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MEMES, Part 5: Big Man Tyrone43:48
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(Rory Panagatopolis for WBUR)
(Rory Panagatopolis for WBUR)

He is known by several names, but Gordon Hurd is the one this man-turned-meme adopted when he fled Cameroon for the UK more than two decades ago to build a new life. It was hard going for a while, and it still is. But Gordon eventually found the app Fiverr and started exploring the possibility of being in business for himself with the help of anonymous benefactors on the internet.

That’s how Gordon adopted yet another name, Big Man Tyrone, and became a viral video meme who gives scripted testimonials and has been named the leader of a fictional alt-right country called Kekistan. But there’s a lingering question: Is Big Man Tyrone in on the joke? What happens when an African immigrant in the UK becomes the leader of a group of Trump supporters? We explore the complexities of the Big Man Tyrone meme and our own expectations of the responsibilities of Gordon Hurd.

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

Ben: Hey, just a heads up. This episode mentions the concept of pedophilia. If you’re concerned about hearing that kind of thing, maybe check out one of our other episodes.

Ben: We want to introduce you to a man with at minimum two identities. One of them is semi-famous on the internet. A guy named Big Man Tyrone.

Amory: This man’s other main identity is a mild mannered guy who, at home, goes by Gordon Hurd.

Amory: How similar is big man Tyrone to Gordon Hurd? 

Gordon Hurd: Very dissimilar. Very, very dissimilar. It's night and day. 

Ben: Gordon came first. And his story starts in his native country of Cameroon. Where Gordon lived until he was a young man.

Gordon: I had worked at the President of the Republic as a translator, interpreter into French and English, and prior to that I had worked at the Supreme Court of Cameroon as a draftsperson, but also as a senior translator. So I had quite a rich professional profile back in Cameroon. And, you know, all that changed when I came to the UK because I had to start all over again.

Amory: Twenty years ago when he was a young man, Gordon fled Cameroon, which has had a long history of human rights abuses by authoritarian government. It’s been cited as one of the most corrupt countries in the world for decades. In 2020, government forces were engaging in extrajudicial executions. And when Gordon left, there were similar issues.

Gordon: At that time, to criticize the government was a thing that, you know, you did not just do. 

Ben: Unless apparently, you were someone like Gordon. Who, after working as a translator in the office of the president and a draftsperson at the supreme court of Cameroon, got a job he describes as both prestigious and dicey.

Amory: He started working as a TV Journalist.

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Gordon: Being a journalist, I had a voice. I could speak out if the minister of sports stole tickets during during a football match and if I saw it, I would say it, you know? If the elections were rigged — I would say it. But freedom of speech was heavily punished there, you know? And, you know, that's just the way that it was and still is. 

Ben: Gordon doesn’t like to talk too much about fleeing Cameroon.

Gordon: --because of the sensitive information surrounding some of that. But the most painful part was leaving children behind and, you know, leaving other relatives behind. And my father died. You know, and I never had the chance to go back and bury him. 

Amory: Gordon Hurd is a quiet man. But living in the UK over the last 20 years, Gordon has found his way to a new personality, and a new way to make a living, as a meme.

Gordon: Hello! It’s Big Man Tyrone here! Endless Thread is working on a brand new season about memes. Hahahahahaha ahahahahahah. Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun! Get ready to hear about your favorite memes, like me!

Ben: Yes this is yet another story from our series on memes, where we’re looking at the personal, historical, and cultural impact of memes, with some help from the memes themselves. Most people who create or become memes don’t really even set out to do that. But that’s what Gordon Hurd did.

Amory: And Gordon’s an unusual example. Most people think of memes as an image that flies around the internet and gets changed by random people who add speech bubbles and impact font text jokes. But Gordon is kinda a live meme. He’s stayed involved, and made videos, adding the new text jokes himself, by reading scripts and acting out different scenarios. And he’s done this on purpose, because it’s how he makes a living.

Ben: We’re going to tell you about the results of that effort, and how some of what has happened since raises questions about what you gain when you become a meme, and what you give up. Remember our meme chorus, our bunch of experts who are helping us understand memes?

