Polygon’s latest series, The Masterpieces of Streaming, looks at the new batch of classics that have emerged from an evolving era of entertainment.
The genre of “Dumb Internet Video” has evolved considerably since connection speeds became fast enough for file-sharing. For a long time, online videos were something special — uploaded to archaic file-sharing sites or hosted as Flash animations or passed around message boards as very early-stage YouTube links.
Then, suddenly, there were tons of videos on the internet, with no real way to find them other than via bloggers and other curators. If you were a video creator, you posted your content into the infinite void of cyberspace without any real expectation that anyone would see it. Even with YouTube, there were no real feeds for your content to go into. Maybe you’d email your video to your favorite blogger if you got really desperate.
If you were a user passing the time online, every new discovery felt like a revelation. After some clicking around you’d stumble across strange and inexplicable, but immediately compelling content, floating freely behind the gated world of mainstream television and movies. But you never knew when you’d find something else worth watching, so you really cherished the good stuff when it hit your screen. The emergence of Tosh.0 and video curation suddenly made viral videos became newsworthy. There was a new video with millions of views every month, and they shifted culture. Oppa Gangnam Style, baby.
This list aims to define a canon of funny videos created for the vast expanse of the internet. Ignoring nostalgia and their virality, it’s an attempt to carve out a Criterion Collection of completely stupid, but absolutely genius internet content. This is a list you could confidently show an alien who just landed on Earth and asked, “so what’s the internet like?”
Worth noting: Dumb Internet Video changed with the birth of the short-form video app Vine. Vine compressed our idea of a “perfect internet video” down to its bare essentials — six seconds. It also gave millions of users the ability to edit videos, allowing videos to finally become as malleable as images. TikTok followed, delivering short-form video in a never-ending feed. TikTok has already produced so many incredible videos that no one could watch the platform’s greatest hits in a single lifetime. And because of that, this list does not include Vines or TikToks, which demanded their own investigation.
As you can imagine, there was an impossible number of possibilities to choose from. This list is also not ranked. Picking the most important video on the internet is futile. But we think these 25 videos stand the test of time and show us the internet’s bizarre and limitless ability to make us live in new and completely confounding ways.
Bill Wurtz’s “History Of Japan” (February 2016)
Musician and video maker Wurtz is one of those unique internet creators whose work really couldn’t be realized as fully on any other medium than the internet. He has a lot of classic videos — from “History of the entire world, i guess” to “La de da de da de da de day oh” — but “History Of Japan” sets the standard. It’s goofy, actually an insightful look at Japanese history, esoteric, and absolutely something you need to share with your friends.
Homestar Runner’s Strong Bad emails (January 2000)
Homestar Runner, a cartoon about a delusional athlete and his weird friends, is the definitive cartoon of the Flash era, but the series within the series about Homestar’s nemesis, Strong Bad, an angry little man in a wrestling mask, answering emails was the real heart of the operation. It introduced us to Trogdor the Burninator and taught us how to make a techno song. The series has also not aged, feeling just as contemporary in 2021 as it did a decade ago. While we’re talking about Flash cartoons, an honorable mention deserves to go to the 2004 Flash Animation infamous on the gaming website Newgrounds, Salad Fingers, which creeped out a whole generation of teenagers.
“How is babby formed?” (June 2008)
If we lost all other evidence of Yahoo! Answers — and that’s more of a possibility than it’s ever been before — we’d still be ok if we had “How is babby formed?” First posted on Something Awful Flash Tub in 2007, and uploaded by a YouTuber user named Chris Bixby a year later, it is the quintessential live reading of a bad internet comment.
How to write an Alt-J song (May 2015)
A band called Fleece go viral as they get stoned, munch on rice crackers, and make a (really good!) Alt-J sounding song about putting something in your butt.
Demi Adejuyigbe’s September 21 series (September 2016)
Adejuyigbe is essentially a one-man Vine. He’s produced an incredible amount of great content, but his four-year-running video series set to Earth, Wind, And Fire’s “September” is one of the best running jokes of the internet.
GI Joe - Pork Chop Sandwiches (February 2006)
Fensler films’ G.I. Joe PSA’s technically pre-date YouTube (they were created in 2003 and were not originally intended to be shared on the internet), but they kicked off a legacy of re-dubs that to this day remains a foundational piece of the site’s content.
“British lads hit each other with chair” (December 2016)
A modern masterpiece — two British hunks, ripped and topless, give each other a kiss before one hits the other with a chair, causing the other to fall into broken glass, while still smoking a cigarette.
The Hitler’s Downfall parodies (April 2006)
The YouTube video that birthed a thousand memes. The original parody featured Spanish subtitles of Hitler, as portrayed by Bruno Ganz in the film Downfall, reacting to Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X and the parodies got only weirder and dumber and funnier from there. The video was also an important test for how copyright works online. The film’s director loves the memes. The production company behind the film does not.
Zombie Kid Likes Turtles (June 2007)
Over the years, local news clips have proven to be a rich source of raw content for YouTube. Faced with the miserable task of making small talk for the local news, young Jonathan instead opts to declare his love of turtles. We should all be so confident.
Fail recorder: Jurassic Park Themesong (August 2015)
Subverting musical expectations is a classic genre of YouTube video (see also Toy Trumpet Virtuoso, which came so very close to making this list), but this take on John Williams is arguably the best in the game.
