TikTok’s Couch Guy Is Not Your Friend

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S1: So I think that he was advocating something very special is going on.

S2: Sorry, is this a friend of yours? No, I want you to know these people have never met anyone.

S1: OK. Hi, I’m Madison Malone Kircher,

S2: and I’m Rachel Hampton, and you’re listening to I see, why am I

S1: in case you missed it?

S2: Sleep podcast about internet culture.

S1: Rachel, what’s new with you?

S2: Not much when I’m a date on Friday night, which, you know, because you start in my mind.

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S1: Yeah, I did set you up at the very leading question. It’s true. I did, but I would say one. I did research. What I did was not stalking and two, it came from a place of love.

S2: OK, I believe the second part, but the first part, I don’t know if I can’t believe because the way that you brought this up with me was not when I told you I was going on a date or when I showed you his Tinder profile. It was two days later when I mentioned to you that my roommate had also stuck to my mind and found his last name, which four people have not been on Tinder. You can’t see people’s last names. So you generally don’t know who you’re going into a date with which I prefer. So I’m telling you on Friday during one of our meetings, I’m like, Yeah, my roommate is just, you know, a fuckin private investigator. She found his last name. And then you just said his last name is if you had known him all your life.

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S1: Rachel and I think our listeners are going to agree with me here. I did you a favor service. I vetted him. I found him. I found his Twitter. I did a light keyword search of his Twitter to make sure the vibe check passed. And then I didn’t tell you because I knew I knew you didn’t want to know.

S2: I think it’s less the fact that you did it. It’s that you didn’t tell me until I brought it out. And you’re like, Oh yeah, of course I know his last name. I was I was shook to my core. I was speechless. I just started screaming at my apartment.

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S1: I was respecting a well-established boundary that had come from you. I will. I will hear no complaints. That was the date.

S2: That is the information that I shall not disclose on this podcast because some things are personal, like Madison’s respecting my boundaries.

S1: I know we keep saying this, but today’s episode is in fact now our most requested episode ever. So many of you, I see. Why am I guys? Sorry, Rachel, have been unwittingly trapped in the saga of quote unquote couch guy and his long distance girlfriend on TikTok.

S2: Who exactly is Couch Guy, you asked? Great question. And we’re going to give you the answer to the very best of Madison’s as we have described incredible sleuthing abilities.

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S1: I am, in fact, just two kids in a trench coat,

S2: a very nice trench coat. It’s true.

S1: It’s very chic in freefall. More importantly, though bigger than the question of who is couch guy? We’re going to answer the very grammatically correct question of why is couch guy? Why did this seemingly innocuous video of a long distance couple reuniting for a visit sparked an entire internet’s worth of discourse? The answer involves, bizarrely enough, John Mulaney and a psychological term coined in the 1950s that has become a Twitter buzz word du jour.

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S2: Before we get into the episode, we want to give a bit of a shout out to all of the listeners who asked for this episode.

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S1: Drumroll, thank you to Daily Texan in NYC at Brandee C will at M.y Our Kitty Abby underscore Bohrman at gas, foo at Beck’s Bacile at everyone but M and at DCR underscore I IRL. Thank you so much.

S2: If we missed you, we still love you.

S1: Your perfectly imperfect just like us. To begin, let’s introduce you to our our star crossed lovers in fair TikTok, where we lay our scene from FIP Break to new mutiny, where the comment section makes commenters hands unclean. I’m sorry, I can’t keep this going.

S2: That was incredible.

S1: William Shakespeare found dead

S2: now that we have murdered the great Bard, we must now answer the question of who. Why? What is a couch guy? To fully answer this question, we have to start. We have to leave the scene with the inciting incident, which is a TikTok from at Lawrence ERAs that was uploaded on September 21st.

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S1: So for. It is one college student walking into a dorm room, wheeling a little suitcase, opens the door and walks into the room where there’s six or seven people all sitting in like a common space. Her boyfriend is on the couch, sitting next to a couple of women, and he looks surprised to see her. There’s a little reunion scene fade out on the Ellie Goulding song. Oh! They don’t quit your day job

S2: to help if you don’t know that song, it’s Ellie Goulding still falling for you, which is now stuck in my head for the next 27 years. This video was uploaded on September 21st by Lauren Aras, a girl who goes super do who is surprising her college boyfriend by showing up to his dorm. The video is about 10 seconds long, and as of the time of the recording, this video has been viewed at least 52 million times and has over a hundred seven thousand comments on it, which is wild.