Sarah Laiola: The meme has to be changed to become a meme. 

Gianluca Stringhini: And oftentimes this evolution kind of embodies additional meanings that might not be apparent when you just look at the image itself. 

Kenyatta Cheese: So what is the meaning that I think is in this piece that I'm sharing?

Amory: Gordon didn’t so much set out to become a meme, as he set out to have his visage go viral. It was in some ways a last resort. When Gordon got to the UK 20 years ago, he tried to get a bunch of other more traditional jobs first. But trying to make a living as a Cameroonian immigrant in the UK was hard.

Ben: One of his first stops was trying to continue his TV journalism experience in the UK.

Gordon: I had hopes of getting into the BBC World Service. 

Amory: It made sense. He was a TV journalist in Cameroon. He figured, even if he couldn’t get into the main service, maybe the Africa service or the Asia service? But Gordon says that wasn’t so easy.

Gordon: But then I had a kick in the teeth when one of the execs told me point blank that I had the wrong accent for the BBC. Now, that was my first real contact, first real experience of racism in this country. 

Ben: Gordon was knocked down a few pegs. But he says he tried not to dwell on the negative. So he started trying to get other jobs. He went door to door trying to sell house numbers. Tried to get work as a translator. Applied to be a Communications officer for African Diaspora communities in the U.K. But his luck in finding work seemed connected to where he came from, and what his name was.

Gordon: My name was never Gordon Hurd when I came into the United Kingdom. My name was Gordon Doh Fondo. After I came into the United Kingdom, after about 170, 180 job applications, I found I was going nowhere and I had to change my name into a full English name. That's how I came about to be called Gordon Hurd. And as soon as I changed my name to Gordon Hurd, then I started getting a lot of job interviews. 

Amory: But that was tough too. The communications officer job: when he showed up for the in-person interview, he says the job description suddenly changed. It went from full-time to part time. Gordon walked out of the interview.

Ben: After about a decade of dead ends, with a family to support, he started to grasp at opportunities online, including on YouTube. And he was hoping the internet fame thing would come easy.

Gordon: I had, you know, just like any other person dabbled into the YouTube dream, you know, set up a couple of channels, which I thought would pick up pretty quickly and become famous and make, you know, passive income. That dream was never to be. 

Amory: He learned that to make money on YouTube, he had to really make stuff for YouTube. It wasn’t a passive thing. It was a hustle. So he hustled.

Gordon: I put up microphones in my wife's kitchen one morning and I just said, "Welcome to my YouTube channel!" 

[YouTube clip of Big Man Tyrone: "Welcome to Tyrone’s official YouTube channel. Yeah! Hahahaha. It’s happening, guys."]

Gordon: And she came in and said, what are these lighting rigs doing in my kitchen? Could you put them away, please? Because I need to cook and I need to get the kitchen tidy. So I would pack them away. And then when she goes to sleep, I'll pack them back in again and do one at one or two videos. 

[YouTube clip of Big Man Tyrone: "And I said, yeah, you know why not? Let’s set up a channel. So here it is guys and it’s on!"]

Ben: Gordon had this equipment because among his many ideas for supporting a family he had managed to bring over from Cameroon, he’d started to dabble in different kinds of online video for different websites.

Gordon: At that time, I was already doing something on the website called fiverr.com where people would pay me five dollars, believe it or not, five dollars to do videos for them. So I remember doing multiple videos for five dollars each just to eek out a living at that time. It was so rough. 

Amory: Fiverr is pretty much how Gordon describes it. You pay someone about five bucks to do something. Usually something very small. But at the time it was a gig economy job that Gordon could actually do and be sure of getting paid.

Ben: Granted, he was getting paid to do something most journalists refuse to do because they believe it’s antithetical to the profession. He was trying to use his poise and presentation to give testimonials for products. Basically, if you wanted Gordon to say your thing was great...he’d say it was great.

