The web is now one thing that occurs to you. That wasn’t all the time the case; our time on-line has been funneled by means of trend-pushing social media for therefore lengthy that it’s simple to neglect how the expertise used to demand decision-making. In the early 2000s, the web felt like an countless, unknowable factor with out consensus. Everyone had their very own most popular boards, sport pages, and video websites. A bit of content material might be omnipresent amongst your pals for weeks and be fully unknown to somebody only a few cities over. So for one thing to turn out to be ubiquitous — a cute animal video, early cringe content material, a semi-sexual industrial from Europe — it needed to stand out. Every every now and then, there was a Homestar Runner.
In 2000, brothers Mike Chapman and Matt Chapman started posting Flash animations on HomestarRunner.com. The authentic idea was easy: A city filled with cartoon characters led by their dopey however lovable hero, Homestar Runner, would compete in exaggerated competitions and occasions. While the positioning’s identify, design, and aesthetic have been devoted to Homestar himself, his arch nemesis — a boxing-glove-and-wrestling-mask-clad scamp named Strong Bad — rose to prominence.
In early episodes, Strong Bad, wily and impolite, served as a foil to Homestar, who was dumb however sort. Homestar performed by the principles, whereas Strong Bad had a tiny sidekick named The Cheat who helped him, properly, cheat at issues. Characterizations have been skinny and the tales have been easy, however because the Chapmans took the main target away from these competitions between Homestar and Strong Bad, the characters got here into clearer focus. Strong Bad and Homestar’s sportsmanlike rivalry remodeled into one-sided annoyance. The tales moved away from massive climactic occasions to the characters’ day-to-day lives. Strong Bad stopped lifting weights and began checking his e mail. That’s when the whole lot modified.
In 2001, the Brothers Chaps, as they’d turn out to be recognized, posted the primary Strong Bad Email phase. The sketch consisted of Strong Bad answering emails from followers, sometimes in a mocking or condescending vogue. At the time, there was no better piece of center faculty clout than having had Strong Bad reply to your e mail. And as his recognition grew, so did the complexity of the toons themselves. Short, pithy responses gave technique to animations that have been now usually extra elaborate than anything the positioning was releasing.
Within a 12 months, Strong Bad Email was far and away the preferred phase on Homestar Runner. The apparent clarification for the recognition was the character’s unbelievable vary. One Email phase may be a straight style parody, just like the Toonami-inspired anime world of 20X6 and the ’70s motion satire Dangeresque. Then, only a few weeks later, there’d be a extra absurdist entry like “Crying,” the place Strong Bad made Homestar Runner burst into tears by exhibiting him a selfmade drawing of a one-legged canine named Lil Brudder.
Before lengthy, each group of nerdy teenage pals had at the very least one member able to doing a satisfactory Strong Bad impression. Quotes from Strong Bad Email have been thrown round with the identical frequency as ones from any big-budget comedy of the period. With creations like Trogdor the dragon and surprisingly catchy songs like “Everybody to the Limit,” Strong Bad’s constant batting common turned Homestar Runner into the preferred selfmade animation website on the earth. But with the Chapmans rising up, beginning households, and needing extra stability, they reluctantly put Homestar Runner on hiatus in 2010. The longer the dopey emails went unanswered, the additional the web viewers moved on. But for a really particular subset of younger individuals, Strong Bad remained a large comedic affect and a future level of nostalgia.
Strong Bad wasn’t a mid-2000s hodgepodge of online game references or jokes about George W. Bush, like a lot comedy of the period. The character was one other weirdo on the web, and the comedy was relatable. As an adolescent, I noticed myself within the insecurity mendacity simply beneath the floor of his exaggerated persona. Now, as an grownup, I see myself in his different aspects as properly: his simultaneous obsession with and disdain for popular culture, his overwhelming need to seize a beer together with his pals, and his habit to posting his each thought on-line. He was like a proto-dril from a extra optimistic period of the web. Strong Bad posted with abandon whereas trapped in a city filled with people who bored him; each teenager knew that feeling. Ultimately, the character ended up predicting the long run. His way of life was an early template for the artwork of shitposting. It doesn’t pressure credulity to think about a contemporary Strong Bad podcasting his days away with a cooler filled with chilly ones in Strong Badia.
