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The Try Guys have broken our brains

Gossip is the new true crime.

A screenshot of three Saturday Night Live male comedians, dressed as the YouTubers Try Guys and sitting on a cream-colored sofa, addressing their viewers. Saturday Night Live

The recent fervor surrounding the Try Guys, a BuzzFeed-born YouTube collective of four guys who try things, is by all accounts pretty banal: One of the Try Guys cheated on his wife with an employee and was subsequently ousted from the group. Out of all the examples of bizarre drama between professional YouTubers, many of which have been christened with nicknames like “Dramageddon” or “Karmageddon,” this one is hardly the juiciest.

But if you are at all interested in the parasocial dynamics between content creators and their fans, or the intricacies of apology video posturing, or the paradox of the “wife guy,” or media studies in general, it is by far the most fascinating. What might have once been of interest to a small portion of mid-2010s YouTuber die-hards is now a national punchline, ripe for pillorying on Saturday Night Live in a sketch that deftly skewered the smarmy dramatics of the three leftover Try Guys’ responses to the whole thing.

What made it even more prescient was the swift and furious backlash from Try Guys fans on Twitter and YouTube, who argued that the sketch downplayed the power dynamic between employer and employee and that it made fun of men who “hold other men accountable.” (I would argue that the sketch acknowledged both of these things and instead poked fun at the inherent ridiculousness of three men reading — and, let’s be clear, acting — from a teleprompter to millions of people about their friend cheating on his wife, but whatever. I’m not going to die on the hill of defending SNL.)

Anyway, the thing that’s worth talking about is not the ex-Try Guy and his workplace affair, because there has already been too much speculation on the details and also because, again, everyone involved is a professional content creator. What’s more interesting is why so many people, some who had followed the Try Guys’ work for years and others who were only introduced this past week, cared.

Infidelity, as my colleague Aja Romano pointed out last week, is having a moment: Beyond the Try Guys, a woman alleged that Maroon 5’s Adam Levine was cheating on his pregnant wife with her; married Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka was allegedly in a relationship with a junior member of his staff; all while cheating scandals of another form have rocked the worlds of professional chess, poker, and fishing. Stories like these are irresistible in America’s rules-obsessed culture, where every person and every concept must be categorized as “good” or “bad,” morally righteous or unquestionably immoral, especially within internet communities dominated by young people who believe themselves to be moral authorities.

Every day, all the time, people are arguing in TikTok comment sections, Twitter threads, and Discord DMs about what is good and what is bad, but every so often, the entire internet feels like it’s discussing the same thing at once: the Try Guys, West Elm Caleb, Couch Guy, etc. What all of these viral phenomena amount to is gossip about other people’s personal lives, often people who weren’t even famous to begin with but who got caught up in some largely invented scandal.

No matter where the discourse lands, there will be people who have decided that what has just occurred is actually a matter of great ethical importance and that their take is the only one that is truly right. Others, naturally, will pipe up with responses on why the take is wrong, actually, and that they as a human being are wrong, and toxic, and evil. Niche drama is a way to reinforce those beliefs and rules, and to assert ourselves as good. Much like our obsession with true crime, niche gossip is often less about the incident itself and more about what we can extrapolate from it in order to make ourselves feel more safe and protected. And it could never, the underlying thinking goes, have happened to us.

What I think the SNL sketch does well is poke fun at the group’s attempts to preserve their wholesome image: how they use therapeutic buzzwords to describe their feelings and congratulate themselves for kicking out a member despite the financial and public relations hit it dealt them. (That the three other Try Guys are alleged to have known about and witnessed their partner’s bad behavior for years adds a rather complicating element to this image.)

Unlike random people who become the internet’s main character for the day, however, the Try Guys do this for a living. So far their videos entitled “what happened” and “ok, let’s talk about it” have received a total of more than 15 million views (and yes, both videos are monetized). They are professional content creators, and nothing makes for better content than a scandal. The Try Guys will be fine. The next person who gets caught up in a viral drama tornado may not be.

This column was first published in The Goods newsletter. Sign up here so you don’t miss the next one, plus get newsletter exclusives.