[YouTube clip of Big Man Tyrone: “‘Bottles Popping’ by the Intergalactrix is the sexiest music video ever.”]

[YouTube clip of Big Man Tyrone: “Because ‘Creed is Good’ is the best YouTube channel since the PewDiePies.”]

Amory: And Gordon had a philosophy around this. He’s a Christian, so he was reading books about wealth management from a Christian perspective. Including a book called the “Science of Getting Rich: How to Make Money and Get the Life You Want.”

Ben: There was an idea in the book that resonated with Gordon.

Gordon: If you take money from somebody to do a job, you must give back to the person more in use value than in monetary value. 

Amory: Gordon was like: if I make people feel like they’re getting a great deal, I’ll build a rapport with my Fiverr customers. And he did! People even outside the UK started commissioning videos from him. But pretty quickly, people also started to take advantage.

Gordon: Tt the start, it was five dollars for everything. So people just dumped those massive scripts on my lap, and I read it all day long. 

Ben: This went on for a while without a ton of success for Gordon. He’d do a handful of videos, make a handful of cash. That’s it. Then, in 2013...

Gordon: One day there was this particular video which I did. It was just, I don't know, maybe 20-30 second video which I did. You know, I just said, "Welcome to Reddit!" And I laughed. "Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!" And that was it.

[YouTube clip of Big Man Tyrone: "Front page! Hahaha. I tip my hat to you. I tip my fedora to you."] 

Ben: This short video got upvoted enough to hit the Front Page of Reddit, in part because of what Gordon was wearing.

Amory: One of the requests made by the person who ordered the video was that Gordon wear a fedora. Which is a reference to another meme...a photo of the Freaks and Geeks actor Jerry Messing wearing a fedora in a pretty awkward photo, which was crazy popular in 2013 as both a sign of derision and a sign of pride for internet nerds. Wearing the hat helped.

Gordon: I don't have hats — did not have hats at that time. So my wife said, well, "I've got a hat." I said, "But this is a pink hat." She said, "Put it on. Put it on." And overnight, I became a YouTube star. 

Ben: What does it mean to go from being a Cameroonian immigrant in the UK scraping by making five dollar videos of any length to a YouTube star? For Gordon, it meant three things.

Amory: Starting with an explosion of business on Fiverr. Which came right after the YouTube video hit the front page on Reddit.

Gordon: Those days, I had 385 commissions in one day or so, and the website shut down my account to further investigate why all these orders came through.

Ben: Fiverr shut down Gordon’s account almost immediately for suspicious activity. Checked it, realized it wasn’t some kind of bot net or other scam, and turned it back on. Gordon's traffic on Fiverr was growing exponentially, virally, you might say. In part, because popular YouTubers were becoming his customers. They'd pay for a custom video of Gordon saying something silly - post that video on their channel and then their viewers started becoming Gordon's customers, too. Buying and posting videos from Gordon saying the darndest things.

Amory: So the second thing that happened was that Gordon decided he needed to own the production line. Expand. So he built his own online store.

Gordon: When I moved on to my website, then I decided that I had enough clout and enough popularity to do things on my own terms. 

Ben: Terms like, 35 bucks for up to 30 words. Word count goes up beyond that? Cost goes up. Et cetera.

Gordon: Things like if you want me to sing a song, to use graphics, if you want me to add a music soundtrack or a sound effect, if you want me to speak any foreign language or have a green screen or produce the video in six hours, if you want me to do a video in six hours, that would cost you three hundred dollars. 

Ben: You're such a hustler. I love it. 

Amory: But there was one particular kind of order that really raked pulled in the dough for Gordon Hurd.

Ben: Something that, as Gordon started to be morphed by the internet from regular person making Fiverr videos into viral personality, into full blown human meme. It became a calling card.

Gordon: Now, if you want me to laugh, OK, you pay an extra 15 dollars if you want to laugh. So I don't laugh, you know,  even if you tickle me, I don't laugh until you pay the 15 dollars.

Amory: I mean, you have a great laugh.