Leeroy Jenkins (May 2005)
In a world of endless let’s play videos and gamer streams, it’s hard to remember there was a moment where video game clips were sort of a novelty online. Then Leeroy Jenkins came running into the picture during a World of Warcraft campaign and changed everything. A true pioneer.
Shoes (May 2006)
Funny homemade music videos are part of the very DNA of YouTube and one of the earliest and still most popular is “Shoe” by Liam Kyle Sullivan. It’s catchy, it’s weird, it sort of feels like something you’d hallucinate after taking too much cough medicine, but it’s also iconic. Sullivan actually released a COVID-themed sequel last year called “Masks” that obviously didn’t have the same visceral impact, though it was just as weird and actually a little sweet.
Andrew Callaghan’s All Gas No Brakes/Channel 5 (September 2019)
Andrew Callaghan’s man-on-the-street brilliance in All Gas No Brakes feels like the internet leaking over into real life. Each video features Callaghan in an oversized suit pulling off truly incredible man-on-the-street interviews. It was a real shame when Callaghan parted ways with the AGNB brand after a disagreement over ownership, but luckily he’s back at Channel 5 and still firing on all cylinders.
Keyboard Cat (June 2007)
Originally made in 1984 but uploaded in the early 2000s to massive viral success, the Keyboard Cat is artist Charlie Schmidt making his cat, Fatso, play a cheery song on an electric keyboard. Pretty much the most famous animal video on the internet and second most famous internet animal full-stop behind Grumpy Cat. The pure simplicity of Keyboard Cat is both something we don’t see much of anymore and are all awash in. If you want, your TikTok or Instagram feeds can deliver you a never-ending cascade of funny or cute animals doing all sorts of things, but none of them are really as special as the first one.
My cousin Oskaar (March 2019)
You can’t have an internet video list without including a video that is totally fake but convinced everyone otherwise. It might not be a real Icelandic accent, but damn if he doesn’t make some great points about daylight savings time.
He Man - What’s Going On (May 2005)
It’s He Man. He’s singing “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes. That’s it. That’s the video.
Conner O’Malley’s Bill (July 2020)
You may be familiar with comedian Connor O’Malley for any number of reasons, up to and including his interpretive dance of the Charlie Rose theme song. His often unhinged (and prescient) characters originally became popular on Vine and Twitter, but his longer form videos on YouTube absolutely hold their own, like his video “GET STOCK MAKET UP,” filmed in the middle of the road outside of Paramount Studios.
Dog of Wisdom (July 2015)
Posted in 2015, this video harkens back to the surrealist Flash videos of the early web in the way it has literally no context whatsoever and feels as if you’re watching someone else’s very strange dream. With a neat three-act structure, this video is the YouTube equivalent of a tight five. Sometimes we all need to bark at nothing now.
How Animals Eat Their Food (April 2013)
Somehow this video is not a Vine. But it feels so much like a Vine. It set the standard for homemade videos featuring impromptu impressions of random things that just absolutely nail it.
“zendaya is meechee” (September 2018)
Gabriel Gundacker made his name with a succession of absolutely genius Vines, but his real mainstream breakthrough was a video titled, “zendaya is meechee”. It’s absolutely hilarious and one of those phrases where, once you read it for the first time, you can never get it out of your head.
ASMR~ Rude & Sassy First Class Flight Attendant Roleplay ( with real props ) ⚠️SASSY ROLE PLAY⚠️ (September 2018)
In discussions over the list, we decided there had to be an ASMR video in the mix. It’s a genre of video that didn’t exist before the internet. And there’s one very clear choice for the funniest ASMR video of all time, a seven-minute odyssey in which YouTuber Life with MaK takes you on the most passive aggressive airline ride you could ever imagine.
Winnebago man (March 2006)
Featuring outtakes of Jack Rebney doing his best to sell RVs, this video made the rounds via VHS long before being uploaded to YouTube, and eventually led to a documentary about both the video and the man himself. Thank god Tony never had the time to make cue cards. The video became so popular it went on to inspire a documentary in 2010 that went on to play at South by Southwest.
Brodyquest (June 2010)
You can’t talk about contributions to internet culture without Neil Cicierega, who is probably best known for his Smash Mouth-themed megamix Mouth Sounds. But he’s more than just a musician, he’s designed funny Twitter bots, written an incredibly ominous website about Windows 95, and even created a video game. What is Brodyquest? No clue. Why is Brodyquest? Zero idea. Brodyquest serves no practical function, it simply is. But it exudes a power that is profound, even a decade later.
Charlie the Unicorn (June 2008)
Crude animation, a cantankerous unicorn named Charlie, and a map to the mythical Candy Mountain. Easily the best video about a magical quest that ends with forced kidney removal. And here’s a nice twist: FilmCow, the studio behind the video, is still putting out work! They’ve recently been streaming an extremely weird and bizarre VTuber series on Twitch.
Supa Hot Fire (May 2011)
Has any video produced a longer-lasting reaction GIF than YouTuber user MrDeshawnRaw’s epic rap battle video? The premise is incredible: a rapper named Supa Hot Fire delivers freestyle bars that are truly awful as the crowd around him absolutely loses their minds. MrDeshawnRaw ended up making a whole series of these, several involving very real rappers facing off against his Supa Hot Fire. But, 10 years later, the original remains one of the single funniest viral videos ever made.
Correction: This article originally attributed “How is babby formed” to YouTuber Chris Bixby. The original video was first posted to Something Awful in 2007. The article has been updated to reflect the timeline.