BAIT & SWITCH
When YouTube Pranks Are Just Homophobia
Can abusive, homophobic, and misogynistic ‘pranksters’ go away, please?
The first sign that there’s something wrong with Yerv’s YouTube “prank” is that the guy he’s texting is saved on his phone as “Gay Dude With No Chill.”
“There’s two types of gay dudes, OK?” Yerv sagely explains at the start of the viral video, which was posted on his popular NoBiggieTV channel. “There’s the one type of gay dude who’s like super cool, super chill, someone you could actually be good friends with. They’ll never try to hit on you and they’re always just like super chill, cool people, man.”
The second type of “gay dude,” he continues, is “sassy, ego through the roof, [and] always trying to hit on you.” So naturally, what better way to prank a type-two gay dude than to try to hit on him? That makes sense, right?
Yerv’s MO on YouTube is to use song lyrics in text exchanges so he decides to send a gay acquaintance the lyrics to “Closer” by The Chainsmokers, which include suggestive lines like, “Now you’re looking pretty in a hotel bar” and “So baby pull me closer / In the backseat of your Rover.”
Yerv narrates the resulting text exchange for his hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers, reacting with theatrical disgust when the gay man interprets what appear to be obvious come-ons as, well, obvious come-ons.
When the gay man tells Yerv, “You know I always wanted a piece of that sweet ass,” Yerv loudly exclaims, “Ugh!” And when the gay man implies that they should have oral sex, Yerv spends five seconds on camera pretending to vomit.
At the end of the video, when Yerv receives a banana emoji from the “Gay Dude With No Chill,” he tosses his phone across the room as if it’s contaminated and tells his audience, “And that’s where I stopped responding guys, man. I could not keep going, man. The imagery was getting way too fucking gross for me.”
Here’s some free advice: If hitting on gay men makes you want to gag, you don’t have to hit on gay men. There’s nothing funny about a gay man receiving an apparent invitation to have sex and responding in kind. Straight people do it all the time.
Yerv’s video was originally posted in late August but it recently went viral, accruing nearly one and a half million views as of this writing. This weekend, LGBT websites and other news outlets started noticing the video’s spread on social media and roundly condemned it as homophobic. It is now Yerv’s third most-viewed video of all time, right behind the time he pranked a sex worker and the time he sent his “hot teacher” the words to a Drake song.
But in the disappointingly vast ocean of YouTube pranks, Yerv’s latest viral hit is just the tip of the homophobic iceberg. In fact, using homosexuality as a prop is one of the most popular ways to prank people online.
One of the top “gay prank” genres on YouTube is to pretend to come out to your friends, family members, and significant others. In March, YouTuber MysticGotJokes told his girlfriend he was gay even though he’s not gay. He got over four million views for the stunt, which other YouTubers have done with their own girlfriends, siblings, and parents. One YouTuber even “came out” to his mom using Yerv’s favorite technique, texting her the song lyrics “I am gay, I like men.” His view count? Well over two million.
In reality, of course, people who aren’t semi-sociopathic YouTube pranksters have to come out as LGBT to their family every day and suffer the sometimes devastating consequences. Many of them experience familial rejection, some to the point of becoming homeless. But unlike YouTubers, they don’t get to pull back the curtain, call it a “joke,” and share a reassuring laugh with their loved ones.
Another disturbingly beloved YouTube prank is to call a phone sex hotline for gay men and talk in a “funny” voice. The most popular purveyor of this format is the four-million-subscriber channel Ownage Pranks, which has done this prank many, many times. The humor in these videos—if you can even call it that—comes in part from the stereotypical racist voices the prankster uses but mostly from putting overt gay male sexuality on public display.
“The people on here typically like to immediately jump into some sexual conversation, but I’m usually talking to them about something completely irrelevant,” a title card at the front of one of the videos explains. “The conversations can definitely be pretty weird so viewer discretion is advised.”
But the conversations are only “weird” if you think sexually aroused gay men are strange. Of course, many Americans still get uncomfortable when they see gay men kissing or holding hands so perhaps the sizable audience for these “gay hotline” prank videos should be expected.
In the end, though, social media pranksters don’t just have a homophobia problem. They have a racism problem, too, as evidenced by the many white YouTube pranksters who use “black people as props,” as Dave Schilling wrote for Vice. They also pull cruel pranks on their wives, girlfriends, and even anonymous women on the street. Just this May, for example, a British prankster posted a video on Facebook in which he appeared to rub a hot chili pepper on his girlfriend’s tampon before she inserted it. And the trend of harassing women as a “prank” arguably reached its logical conclusion during Milan fashion week when celebrity harasser Vitalii Sediuk grabbed supermodel Gigi Hadid and tried to lift her off the ground as she was leaving a show. Sediuk later tried to literally kiss Kim Kardashian’s behind.
Whether it’s race, gender, or sexuality, it seems that self-declared YouTube pranksters get to cross boundaries of human decency at will and then laugh off their indiscretions. But a really good prank would be for them to stop pulling pranks altogether and leave everyone else alone. Get it?