Gordon: There are two things I've sold more than any other thing in my life. One is the Big Man Tyrone laugh and the second is my Kekistan uniform. 

Ben: This Youtube Hustle is how Gordon got a new name by the way. Big man tyrone. And another one, too. The president of a fictional country called Kekistan. Which came with a uniform? A military uniform? But let’s start with Big Man Tyrone.

Gordon: In fact, the name Tyrone was a mockery when it first began. I don't know if you are aware that Tyrone is a, you know, is an urban name for a Black anonymous person, the name Tyrone. So when I was given the name Tyrone on the Internet — because people do not know my name, so they said, "Let's just name him Tyrone." — I decided to embrace the name Tyrone to show these people that it doesn't really matter what you are called. It doesn't really matter what your nomenclature is. It matters what you do. And that's why the name Big Man Tyrone has stayed. 

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Ben: Looking back, It’s interesting to hear Gordon make this point about how what you do is really the thing that matters. Because some of the things he’s done, things people have paid him to do, have made Big Man Tyrone a kind of complicated character...even before he shot straight to the front page of Reddit in 2013.

Amory: Gordon’s version of the story is that that one video made him a YouTube Star. Which is true! But there’s a little more to it than that.

Ben: Gordon didn’t just make a funny video that went viral on Reddit overnight. First, he got inadvertently mixed up in the esoteric, specific, and extremely referential world of message board memes. Internet users realized that Gordon--and another guy offering testimonials...an Australian named Roger Stockburger...would basically read whatever script you gave them.

Amory: So people started paying these two guys to make professional-looking testimonial videos about random topics...like which kind of anime was the best kind of anime. YouTube users started paying Gordon to make videos that at best were dadaist internet jokes…

Ben: And at worst were jokes that feel pretty exploitative. And gross. Here’s a video from 2013 of Gordon reading a script about lolicon.

[YouTube clip: "Hello my name is Tyrone BiPi and I would like to say I am a big fan of Lolicon. There’s no better feeling than to come home from a long day at work to go see some lolicon."] 

Ben: Lolicon is short for “lolita complex.” It’s a reference to an idea of being sexually attracted to prepubescent girls in anime cartoons.

Amory: Now, generally speaking, there’s a lot of stuff on the internet that is young kids making offensive jokes for the sake of testing out making offensive jokes. And it is quite possible that a good portion of the whole lolicon thing is a very misguided version of that.

Ben: Videos like the lolicon one, which became pretty popular on the internet message board 4chan, feel very icky. Partly because of the subject matter, partly because it feels like Gordon didn’t really understand what he was reading.

Amory: And even though Gordon is knowingly adopting the monikers thrown at him by the Four Chan jokers, there’s something that feels a little mixed up about it. You heard him a minute ago saying that his Kekistan uniform is one of his primary sources of income.

Gordon: Kekistan actually started out as a country, a virtual country of a few people got together and came up with the idea of creating a state of people that felt oppressed.

Ben: Turns out, Gordon Hurd, who became a meme as Big Man Tyrone, also became the adopted president of a fake country, which was itself another meme that started in a completely different place. And ended up somewhere nobody, including Gordon, expected.

Gordon: After some time, I began to see the associations between Kekistan and the far right. And then Donald Trump began to get mentioned in relation to Kekistan. I have never known, I have never understood how Donald Trump became part of this whole mix, to be honest, because he wasn't there at the start.

Amory: How Gordon and Big Man Tyrone got caught up in a meme movement that can be followed all the way to the January 6th assault on the US Capitol building...in a minute.

[SPONSOR BREAK]

Ben: Gordon became a meme as Big Man Tyrone. But as people took Big Man Tyrone and tweaked him, morphed him, evolved him into something else. Big Man Tyrone started to intersect with other memes. Like the Fedora guy, who we already mentioned. And another one too. KEK.

Amory: Which, like the live meme that is Gordon, isn’t the kind of meme we often think of--a static image with some text over it. Kek is a three letter word reference or inside joke that itself morphed and spiraled out into something else completely. Remember our meme chorus...let them sing you a tune.

