Brow Beat

I Think You Should Leave’s Hot Dog Guy Is More Than Just a Meme

It’s our reality.

Tim Robinson stands in a crowd of people wearing a hot dog costume.
We’re all trying to find the meme who did this. Netflix

On Monday, the president—who admitted just last week that he is deliberately hobbling the U.S. Postal Service—tweeted out an improbable battle cry: “SAVE THE POST OFFICE!” Comedian and writer Mike Drucker paired Trump’s tweet with a picture of a red-faced man, arms akimbo, stuffed into a cheap-looking hot dog costume, with the caption “We’re all trying to find the guy who did this.” Drucker’s tweet went viral, but he wasn’t the only one to deploy the meme in this case. Writer Eric Snider tweeted his own screengrab of his Twitter timeline, showing three separate users in a row responding to the president’s tweet using the same image, taken from comedian Tim Robinson’s 2019 Netflix sketch show I Think You Should Leave.

The sketch, which isn’t on YouTube but you can watch on Netflix, starts after a hot dog–shaped car has crashed into a menswear shop. As the stunned onlookers emerge from the wreckage, they tell each other: “We need to find the driver!” The camera scans the crowd, then reveals Robinson—wearing the hot dog suit. “Yeah, come on, whoever did this, just confess! We promise we won’t be mad!” he says. When the bystanders point out that obviously, he’s the culprit, first he feigns indignation: “I don’t have to sit here and be insulted like this! I’m just going to take as many suits as I can grab, get back in that random hot dog car, and drive back to Wiener Hall!” Cops arrive, but Hot Dog Guy is not daunted. He deflects and shifts the blame. Asked what his name is, he bemoans modern society, loading his arms with stolen suits: “We’ve been sitting here talking all day, and you all never bothered to learn my name. We’re so buried in our phones! Instead of giving someone a real smile, we send an emoji!”

A person who habitually realizes, too late, that he did something unpopular and then tries to cover his tracks by lying, Trump is a real-world Hot Dog Guy and the quintessential target for the burgeoning meme. But others are fair game too, both within his administration and outside of it, from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declaring on Meet the Press regarding coronavirus cases that “we’ve got to get to the bottom of why we’re seeing these cases surge” to Michael Bloomberg suggesting ways to regulate Wall Street. This is, alas, Hot Dog Guy’s world, and we are all living in it.

Hot Dog Guy is a classic Robinson character, a person who finds himself in a hole of his own making and decides to dig deeper, hoping that he will somehow tunnel out. Robinson’s sketch show, which debuted on Netflix in the spring of 2019, is full of Hot Dog Guys, even when they’re not wearing the costume. (It’s also breezy—six 15-minute episodes, with more coming soon—and so absurdly hilarious that in our house we rewatch all of it every few weeks in one go.) Robinson explained his interest in hole-diggers to the Ringer’s Brian Raftery last year: “People say in their brain, ‘If I keep talking, or keep doing this, maybe this goes away.’ And it never does. It just makes things worse.”

Some of these diggers are just fools—hapless, relatable, having a really bad day. They’re in the sketches I think of as having more DNA in common with Detroiters, Robinson’s good-hearted, unfairly short-lived Comedy Central series with Sam Richardson. I Think You Should Leave opens with one such sketch, about a job interview. The interviewee, played by Robinson, gets up to leave, and tries to open the door by pulling instead of pushing. “Oh! Looks like you push,” the interviewer says mildly. Robinson digs in: “It does both! I was here yesterday, it goes both ways.” Then, with the hinges creaking and the veins on his forehead straining, Robinson breaks open the door. “See?” he smiles awkwardly, sweating a little. “Hope to hear from you soon.”

That guy isn’t getting a call back. But Robinson also casts his eye on hole-diggers who are less sympathetic and more sociopathic. In an I Think You Should Leave sketch set at a birthday party, Robinson’s character Lev fixates on proving that the guest of honor, Jacob (played by Steven Yeun), didn’t really like his gift as much as the others he gets at the party. In a chain of absurd events, Lev manipulates his fellow partygoers, until they all come to believe his version of events: that Jacob has gone to the bathroom, used “too small of a slice” of toilet paper, contaminated the gift receipt (which Lev then ate to prove a point), and made Lev sick. At the bottom of this particular hole, the entire birthday celebration is eating paper and casting blame about poop and hand-washing. Sometimes, a hole-digger can bury everyone along with him.

Earlier this year, Robinson went viral for a different stunt, when he edited together news footage of “reopening” protesters in Michigan with a cameo of his own, as “angry guy who can’t buy things.” “You can’t buy paint, you can’t buy lawn fertilizer, you can’t buy grass seed!” an actual reopener complains; Robinson spliced in a clip of himself, ranting at the wheel of his car: “Now’s when I start to buy my Halloween stuff! What am I, not supposed to buy my Halloween stuff? Really???” It just goes to show: In a world that seems to be increasingly full of people busily excavating their own graves—hot dog costumes or no—Robinson is truly in his element.