Why focus group man from Tim Robinson’s Netflix show is the meme of 2019
Have you seen this man? You must have by now.
I think you should leave focus group old man oh my god he admit it pic.twitter.com/5wkKcD3rEx
— reactions (@reactjpg) June 6, 2019
Over the past couple months, he’s attained near-mythic meme status, becoming an irrepressible presence on Twitter.
He’s got high-placed fans, a wide variety of utilities, and the cult cachet of something that catches wildfire only within an extremely narrow subset of people.
If you’re not one of those people, here’s the origin story of this modern-day folk hero.
He hails from a sketch in the Netflix series I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, which debuted back in April and immediately became the comedy offering in recent memory most beloved by actual comedians. The almost pathologically quotable sketch takes place in a focus group for Ford, during which one overconfident oddball (Ruben Rabasa) requests the car manufacturer make “a great steering wheel that doesn’t fly off when you’re driving.”
After insisting on his idea repeatedly, he becomes antagonistic toward fellow focus group member, Paul (Zach Kanin, a frequent Robinson collaborator who cocreated the show). What happens next, I won’t spoil in case you haven’t watched yet, but at this point I must insist in the strongest possible terms that you do so right now.
‘Focus Group’ seems to have been inspired by Ford’s 2018 steering wheel-based recall, after which one of Robinson’s writers must have wondered how the company could’ve neglected to make a car with a steering wheel that doesn’t fall off. Of course, to anyone who saw the sketch first, learning about the recall comes off as mind-blowing news.
— Nolan Deming (@NolanDeming) June 17, 2019
“A great steering wheel that doesn’t whiff out of the window while I’m driving” https://t.co/v3iqwDMF0n
— Alex Kantrowitz (@Kantrowitz) June 14, 2019
A little background on Robinson: He belongs to the Jenny Slate/Michaela Watkins school of performers let go from Saturday Night Live who end up finding greater success on their own terms. Since departing SNL in 2014, Robinson has been involved in several projects, most notably the local advertising comedy The Detroiters, a show he created and starred in with Sam Richardson, and which ran for two seasons on Comedy Central. However, it was his standout episode of the Netflix showcase for sketch comics, The Characters, that paved the way for I Think You Should Leave.
That episode introduced Netflix viewers to Robinson’s approach to comedy: pathetic characters in excruciating situations, plus poop jokes. Even the most ardent fans of his Characters turn, though, likely did not expect I Think You Should Leave to be as hilarious as it is or have the cultural impact it’s had. By diving whole-hog into his singular sensibilities, rather than tamping them down for a mainstream audience, and by wisely keeping the show to a trim 17 minutes, Robinson did the impossible for sketch comedy and pitched a season-length no-hitter.
Like a more accessible Tim & Eric (Tim Heidecker cameos in one episode) or a less angry Mr. Show, I Think You Should Leave is well on its way into the sketch-comedy pantheon. Every scene is a self-contained microcosm of social embarrassment, with an unlikely hairpin turn that suplexes the bit on its head. While the baseline of quality is high, though, the focus group sketch in particular seems to have proven most infectious for the Extremely Online.
It’s become the kind of thing that inspires fan art.
— Henry G (@MrJetly) May 7, 2019
It’s the reference Netflix used to announce that the company had renewed the show for a second season.
— Netflix Is A Joke (@NetflixIsAJoke) June 19, 2019
And as mentioned before, it has seemingly endless uses as a meme.
You can comment on the news of the day with it:
— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) May 30, 2019
— Ed Zitron (@edzitron) June 5, 2019
With the 30th pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins are proud to select…
A great steering wheel that doesn’t *WHIFF* out of the window while I’m driving. pic.twitter.com/YAvbMLM3mL
— stanton heinen (@DreamofJanney) June 21, 2019
You can use it to comment on movies:
— Patrick Monahan (@pattymo) April 29, 2019
HEREDITARY, 2019 dir. Ari Aster pic.twitter.com/24pqQx4L7c
— EMMAR Stefansky (@stefabsky) June 18, 2019
Hell, you don’t even need the image of the focus group guy. His lines have been immortalized by now, to the point where you can use them to comment on just about any situation.
Big news – the Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that all cars must include a GREAT steering wheel that doesn’t fly off when you’re driving
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) June 17, 2019
— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) June 14, 2019
excited to pitch my important big idea at this year’s aspen ideas festival: a great steering wheel that doesn’t whiff out of the window while i’m driving https://t.co/xkEHOiPJou
— Max Tani (@maxwelltani) June 20, 2019
Excited to be walking out at 1pm today in solidarity with @vox_union
My demands include:
* Raises that exceed the Fed’s inflation target
* Severance longer than management’s proposed 2 (!) weeks
* A great steering wheel that doesn’t whiff out the window while i’m driving
— Dylan Matthews (@dylanmatt) May 29, 2019
Needs to be small, too small for mother in law, So patient not fly off https://t.co/IoLYOHJoDO
— Ed Zitron (@edzitron) June 5, 2019
Thoughts I’ve had on a first date:
– oh nice
– too small
– that’s a good idea and I stand by it
-I’m doing the best at this
– this guy keeps farting
– he admitted it?!
– Paul you have no good car ideas
— Lakshmi Sundaram (@IamLuksh) June 4, 2019