Tim Robinson Is the Last Great Comedian Who Doesn’t Have to Participate in the Culture Wars

Is ‘I Think You Should Leave’ and the surreal wave the best alternative to cancel-culture complaining and late-night Trump jokes?
Tim Robinson Is the Last Great Comedian Who Doesn’t Have to Participate in the Culture Wars

Perhaps the most comforting part of the success of I Think You Should Leave is knowing that none of Tim Robinson’s iconic characters will ever host a podcast or utter the ungodly words, “cancel culture.”

It’s a trend that every comedy fan on the internet has encountered at some point — a beloved stand-up who spent the entire 1990s railing against the establishment in impassioned rants fueled by enough rails to take down Tony Montana suddenly starts tweeting about Bidenomics and dropping grade school-level slams on Donald Trump’s skin color on Colbert. Or, alternatively, the podcast of a talented “guy’s guy” comic blows up, and he bizarrely grows angrier and more self-victimizing with entire episodes devoted to his critics among the “woke mob” as his base leans more conservative and Patreon paychecks bump him up into the next tax bracket. 

Simply put, the ever-growing political divide, exacerbated by the rapid, unchecked evolution of social-media algorithms, sucks more and more artists into the endless apocalyptic culture wars every year, leading to crimes against comedy that deserve trials at whatever humor’s version of The Hague would be — looking at you, every Fox Nation stand-up special.

However, there is a genre of humor that has been steadily growing in online popularity entirely outside of the “Cancel culture is killing comedy” versus “Donald Trump is a Cheeto” dynamic that’s ruined almost every other corner of the comedy community — and their king has got to figure out some way to make money off this.

Within the last five years, no new comedy show has had a more profound impact on the online humor community than Tim Robinson’s surrealist sketch series I Think You Should Leave. Robinson and his Netflix series are at the forefront of a comedy movement that culture critics loosely (and inaccurately) call modern “cringe comedy,” and his impact on the digital frontier has been profound and pervasive. References to the show’s gags are littered across the comment sections of unrelated YouTube videos and entire Twitter threads are taken over daily by GIFs from “Karl Havoc” or “Hot Dog Car.” 

And, among the next generation of comedy creators, Robinson himself is both an icon and a popular point of comparison. Countless different absurdist comedians online will draw the same reaction from the comment section as viewers collectively declare “We have Tim Robinson at home” whenever an awkward faux pas is hyperbolically escalated or an exaggerated emotional state reaches postmodern proportions in a viral video. For example, popular performer Devon Palmer, who commands a 2.3 million viewer following on TikTok, can’t post a single sketch without someone calling him “TikTok’s Tim Robinson.”

Considering how massive Robinson’s digital footprint continues to be, it’s a minor miracle that he still hasn’t reached the point in his popularity’s life cycle where terminally online members of the political binary claim him as one of their own and he follows the dollar signs down the Joe Rogan rabbit hole or starts outsourcing his angry tweets at Fox News commentators to social media managers. As the internet’s comedy community continues to try to separate every single joke into neat categories like “woke” or “based,” I Think You Should Leave remains one of the few massively popular properties that doesn’t get name-dropped by either the left or the right. 

Robinson, I Think You Should Leave and the entire wave of surreal comedy that’s becoming increasingly dominant in digital spaces evades co-opting by culture warriors because, even more so than more traditional types of humor, weirdness demands an inscrutability that dissolves the second the artist decides to align themselves with an in-group. In many ways, the popularity of absurdist comedy could be partially attributed to the polarization of mainstream comedy, as Netflix specials become battlegrounds for whichever wedge issue is the most in-vogue and younger generations of comics look for alternatives to the political pandering that’s rewarded by the modern humor industry.

Of course, all that could change if Robinson ever decides to take up podcasting. “Coffin Flop” would look very different if Corncob TV had a supplement sponsor.

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