The specificity of phrasing and distinctive phrase selections that turned Homestar Runner’s calling card (“I said consummate Vs! Consummate!”) turned out to be a timeless gag, however I imagine there’s one thing deeper to Strong Bad’s enduring attraction: The character was tightly written and extra completely developed than every other member of the early-2000s cartoon canon. In early movies, Strong Bad oozed confidence and bravado. But in a video like “The Basics,” after a reader wrote to him, “how do you do it . teach me some of your trick’s,” a half-panicked stream-of-consciousness response instantly coloured him as simply as clueless as his nemesis, possibly much more. Over the course of the sequence, Strong Bad was proven to be insecure, lonely, and, above all, nowhere close to as cool as he tells everybody he’s. For youngsters, there couldn’t be a extra relatable determine. And then there was Strong Bad’s magnum opus: Teen Girl Squad.
Originating within the Strong Bad Email episode “Comic,” Teen Girl Squad was teen life filtered by means of the lens of Strong Bad. The characters, Cheerleader, So-And-So, What’s Her Face, and The Ugly One, tried to endure the on a regular basis indignities of adolescence within the hopes of assembly boys and turning into in style. Each step the TGS members took towards their targets additionally introduced them one step nearer to ugly and surprising dying. “Teen Girl Squad #10,” from its A-plus lineup of jokes to the way in which it catches Strong Bad in a uncommon second of uncool vulnerability, may be the head of the Homestar Runner expanded universe: The installment culminates in Strong Bad turning into so enchanted by one in every of his personal characters that he’s caught making out with the piece of loose-leaf paper that she’s drawn on. The episode is a distillation of the whole lot the character did finest.
Though the Brothers Chaps moved on to the world of tv, engaged on exhibits like The Aquabats! Super Show! and The Owl House, Homestar Runner started periodically posting once more in 2014, adopted by a rerelease of previous merchandise and new Strong Bad Email episodes. A vinyl file urgent of Strong Bad’s many songs offered out in a day. “Too Cool,” a Strong Bad Email from 2017, is among the many finest they’ve ever achieved, introducing the world to the horrifying idea of a “Family Might/Could.” And with the revival got here a reconsideration of the earlier run. I can say that absurdist one-liners like “corn is no place for a mighty warrior,” and aspirational “Dudes Rock” moments like Strong Bad’s “Labor Dabor,” really feel virtually extra at dwelling on the trendy web than they did of their authentic context.
So a lot time is wasted on the cringe of previous on-line leisure. On some stage, it’s pure to have a look at the issues your teenage self preferred with some quantity of disdain. To distance ourselves from our most embarrassing years, we regularly throw the issues we beloved underneath the bus. But at any time when the grumbly, masked wrestler makes his means throughout our timelines, previous followers bear in mind him fondly. Maybe that’s nostalgia — after I was in highschool within the aughts, ’80s theme events have been in all places; the grunge aesthetic of the ’90s made a comeback in faculty; and now, as we firmly plant ourselves within the 2020s, it’s the 2000s’ time to shine — or possibly the Brothers Chaps made one thing pure sufficient to face up to the sands of web time.
One of the most important sins on the trendy web is attempting too laborious to be humorous. It has brought about the web’s humorousness to show merciless within the final decade and our knee-jerk response to earnest humor to be unfavourable. Putting oneself on the market creates a danger of ending up in a cringe compilation or as the topic of a devastating quote tweet. Strong Bad is consultant of a time within the web’s previous when there was one thing new each day, and there was room for easy jokes. The world of Homestar Runner sprung from a spot of ardour and caring. It’s potential that nostalgia for the character is rooted in a need to return to a time after we embraced that kind of enthusiasm. And who wouldn’t need to? At the tip of the day, like Strong Bad himself, none of us are actually as cool (or as imply) as we fake to be on-line.