Joan Donovan: Memes, are are incredibly important because they will have this in-group function that brings people together that get the joke. 

Amanda Brennan: These niche communities are such huge pieces of identity for people. 

Kenyatta: You put it out there into a community where you, like, feel safe. 

Sarah: To do a meme, you have to know the codes of the meme. 

Joan: And then the memes themselves help that small in-group differentiate themselves from an out-group.

Ben: What's your first memory of Kek? 

Kris DeMeza: My first memory of Kek is seeing it in World of Warcraft said by a Horde player when he was talking to me and I was on the Alliance.  

Ben: Kris DeMeza designs video games. And look. This is a video game side bar. But come along for the ride, OK? It’s gonna be worth it.

Amory: Fine. Do your gamer thing Ben.

Ben: Ok. World of Warcraft is a Massively multiplayer online role playing game. Or MMORPG. And Kris DeMeza was there when the game launched.

Kris: In the olden times of the mid-aughts, I used to be a community manager for World of Warcraft.

Amory: Now, one thing I know about this is that millions of people play or have played this game. It has pulled in over 9 billion dollars in revenue. It’s a big deal.

Ben: It’s a fascinating game to me at least…

Amory: Definitely to YOU...

Ben: ...Because there’s all this human interaction layered into the game. There’s a chat tool for instance to talk to your fellow players. But you can't chat to everyone, by design. In World of Warcraft, the players are divided into two factions: the Horde and the Alliance. Who hate each other.

Kris: They will fight and kill each other. So that is the basis of a lot of World of Warcraft. 

Amory: During the game, Horde players can chat with other horde players, in Orcish. And Alliance players can chat with alliance players, in Common. Because you’re supposedly speaking two different languages. Orcish and Common. And while your enemies can see your chats, they can't understand them. Because game designers built an algorithm that scrambles your enemy's chats into these two different languages.

Kris: Now, it just so happens that the term LOL, when said by someone who is speaking Orcish, translates as KEK. And the last thing you saw as you died was KEK. 

Ben: Because, you know, what does another player say when they kill you in a video game? Among other things that we probably shouldn’t repeat...well...LOL. Or...KEK.

Kris: It began to be shorthand on the forums as a way to be a little smug and superior 

Amory: This probably would have just been a super niche game joke. But with the crazy popularity of World of Warcraft, Kek moved beyond the player forums. And Kris noticed.

Kris: These communities shift and change and they move on and they keep their in-jokes and their memes. And so having that move on and enter into another community made sense. 

Ben: Now, World of Warcraft launched 16 years ago. But the game has had staying power. And so has Kek, as a piece of internet vernacular. And eventually...

Amory: Gamers making off color jokes and memes with this word bubbled up into something more organized and ugly. But still somewhat nonsensical. Kek became the name of a people and a country: Kekistan. In 2016 it started to be used by Trump supporters who also touted alt right imagery.

Ben: Trying to draw a straight line from World of Warcraft in-jokes to the Alt Right and Big Man Tyrone would take a college level anthropology class. And we don’t have time for that. So let’s think of it more like a stew. Kek has its origins in Orcish mischief and gamer jokes. Then it gets co-opted by people online making off color jokes here and there.

Amory: Eventually, Kek and Kekistan get associated with Donald Trump. Which coincides with the 2016 election. When a lot of memes are actually being paid for by political campaigns. For example: Nimble America. A 501c4 organization which got a chunk of money from a tech mogul named Palmer Lucky to create pro-Trump memes online. Including memes about Kekistan.

Ben: Which is of course happening at the same time that Gordon Hurd...the live meme reading scripts for money as Big Man Tyrone...is becoming ever more popular. Users of the message board 4chan end up nominating him to take over the fake country of Kekistan in a fake military coup. And in come the paid video requests.

[YouTube clip of Big Man Tyrone: "I’m a proud Kekistani. For centuries, my people bled under normie oppression. But no more…"]

Ben: Gordon caught some of that tech-millionaire-funded wave.