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S1: It’s wild, mostly because what happens in this video is so innocuous.

S2: Why has this video been seen and commented on by so many people?

S1: It’s because everyone of their mother is fully convinced that couch guy who’s name per Lauren’s TikToks is Robbie, is cheating on her to the point that there’s become an entire cottage industry on Tik Tok around hashtag Couch Guy. Four hundred and eighteen million views as of right now, full of people like hyper analyzing this video.

S2: People have been flooding her comments. I’m just going to give you a sample of some of the ones, some of the hundred and seven thousand comments on this video. It’s so sweet you surprise your boyfriend and his girlfriend. He hugged her like she was his aunt at Christmas dinner. Girls, no vibes of other girls. We all got the same feeling. Sorry, you don’t want to see it. His boys and those girls? No. And then finally, not bringing negativity. Just reading the room bestie.

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S1: I feel really badly for Lauren and frankly, Robbie, also neither of whom asked for this. Rachel has Lauren said anything since posting this TikTok she has.

S2: She’s actually made about 15 as TikTok since then, but the one immediately after is her respond to some of these comments. OK, y’all are driving

S1: me crazy with this phone comment. Not that I should be proving

S3: anything to you guys, but just to be stopped. So here’s the video of me surprising.

S2: Here’s what Lauren is responding to. Here is the absolute focus everyone has had on where his phone is placed at the beginning of this video. But it’s not just her comment section that’s doing this. There’s also TikToks of people just describing the drama

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S3: she’s pulling a suitcase behind as she pushes the door open. It’s kind of a party vibe on the couch. There’s three girls next to him. One of them actually shuffles away from him as they get closer. The girlfriend walks towards him and he stands up to hug her, but it’s very awkward. Then a video came out this morning that shows that actually the guy next to him had her hand on the small of his back. So I think that he was advocating something very special is going on. OK, sorry, is this a friend of yours? No, I don’t know these people I’ve never met in my life.

S1: OK. Hmm. There it is. There it is. Another subgenre of couch guy talk is now we have videos of people just hyper analysing the original video, you know, so-called body language experts and what have you. It’s very much like TikTok’s version of the app. It’s the opposite. The Zapruder film.

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S4: I’m invested. Bounce, bounce, bounce. Pause. OK, let’s zoom in a little bit rewind. You can see the phone in her hand right there. You can see the case right there.

S1: Boom, computer and hands. And then you have guys like this dude who’s a says he’s a misconduct attorney. I don’t know. It just seems like a blatant cash grab.

S5: So I’m an attorney in South Florida, and for a living, I investigate misconduct in people, in corporations. I’ve reviewed this video very carefully, and I’ve come to the conclusion and I am convinced that this guy’s conduct is highly suspicious.

S2: And it’s not just this investigation that is reminding me, unfortunately, of true crime TikTok that becomes a trend. People are also making spoofs of the original video, which I don’t know about you. But this is that’s that was my first interaction with this. I just kept seeing videos that started with that song and then somebody wheeling a suitcase in to find their partner cheating. There’s one that takes place on Mount Olympus, where heroin is talking in the example you cited. I have a brand. Anyway, Harry’s coming in and sees zoos with

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S1: how’s that brand?

S2: Not strong, apparently, anyway. One of the many people that zoos, fox and all, like the fucking gods, are standing around just like, ooh, messy

S1: will spare you hearing the Ellie Goulding song over and over and over again, but know that there are many, many of those videos out there for any type of person. My FIP, unsurprisingly, was attacked by like the gay. Versions of those were, you know, long distance lesbians. It’s she jumps off the couch, she in fact built the couch just for you to sit on like,

S2: I prefer that I’m going to be honest.

S1: The thing here to remember is that we do not know these people. Lauren and Robbie, who all we know is that a girl went to go visit her boyfriend and he was sitting on a couch.

S2: Yeah, the fact that there’s a whole less adult attorney shilling for his own misconduct practice using too young, I’m going to assume like 18 to 19 year olds relationship like it’s some fictional television plot, but I’m sorry, that’s gross. It’s just gross. Like all these fucking body language expert sitting there watching this video frame by frame as though this is their relationship or even that they know anyone involved in this.

S1: I did lie a little bit when I said, we don’t know anything more about these people. That’s not totally true. Like you mentioned, Lauren has made a bunch of TikToks, and Robbie has also made a few since the video went viral, mostly noting that their relationship is fine and that they should be left the hell alone.

