is a special place when it comes to memes. Since 2013, many people have considered simple screenshots from Twitter to be memes. There have been dozens of pages based on this principle. You know what that reminds me of very eerily? Tumblr. I used to admin a multi-million likes page called “The Best Of Tumblr” where we’d exclusively post screenshots of threads on that platform. Twitter is very similar in that way, except that it’s not about strings of comments so much as it is about one individual post, often paired with an image.

I personally think this time around Twitter was not as contributing in making a meme popular. Most of the traction seems to be coming from Facebook and YouTube. In general, though, Twitter enables its user to create memes more easily. You don’t need an editing app or anything of the like. You simply post an image, add a caption, screenshot it and pray to the social media gods for it to go viral.

Facebook helps spread memes through one simple means: numbers. Facebook has more than a billion users. That is a number no other social media can claim. People use it very actively, too. I believe what’s enabled most of the meme communities on Facebook nowadays was the birth of meme pages.

Instagram is where memes go to die. I personally see very little creativity over there when it comes to memes. The fact that captions aren’t as visible/’screenshottablity’ affects the platform adversely, too, at least in this regard. Overall, Twitter and Facebook are more helpful when it comes to spreading memes, though.

Tyler Cage: It all depends on demographics. Twitter is a younger and edgier crowd, like Instagram. Speaking from experience on all platforms, Facebook is more normal and while you can try to be edgier, there are repercussions, they have many more guidelines, and most users have family and personal friends. 4chan is the wild west of the internet and nothing is off limits but they also have a niche crowd, there are no accounts, it’s all anonymous, the chance of spreading is lower.

Reddit and Tumblr are also moderated but have different dynamics of how things spread, I would say a lot of stuff comes from Twitter/Reddit, then gets on other platforms. Instagram and FaceBook are good at sharing the stuff that has already been created but I have seen a lot more come from Twitter and Reddit. Tumblr is also more of an enabler rather than a creator, but this is my opinion.

Don Caldwell: In this case, YouTube provides a persistent location to store and access media relevant to a meme, allowing it to be rediscovered at any time. Places like Reddit and Tumblr do allow users to access old content but they tend to be less discoverable over time. 4chan is an even more extreme example, relying on sites like 4plebs, Fireden, and Desuarchive to find archived posts.

Johnny Johnny Yes Papa video. BillionSurpriseToys/YouTube

How long do you think Johnny Johnny will be a meme?

Dolan Dark: Well if the other short lived memes from 2018 are anything to go by, I give it another week tops.

Creator behind Free Memes Kids: Most memes die out in less than a week or two. Only a few have managed to remain relevant for a while. I can’t see this meme being alive in a months time.

Leon, creator behind Cartoon Shitposts: The lifespan of memes can be unpredictable at times. Most of them make it less than two months, at least in the communities I’m involved in. Some have had a surprising longevity. As for JJYP, I can’t exactly estimate its lifespan. Given its similarity to Nick India Dab, though, my guess is three to four months, if distributed properly. People need to be creative for that to be the case, though. Memes usually die due to a lack of creativity/change, which is why FB groups can be so crucial in this regard. If it’s all just a rehashing of the same stuff, people get bored.

Tyler Cage: I give it one to three months before people either (a) start to hate it and make it ironic or (b) call it cringy and normie all together. Kind of like what happened to Ugandan Knuckles.

Don Caldwell: The Johnny Johnny meme is multifaceted. In one aspect, the weird YouTube videos are a meme because so many content creators discovered they could create viral content centered around the nursery rhyme. However, the remix/parody videos, in-jokes, reaction images, and photoshops inspired by the videos are what most would consider the “memes” of Johnny Johnny.

A lot of the YouTube videos centered around the nursery rhyme have accumulated an absurd amount of views and continue to do so. As an internet in-joke, I think its days might be limited, but content creators will probably be able to milk it for views on YouTube for quite some time.

Creator behind Welcome to My Meme Page: It’s going to stop being a meme the second this article is posted.