[YouTube clips of Big Man Tyrone: "There was a coup d’etat last week in Kekistan and Big Man Tyrone led the army to take over the new government." "Now, I’m calling on all true Kekistanis to join me in the fight against normies." "CNN, you’re fake news." "The meme jihad is in full swing. Be gone t****. Be gone normies!"]

Ben: The president of Kekistan really came into play on Gordon’s channel. He had the military uniform…

Gordon: I’ll do your video wearing a military uniform and hat. 

referencing vague images of problematic military leaders in Africa. Gordon says, making these videos...lots of them... is something he desperately needed to do. To support his family.

Gordon: So I guess for me, making videos for five dollars, was a welcome opportunity because it allowed me to at least, you know, earn some money. People will not believe that there were some months where I did four thousand dollars. You know, what I did for a thousand dollars. And, you know, that would help to assuage some of the financial difficulties that we that we faced. 

Ben: As we’ve said before, making these videos was far, far, far from Gordon’s first attempt at making a life for his family in the U.K. When he first got settled, he wanted to just keep doing the job he had been doing in Cameroon. But he ran into a wall.

Amory: When, in 2013, after a decade of working various part-time jobs, Gordon started making a name for himself online...what he says was his best and only option, it came with its own examples of racism.

Gordon: The most bitter remarks I've had on YouTube, the most hateful comments I've had on YouTube, sadly, it's from the British public — people telling me, "You have traveled to our country and you are living off of YouTube. You should be ashamed of yourself. If you can't get a proper job, monkey, go back to the forest."

Amory: This feels ironic, right? In the UK, Gordon Hurd is experiencing the latest in a litany of racist attacks that started as soon as he arrived from Cameroon. And at the same time, he’s accepting money as Big Man Tyrone and the president of Kekistan...a meme for online users who seem increasingly allied with the alt right in the U.S.

Ben: He says the metadata of his online business suggests 97 percent of his business comes from outside the U.K. A lot of it from the U.S. and Canada. With some interesting clients in 2020.

[YouTube clips of Big Man Tyrone: "Coronavirus? Hahahaha…" "F*** China! Hahahaha…" "I’m sick of Twitter kicking all my friends out for no good reason." "And don’t forget to vote for Trump on November 3rd to really make your vote count. Hahahaha."]

Gordon: I've actually gotten commissions from Senate candidates that came to me and I read scripts for them, um, from the Republican Party.

Ben: Hearing a man known as the President of Kekistan since 2016 describe some of his clients as recent Republican senate candidates... you have to wonder if Gordon has maybe been used as a weapon in political meme wars for a long time. And maybe to him... that doesn’t matter.

Amory: Gordon lives in the UK after all. But Gordon also says he was a fan of Donald Trump when he was elected in 2016. And not just in the commissioned videos he’s made... like this one.

[YouTube clip of Big Man Tyrone: "Build the wall! You can’t stump the Trump!"

Gordon says he originally liked Donald Trump for his business acumen. How does he feel about Trump now? He won’t say. And we asked him over and over.

Ben: But he will point out that he had a client who asked him to make a video criticizing Trump and when Gordon made it, he lost 3 thousand subscribers in one day. And it seems like he’d do it again. Gordon says people who criticize him for the content of his videos, or for not taking a side, are misunderstanding his reason for meme-ing.

Gordon: My job is to articulate that script verbatim. Verbatim. And I asked people, I said, "Why is it that you accept that Denzel Washington or Brad Pitt can be a pilot in one movie, a gangster in another, a priest in the other one — why don't you call that hypocrisy, but you tag Big Man Tyrone as being a hypocrite, as living a double life on the Internet?" So there's that difficulty that people tend not to be able to differentiate Big Man Tyrone as the meme from Gordon Hurd the man. 

Ben: Of course, Brad Pitt or Denzel feel less like mouthpieces for hire than Big Man Tyrone. Something about this logic of “I’m an actor, just like them,” doesn’t feel quite right.

Amory: Gordon says he’s turned plenty of things down, though.