S2: Importantly, Robbie did not have a TikTok before this moment. He made one just to respond to the amount of shit that Lauren is getting.

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S1: Can you blame him?

S2: I mean, no, not at all. But I’m just saying, you made this man make a whole account just so that he could tell you all to fuck off.

S1: Rachel, what was Robbie’s first TikTok like?

S2: So he only has two. The first one is this sound. And on the screen is a caption that reads, Couch guy here. You’re welcome for getting you off berries and cream TikTok. But remember, not everything is true crime. Don’t be a pair of social creep. Go get some fresh air. Take care.

S1: Ideally, we would have Lauren and Robbie on the show to tell us their story themselves. And I’m not going to lie to you. We really tried

S2: and by we really tried. I mean, Madison once again proves that she is in the wrong line of work and should be to children in a trench coat somewhere.

S1: Solving crimes puts distinctly my research methods included, but are not limited to a combination of Instagram TikTok Visco, Facebook text messages to people I hadn’t spoken to in a very long time and Twitter DMs from at least one stranger.

S2: This girl, the camera app scoffs, Oh my Madison, you’re a genius.

S1: Both Lauren and Robby have done a pretty good job of staying offline, so we’re not going to blow up their spots too much. But I will say that if you want to connect the dots, you can and we did reach out. But understandably, the couple is staying mum and riding out the storm quietly. And who could blame them?

S2: Certainly not I. And you are there. And importantly, we are not going to use Russell’s episode to speculate on what is going on with them because frankly, I don’t care. Instead, we’re going to teach a bootleg psychology course with two liberal arts degrees. Strap in, sit down because after the break, we’re going to talk about their social relationships.

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S1: Also known as the reason why I think Taylor Swift and I actually would be really good friends.

S2: Wow, I was going to say me and Tom Hiddleston should perhaps grab a drink someday. We can all come on the same way. We can know and go over so well.

S1: More on me T s, t, h and RH after the break.

S2: Do. And we are back with paracelsss relationships.

S1: Dun dun dun.

S2: What exactly is a Paracels relationship? Why the fuck is everyone, including Robbie himself talking about it? And are they inherently bad? According to one Madison Malone Kircher,

S1: a

S2: pair of social relationship is, and I quote, a psychological term that dates back to 1956, courtesy of Donald Horton and R. Richard Wall, who commented to describe how people feel like they’re in a real relationship with media figures like television stars, movie actors, radio hosts. They don’t actually know beyond engaging with their work as the genius, the scribe, the scholar Malone Kircher wrote for Slate.com. It’s a mid-century term that nonetheless gets tossed around on Twitter in 2021, with abandon about podcast host teenage TikTok stars and these days. John Mulaney.

S1: OK, I wrote this week years ago. Not going to lie. Hell, oppression.

S2: So Madison, you wrote this piece. John Mulaney doesn’t owe you squat. Phenomenal piece. It was in response to the kind of groundswell of emotion that came after news broke that Mulaney was having a child with Olivia Munn, right?

S1: That is true. I mostly wrote it because I found myself sitting in sort of this funny mental space where I was watching like hardcore Mulaney heads on Twitter. Working through their feelings in real time about John Mulaney, you know, quote unquote letting them down by splitting up with his wife. I don’t know if you know this, but John Mulaney was like part of his brand was being like the number one white guy.

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S2: Yeah, I found out about this after everyone started getting mad. I’m not quite in the Mulaney Internet, but I did see how upset people were getting and was kind of surprised.

S1: It was a combination of his brand being so wrapped up and being married to Anna Marie Tendler, and also that he very infamously had a recurring bit about how, like, he didn’t want to have kids. They were going to have kids, they were going to be childless adults. And that’s totally cool and fine. We’re never having kids. We have this grubby ass French bulldog named Petunia, and that’s enough.

S6: Our real estate agent wanted us to have a baby more than anyone else in our lives, more than anyone in our family. She hinted about it constantly. Every room she walked into, she’d be like, So this could be an office. Or maybe a nursery? Yeah, I know. Like we said, we don’t know if we’re going to have it. No, no, I know, I know you’re not. You don’t know if you’re going to

S1: have them, but you know, a real 180, they’re John

S2: real well, real switch up. But you know, people learn, people grow. And that seems to be what’s happening with John Mulaney. The thing is, paracelsss relationships with like celebrities and influencers may be the topic du jour right now. But what you’re describing to me and what I have largely felt about Paracels relationships is that celebrities and influencers invite that kind of scrutiny into their lives. His comedy is based off of incredibly personal experience, designed to get an audience to identify with him, which is kind of the point of celebrity at this point.

