Why focus group man from Tim Robinson’s Netflix show is the meme of 2019

By Joe Berkowitz

Have you seen this man? You must have by now.

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.

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. ShowI 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.

It’s the reference Netflix used to announce that the company had renewed the show for a second season.

And as mentioned before, it has seemingly endless uses as a meme.

You can comment on the news of the day with it:

You can use it to comment on movies:

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.

Now you’re all caught up on the focus group guy, which means it’s a perfect time to bone up on the rest of the series so that you’ll be fluent in the other most-memed sketches as well.

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