Gordon: I have received scripts on my table here, some of them so vile and yet so highly paid that I had a difficult moral decision to make.

Ben: Gordon says a deciding factor is whether or not he feels like his kids will see him in a different light in the future based on a video he makes or a script he reads, which doesn't feel crystal clear.

Amory: There’s still something strange about Gordon’s connection to his fans. When Trump lost the election in 2020, Big Man Tyrone’s YouTube channel went dark for months. Out of respect, says Gordon, for the Trump supporters who were hurting.

Ben: We’re not really sure what that means.

Ben: Do you ever worry that what you're… You know, what you're doing, um, is at the risk of of contributing to the kinds of things that led to like the violence at the capitol in the US on January 6th? 

Gordon: No, I'm not, because after January 6th, I became extremely cautious about that. A chap sent me a script from Israel. He's a regular buyer, buying videos from me for such a long time. Now he sends me a script in which he, um, mentions, uh, Kekistan and connected it to the, um, attack on the capitol and I reject it, I reject this interview. I tell them, "Well, I'm not going to read the script because it is incendiary. The Americans have just come out of a very difficult situation." 

Amory: Gordon told this regular buyer from Israel that he didn’t want to make a jokey video supporting the January 6th riots. So the guy changed the script and sent him a new one, which he agreed to. But then the guy wanted to photoshop a Kekistan flag into the video, carried by one of the rioters. Which even the “President of Kekistan” felt was inappropriate.

Ben: Gordon didn’t record the video. So he does have a line. For instance, when a guy asked Gordon to record a video for him saying “Jesus Eats S***,” and had an image superimposed into Gordon’s video of Jesus goosing a woman’s breasts, he said no. But his line is a little blurry, at least from the outside.

Amory: Maybe more than a little blurry.

Amory: So at this point, have you officially distanced yourself from Kekistan and Kekistani imagery, if you can call it that? 

Gordon: No, I've not. And I can understand why people would think that Gordon has to be true to character when he does Big Man Tyrone. But that's because most people fail to grasp the essence of being an actor, which, as I've said before, is like being for want of a better, you know, metaphor is bit like a prostitute. So an actor dissociates himself from himself or herself — that's what an actor does. An actor is not an opinion leader. If you want to know what I think about the world, come to me as Gordon Hurd. I have so many opinions, you know, being somebody that is going to university and has qualifications, I think I do have opinions. You know, I have a master's degree. I have got a bachelors degree in law. So I have my own opinion about things. But this is not it. You know, this is not that kind of setting.

Amory: Well, do you as Gordon Hurd then, do you, as Gordon Hurd, think that Donald Trump is potentially dangerous to democracy? 

Gordon: Well, you know, this is, this is an interview about, you know, this is, this is you know, what is this interview? You know how are you interviewing me today? Is it as Big Man Tyrone or as Gordon Hurd? 

Amory: I feel like we've been talking to Gordon. I was hoping to talk to Gordon. 

Gordon: Yeah, well, you know, that's very slippery territory, oh my god.

Ben: We must have asked Gordon — not Big Man Tyrone, Gordon — this basic question about his support for President Trump six different ways. And we never got a straight answer.

Amory: And this is what’s hard to reconcile. This difference between Gordon and Big Man Tyrone. Each one enables the existence of the other. Big Man Tyrone allows Gordon to provide for his family. Gordon allows Big Man Tyrone to accept videos from users who, for random trolling reasons, or something more insidious, associate his character with white supremacy. Maybe to be an unknowing mockery of himself.

Ben: Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether Big Man Tyrone is nudging Gordon Hurd out of the picture. That kind of Jekyll and Hyde danger. If Tyrone goes whole hog, does Gordon disappear?

Amory: Gordon did try to do something recently as Gordon, not Big Man Tyrone. Though he still spoke about it on his YouTube Channel. He tried to start a political party. The UK Migrant Party. Got a website going. Had a platform:

Gordon: To support migrants in all areas of life and enable them to fully contribute to life in the UK. And to combat prejudice against migrants in all its forms. 