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S1: Right. That was where I sort of landed by the end of this piece, I found myself having like a strange amount of empathy for people who were really big John Mulaney fans and were hurt by this because look, on one hand, are you actually friends with John Mulaney? Should you chat him up with between you, the dog or the dog park? No, absolutely not. But you’re allowed to feel some kind of way about a person in whom you’ve invested time and energy and possibly your money like celebrities only get to be celebrities if they have a two way relationship with us, right? If they have fans,

S2: I mean, cynically, celebrities are trading on that kind of investment in their life. They are expecting to get money in exchange for offering tidbits of their life to their audience. And those tidbits do not represent their entire life, which is, I would think where people get it twisted is that they assume that you were seeing the totality of someone’s life in their Instagram feed or during their comedy sets or whatever. But it’s also disingenuous for people to kind of shame others for having an investment in celebrities when again, that is quite literally what celebrities are inviting you in to do. To be completely candid, that little anecdote about my dating life at the top of the show designed to get you all to identify with me.

S1: Hmm. Gotcha.

S2: And those relationship, they’re not inherently bad is a thing. Paracels relationships are what make watching a show for a long time satisfying. They’re what makes having me and Madison in your ears twice a week fun. We hope you all don’t know us.

S1: Don’t tell us.

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S2: Not yet. Please don’t. We don’t actually want to hear that. But just like you all don’t really know me or my dating life. We also don’t really know anything about Mulaney, even if he kind of tries to make it seem like we do. I do think that obviously platforms like TikTok, which are designed for people to go viral, does kind of invite the question of aren’t you kind of asking people to observe and get invested into your life in exchange for social media fame?

S1: That is entirely true, but I think what we’re seeing here is what has happened to so many people who have gone mega viral without expecting two is that nothing prepares you for the experience of going mega by. Sounds dumb, but truly, there is nothing like it. There is no guidebook. If I’m Lauren and I posted this, I imagine my thought is, huh? Maybe a couple thousand or a hundred thousand people will see this heartwarming video. Not maybe millions of people will watch this and pass every single frame of it trying to dissect my relationship. She didn’t ask for that.

S2: She didn’t. And she has repeatedly said in comments and foul videos that she does not want this kind of attention. And I think that is again, where people get sick. Twisted in regards to parent social relationships is. Yes. Maybe again, it’s all about sense of scale. People are inviting you to observe parts of their lives, but the moment that they’re like, Stop. I do not like this. This is in fact deeply uncomfortable for me and invasive and crossing my boundaries. You need to stop.

S1: Of course, you can have healthy para social relationships with people. You know, I’m thinking, for example, like, I don’t know, like I was at a Brandi Carlile show this summer, right? Who’s somebody I’m like, deeply obsessed with and follow on every social platform and just, you know, it makes being at that concert and hearing her music so much more special, right? Because you feel like you have this real connection and vibe, even though we are complete strangers and that that has value to me, right? Like, even if we are never actually going to be friends, like, I got joy from that. That’s cool. Let’s foster more of those and less of tearing teens apart online.

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S2: No, exactly. Like you again, celebrity. The undercurrent of celebrity is PR. Social relationships and they, unlike the way a lot of people talk about them online, are not inherently bad. But yeah, health is the name of the game. Quit being creeps

S1: and instead focus on having healthy para social relationships with us because we’re very serious when we say we are obsessed with you all.

S2: You still don’t get to know my dating life

S1: until next episode.

S2: Yes. All right. That is a show. We’ll be back in your feed on Saturday, so definitely subscribe. It’s free and the best way to never miss an episode. Also, the best way to maintain your Paracels relationship with me and Madison. Maybe next week, I’ll actually tell you about the Tinder date I went on. I won’t. But in the meantime, you can leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and tell your friends about us. You can also follow us on Twitter at I See Why I Might Underscore Pod, which is also we can dismiss your questions like Couch Guy, and you can always drop us a note. I see. Why am I as Slate.com?

S1: I see Why Am I is produced by Daniel Schroeder, our supervising producer is Derek John, Forrest Wickman and Allegra Frank are our editors, and Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate Podcasts. See you online

S2: or on the couch. To start off, we must introduce you to our star

S1: constellation, perhaps. Yeah, you should.

S2: I just got here.

S1: Go.