The 4 stages of going down a weird YouTube rabbit hole

Maddie Fruman/Staff

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Lately, I’ve been in a TV show slump. I can’t seem to find a series that grabs me, and I’m not sure I want the commitment of sticking to a single show. If you’re like me, sometimes you end up on YouTube late at night. 

Slowly but surely, you find yourself becoming prisoner to the YouTube algorithm. By the time you realize it, you’ve clicked too far into the tunnel to turn around. It doesn’t matter how you ended up on YouTube in the first place — without even looking for it, weird stuff appears. It’s easiest if you don’t resist it. The videos I’m talking about are the ones that are best summed up with one word: absurd. Some are ridiculously funny and some are downright creepy. If you’ve ever found yourself going down the rabbit hole of weird YouTube, you’ve probably encountered these four stages. 

Stage 1: Funny

You came to YouTube just wanting to laugh, and funny videos are not scarce on the platform. “Rainbow Sponge” is a good place to start: The enthusiasm this woman has for the craft project she’s advertising is unmatched. I could watch her excitement over sponges and ink forever. In the same vein, “80s Video Dating Montage” takes clips of things people say out of context, but this time from — you guessed it — a 1980s dating video, which I guess is what single people did pre-dating apps. 

Stage 2: Hilariously absurd

Keep clicking around and eventually, the videos will start getting weirder. You’ve probably seen clips of “You Could Stop at Five or Six Stores,” the video that looks like the most awkward improv class ever. There’s a special place in my heart for the people in this video, who strike weird poses right after saying the strangest phrases with no context. Somewhere in this stage, though, animated videos seem to appear a lot more. “Delicious Gummy Bears” is a short “Robot Chicken” sketch that can’t really be explained, but you will never see gummy bears the same way after watching it. 

Stage 3: Purely absurd

By this point, you’ve ventured far enough into the rabbit hole that things have stopped making sense completely, and you’re not even sure if you’re laughing anymore. These videos might not make you laugh, but for some reason, they will keep your eyes glued to the screen. Your YouTube rabbit hole would be incomplete if you didn’t at some point wind up watching one of the classics. These are videos you probably first saw when you were about 8 years old and didn’t question, but now, years later, you rewatch them and you have so many questions. “Charlie the Unicorn” is a perfect example. What is this plot? Who are these unicorns? Is this really deeply philosophical, or complete and utter trash? The world may never know. Even more confusing, and proving that animated content will always push the bounds of absurdity, is “Dog of Wisdom.” “Everyone likes me.” How does this animated dog have higher self-esteem than I do? I still hear those gibberish sounds when I see certain dogs. 

Stage 4: Creepily absurd

It’s 3 a.m. and nothing makes sense anymore. Hidden in the corners of YouTube that never see the sun are the videos that will ensure you never fall asleep again, ever. You may have started off the night laughing, but you will end the night utterly confused and frightened to your core. If you stumble upon “Too Many Cooks” without any prior knowledge of the video, at first you probably think you found a parody of ’80s sitcoms. But with seemingly no warning, it turns into a creepy and terrifying horror story. After reading the comments (don’t until the end), you’ll feel the need to rewatch the video and look for everything you missed the first time. This cult slasher clip originally aired on Adult Swim, but its cult-movie vibe makes it feel at home on YouTube. And finally, the epitome of this stage of creepy absurdity has to be “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared.” A darkly philosophical parody of educational children’s shows, “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared” deals in the kind of nightmarish surrealism that terrifies me. I can recognize that it is artistically well made and feels perfectly calculated to produce terror. But that doesn’t mean I want to watch it or any of its even more horrifying subsequent episodes again anytime soon.

At this point, you’re the only one awake, you’re terrified and your brain has turned into jelly, which can only mean one thing — you’ve reached the end of your YouTube rabbit hole. Time to call it a night, turn off the light and dream the weirdest dreams you’ve ever had.

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