Ben: He made a video too, to try to get some support via his YouTube channel.

Gordon: The day I put it on the channel, it was the most hated video I have ever put up on my channel. 

Amory: The audience Gordon has built as Big Man Tyrone was not interested in supporting the Migrant Party. He eventually dropped it. Didn’t do the paperwork. Let it go. So there have been ups and downs recently.

Ben: Really, those ups and downs have been going for a while. Big Man Tyrone’s YouTube channel has over half a million subscribers, but the views of his recent videos just don’t have the same numbers as his old ones. Gordon’s now offering different kinds of services. Different outfits, too. Different personas. Now he’s a golfer, talking about a golf course. Now he’s just gotten back from vacation, talking about a travel agency. Over here, he’s a chef. A dietician. A doctor, with a fake operating room background. Wearing scrubs. There’s a hopeful placeholder for his client’s logo.

[YouTube clip of Big Man Tyrone: "If you want to promote your supplement, medication, or medical equipment, this is the right video for you."] 

Ben: But Gordon says he likes his job as a meme for hire. And maybe that’s just plenty for now.

Gordon:  I've got the best job in the world. Think about it. I wake up last night and and I get two messages from the United States. A young man has just commissioned a video to advertise an app which he wants me to announce on the channel. He's paying two hundred and thirty four dollars for me to read out four lines, four lines of text. And then I get the second message from him with the same amount saying I just wanted to add two hundred dollars because I think you are awesome.

Amory: It’s a far cry from Gordon’s young adult life as a translator and journalist in Cameroon. Even a far cry from his adult life in the UK, where he struggled for ten years.

Ben: A central African guy who fled actual government oppression, dresses up as a military dictator from an invented country, populated by internet trolls affiliated with alt right politics, to give paid testimonials for products and opinions...whatever they are. His sound stage: a kitchen in an immigrant household. Big Man Tyrone keeps the memes...the keks...and the lolz...going.

Gordon: As I said before, my job is simple. It is to say what people want me to say. And I might say something at 10 o'clock and see the direct opposite. At 11:00, and it doesn't bother me because big my town is not an opinion leader. Um, I said I'm like a taxi driver. I pick up everybody on the road. Doesn't matter what your character is, it doesn't matter where you're going. If you're going to a wedding or a bank robbery, I would still pick you up because my job is just to deliver. 

Amory: ENDLESS THREAD is a production of WBUR in Boston.

Ben: Want early tickets to events, swag, bonus content, pictures of Amory’s glasses or my home… blender? Join our email list! You’ll find it at wbur.org/endlessthread.

Amory: ALSO. We want to know what YOU think is the most underrated meme. So CALL us! 857-244-0338. Or better yet, record a voice memo and email it to endlessthread@wbur.org. We just might feature your voice memo — and your meme suggestion — on the show!

Ben: Like...right now! Cat Pick...if that is that your REAL name?

Ben: Big thanks to our MEME CHORUS:

Sarah Laiola teaches about digital culture and design at Coastal Carolina University.

Joan Donovan is Research Director at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center.

Gianluca Stringhini studies online security disinformation and hate speech at Boston University.

Amanda Brennan has the extremely cool title of Internet/Meme Librarian.

Kenyatta Cheese co-founded the site Know Your Meme, and Don Caldwell is Editor in Chief.

PLEASE go find their work and benefit from their meme genius.

Amory: Our series and our show is made by producers Dean Russell and Nora Saks. We are co-hosted by us… Amory Sivertson

Ben: And Ben Brock Johnson. This episode was edited by Maureen McMurray.

Amory: Mixing and Sound Design by Matt Reed. Original music in this episode also by Matt Reed.

Ben: Special thanks to, and additional production work from Josh Crane, Frank Hernandez, Kristin Torres, Sofie Kodner, and Rachel Carlson.

Amory: If you’ve got an untold history, an unsolved mystery, or a wild story from the internet that you want us to tell...hit us up. Email endlessthread@wbur.org.

Ben: Stay cool forever!

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