When the Sonic the Hedgehog movie lands in theaters this Friday, longtime fans will have many questions on their mind. Will the movie be any good? Will the newly redesigned Sonic, which forced the film to be delayed for a couple of months, be worth the wait? Are we going to get to see iconic sidekick Tails? Perhaps most crucially, fans are wondering: Will Jim Carrey, as the evil Doctor Robotnik, say the word “pingas”?
Pingas is the end result of a more ancient internet-content cycle, one that chewed up pop culture and mashed it into something unrecognizable and inexplicable. It is one of the best-known Sonic memes and a genuine YouTube-born phenomenon, from back in the days when YouTube could launch a meme. Nowadays, YouTube is a meme’s last stop before the graveyard.
In the mid-aughts, one of the most popular types of video on YouTube, alongside vloggers and makeup tutorials and comedy skits, was known as YouTube Poop. YTP videos are difficult to define, but the general mode is to take existing media and distort it, editing clips so that it appears that characters are saying things that they did not or altering the meaning of scenes. The videos often lack plot or story arcs, and instead are more like freestyle video remixing — creating a work that evokes a feeling more than a coherent narrative or thought. They can often be disconcerting and aggressively alienating (the use of intentionally harsh-sounding audio in YTP is known as “ear rape”). Many YouTube Poop videos have common sources: old cartoons or commercials, among them, the mid-’90s animated TV series Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.
The YouTube Poop artist Stegblob, otherwise known as Mari, describes her videos this way: “An episode of Sonic but every time something happens, something else happens instead.” Clips often stutter or repeat, swapping between video sources with little internal logic, and often recontextualizing cheaply produced childrens’ entertainment in confusing or profane ways. Her work almost always uses the Sonic series, which is a potent source of material thanks to its “over-the-top” voice acting and “great and incredibly lazy animation.”
Mari’s introduction to the format is a tale as old as time. “Someone had vandalized a Wikipedia article to say something along the lines of ‘Check out the video Robotnik on the Toilet,’ and of course me being a curious teenager I decided to do exactly that,” she recalled.
“When it comes to creating a video, I don’t really plan anything ahead,” Mari says. “I will normally just throw a bunch of Sonic episodes into my video-editing software and then just see where it takes me. The only real thought process that I have is ‘If it doesn’t make me laugh, it won’t make anyone laugh.’” In short order, her YTPs started garnering attention.
Like that mysterious vandal, Mari’s YTPs often focus on the villain of the Sonic franchise, Doctor Robotnik. They have titles like “Robotnik Becomes Prime Minister,” “Robotnik and Mama Luigi get Naked and Watch Countdown!” and “Robotnik Overules a Banana.” Her most famous work, however, is called “Robotnik Has a Viagra Overdose.”
Midway through “Robotnik Has a Viagra Overdose,” Mari inserted a short clip from a Sonic episode called “Boogey-Mania.” In the original clip, two of the Robotnik’s henchmen are caught eavesdropping, and the villain (played by singer and voice actor Long John Baldry) remarks, “Snooping as usual, I see.” Mari cut this line down to the now-iconic phrase: “Pingas.”
The genesis of pingas, like many memes, is inauspicious and completely accidental. Mari was more focused on the visuals than on the audio when she produced it. “I was just putting random clips together like I always did, and noticed the character Scratch doing this goofy face. So naturally I cut it, paste it into my project and zoom into his face. It wasn’t until I played it back that I heard the infamous word, and thought to myself that it sounded like the word ‘penis.’”
A word that sounds like “penis” goes a long way online, and soon other YouTube Poop creators started using the pingas sound bite in their own videos. It stretched into a full-blown meme and really broke wide open in 2008 when a YouTuber named McMaNGOS posted a video in which every note from the song “Gourmet Race” from the video game Kirby Super Star was replaced with the pingas sound clip.
“I used FL Studio for the audio,” McMaNGOS, who is now a programmer in Sweden, recalled. “It was very, very basic, I just got a MIDI of the song that I wanted to use and just slapped the pingas sound clip in there and just called it a day. It was done in like five minutes.” He then put the song up on YouTube in a music video (known as a “YTPMV”) called “THIS VIDEO CONTAINS WIN.”
“THIS VIDEO CONTAINS WIN” spawned two related fads, propelled by a now defunct YouTube feature known as the video reply. Back when YouTube was a smaller network, users could upload videos as direct responses to other users, sort of like how replies to a tweet appear directly below it. Users could piggyback off of popular videos and trends by linking their own video directly to the more popular ones, and this was how YouTube Poop memes propagated throughout the site (eventually spammers overwhelmed the reply feature and YouTube sunset it). To kickstart the trend, McMaNGOS replied to his own video, with the notes of “Gourmet Race” replaced with other sounds. But pingas itself also took on a life of its own, being inserted into other songs, like “The Star-Spangled Banner,” or Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames.”
“I think it’s just really funny and immature,” McMaNGOS said. “It’s a perfect example of YouTube Poop–style humor, like you just take something out of context and just stress that.” Playlists of countless pingas videos still populate YouTube, although McMaNGOS’s original video has been taken down. He estimates it had several hundred responses before it disappeared. In other videos, he would sometimes use the pingas clip as a call back, sort of like how Rick Ross might throw in a “Maybach Music” tag.
“It still holds a special place to me,” McMaNGOS says of the meme. “I still think it’s kind of funny and to me — at age 13 at the time — something I made blowing up on the internet, that was a really cool feeling.”
Since the term has become enshrined as a classic Sonic meme, it has been acknowledged in official franchise media. In 2009’s Sonic the Hedgehog #205, from Archie Comics, Robotnik recites the famous line during an interrogation. In the 2017 Sonic Boom episode “Return of the Buddy Buddy Temple of Doom,” Robotnik (known by his other name, Eggman, and voiced by Mike Pollock) utters the line yet again.
Mari says she wasn’t really aware of how widespread pingas had become until years after her original video went live. “I remember being at a comic convention in 2013 and overhearing a group of cosplayers talking about Robotnik and pingas,” she remembered. “It still kind of makes me laugh [that] they’d talk about it, having no idea the person who first used it was standing right next to them!”
She says that she is proud of her legacy. Even though it’s for a made-up word that kinda sounds like “penis,” just about everyone in the Sonic fandom knows about pingas. And she knows how lucky she is to have made a mark: “It’s hard to believe that if I had just clipped that one little segment a millisecond earlier or later, pingas would never have been a thing.”
Correction: This piece originally misidentified Robotnik’s voice actor. He was portrayed by Long John Baldry.