The internet has produced many strange fads throughout the years, from cats getting scared of cucumbers to the weirdly unsettling Lenny Face. But none of these memes have anything on the latest internet phenomenon — one that's literally described as a frog riding a unicycle.
Here come dat boi. (O shit waddup!)
At first glance, this seemingly inscrutable frog may not seem like it stands for much of anything. But you shouldn't underestimate dat boi1. For reasons beyond human comprehension, this frog can produce some hilarious images — the lifeblood of a good meme.
Take, for instance, this crossover between The Lord of the Rings, an overly long fantasy series, with dat boi2, who can give joy to anyone in two or three sentences:
Or perhaps this image from Know Your Meme, showing dat boi3, tired of land travel, taking his cycling talents to space:
And for Bernie Sanders supporters, dat boi4 can also promote political messages:
Essentially, dat boi5 is funny because he's random. For one, it's a frog riding a unicycle. He's also called a "boi," which he is clearly not, but he can pull off the name because he just looks so damn calm and confident on that unicycle. And to top it off, everyone seems really excited to see him ("o shit waddup!"), even though there's no reason to be that excited for a silly frog. So if you take dat boi6 and put him in other random situations, it's hilarious.
If that still doesn't make sense to you, consider how big of a role randomness plays in comedy. Some of the best-known jokes ("Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side!") are effective because they play with our expectations to catch us off guard, and we deal with that with laughter. (Yeah, yeah. Vox just explained jokes. Whatever.) A frog on a unicycle called "dat boi"7 is just an extension of that.
But even if you don't find any of this funny, it is clear that much of the internet does. Over the past few weeks, internet searches for dat boi8 have spiked. It has practically taken over websites like Reddit, including the popular subreddit r/me_irl. So it's worth looking at how this wonderful frog came into our lives, and what it says about how we live today.
The origins of dat boi (o shit waddup!)
To understand dat boi9, you actually have to understand two different memes.
The first is the frog on the unicycle. It comes from the animation company Animation Factory, which makes all sorts of weird GIFs, and had the brilliant idea of putting a frog on a unicycle. Ryan Hagen, who worked at Animation Factory, described the frog to Select All as "bizarre off-the-wall garbage."
"Essentially, as an artist," he said, "we were told 'make whatever you want.' And we were all a bunch of weirdos so you got weird things, like frogs riding unicycles or doing push-ups."
Even before it took off as "dat boi,"10 the unicycle-riding frog had some traction on the internet, according to Select All.
The second meme is the phrases attached to dat boi11, including its namesake and "o shit waddup!" According to Know Your Meme, the first reference of this string of words came from an old Tumblr post, in which a user said in a post, "here come dat boi!!!!!!" Someone responded with, "o shit waddup!" and a picture of Pac-Man.
Like a frog riding a unicycle, this was seemingly so random that it was hilarious to a lot of people — so it got more than 75,000 notes as Tumblr shared it widely.
Eventually, the Facebook page Fresh Memes About the Mojave Desert and Other Delectable Cuisines had the idea of combining these two memes. So dat boi12 was born.
In discussing the origin here, there are some questions about cultural appropriation, too. As Paper Magazine explained, the word "boi" has origins in African-American Vernacular English. So some people feel like this is just another example of the internet taking parts of black culture without giving black people credit, which has happened time and time again as black teens break the internet with hilarious phrases like "on fleek" and then a bunch of white people start using them.
At any rate, dat boi13 has become a cultural phenomenon. And that says a lot about how we live our lives today.
Increasingly, pictures rule the internet
Dat boi's14 rise can be seen narrowly as just another hilarious meme taking the internet by storm. But it also speaks to a larger trend: Whether we're cracking jokes, consuming news, or just talking to our friends, communication is becoming increasingly visual. This is particularly true for young people, who have seized on memes and videos as a big way of communicating with each other on the internet.
Some of this communication by visualization, of course, always existed (like folk art), and television also elevated visual communication. But the internet has taken it to a whole new level by making it so easy to make a meme — all you need is Microsoft Paint — and stream or upload videos.
The clearest example of this is the subreddit r/me_irl. The entire purpose of this forum is for people to share how they feel about their lives — usually through dark humor — via memes.
For example, here is how one redditor described his current life situation:
But it's not just about sharing our emotions. Nowadays, a popular strand of memes on r/me_irl promote taking a stand against the bourgeoisie that have oppressed us with class society and wage labor for so many centuries. Here is one example:
It's not just socialists, either. The entire subreddit for Donald Trump is basically memes. One might look at this and say this is just a really simplistic, unsophisticated way of talking. But as a Trump supporter described it to me, "If I can get a point across in one image, and you take 4,000 words to do it, who's the fucking idiot?"
Beyond Reddit and other internet message boards, it's clear that visual communication is increasingly dominating other aspects of our lives. Consider modern journalism: As a Vox writer, I can tell you that some of our most widely shared articles are visual — such as one article that charts and maps 17 big pieces of data about gun violence in America.
In fact, this article was so successful that it helped lead to another visual adaptation of this kind of data: video.
Still, particularly for the people who aren't used to memes as a form of communication (as some older Vox staffers lamented when we discussed who should write this explainer), this can all seem a little weird. That's understandable. And it's totally reasonable to wonder, "Why the hell would a stupid frog on a unicycle be funny to people?"
But it's okay to not get it. Different generations do all sorts of weird things that others simply won't get — just think of all your dad's terrible jokes. It just so happens many younger people appreciate the meme as a form of communication and the sheer randomness of dat boi15.
All of this is to say that dat boi16 represents the way human-to-human communication and even joke telling is changing. It's no longer just about having a comedian stand on a stage and spill his routine, or gathering around the living room and making knock-knock jokes. Nowadays it's okay to take a simple image and slap some text on it, and if it's funny enough to a lot of young people, it just might become an enormous viral hit.