Words by Su Ertekin-Taner
At 13, I watched my words, spoke quietly and re-evaluated my interactions. Because awkward silences and missed social cues were a warrant for social death, I preemptively planned conversations and decisive reactions. Authenticity was vulnerability, and I attempted to adapt. What choice did I have? In the 2010s, social dexterity was king and I was subservient to norms and taboos … that is, until awkwardness became orthodox in mainstream media.
In an increasingly algorithmic generation, a niche video from a quick TikTok scroll session can make for an omnipresent media trend just as quickly as it can be discarded as visual scraps. So when I came across a clip from Amelia Dimoldenberg’s web series “Chicken Shop Date” with rapper Jack Harlow six months ago, I didn’t think much of it. In the video, Dimoldenberg, the British CEO and host of the mock date/interview series, cheekily asks Harlow how many children he wants in the future. Harlow shoots back with a tongue in cheek response: “Many,” later adding, “all girls. I want eight daughters.” Dimoldenberg adds to the banter asking about the rapper’s potential living accommodations with his eight daughters.
The conversation, not more than a minute in length, ambles along equally as awkwardly, Dimoldenberg’s characteristic deadpan humor dictating the tone. With each almost-inappropriately forward remark, she hyperbolizes the discomfort of a first date for viewing pleasure. I was smitten by the “Between Two Ferns” and “The Eric Andre Show,” both similarly awkward-inspired series, quickly diving into more juicy content from Dimoldenberg.
But my new TikTok niche wasn’t all that nichey. The clips of “Chicken Shop Dates,” all taken from the original six- to seven-minute “Chicken Shop Date” YouTube videos, were bringing in hundreds of thousands of views if not millions. Comments readily expressed their fascination with this awkward interview style. The awkwardness of each conversation was as potent a drug to TikTok users as the catered abyss of TikTok content.
Recently, a new queen of awkward has been on the rise, supplying more much-needed uncomfortable content for these social media users: Bobbi Althoff, host of “The Really Good Podcast” and “social media star with over 80 followers” – as she sarcastically defines herself on YouTube.
Althoff’s 30-minute to hour-long podcast episodes feature celebrities and pop culture icons as they attempt to crack her brand of soft-spoken dry humor and nearly trademarked bit of requesting money from her famous guests. The comedian, always engulfed by the couch she sits on, lets her interviewees steer the tide of the bit-filled conversation. She’s not on a date; she’s acquainted and entirely unfazed by the presence of her big guests.
Of course, with big guests like Drake, Mark Cuban, Tyga and Lil Yachty comes big numbers. Each of Althoff’s interviews has gone viral, averaging millions of views on YouTube.
Amid the rise of these budding stars, I can barely go a TikTok scroll session without seeing either Dimoldenberg or Althoff’s characters’ deadpan quips. While each clip is undeniably funny, I can’t help but wonder why these two haven’t fallen into the cracks of the algorithm like so many other comedians. Why has this awkward improv interview style attracted so many views, especially from a generation built on a foundation of avoiding that same social awkwardness?
Much of Dimoldenberg and Althoff’s social media prowess comes from their awkward characters’ ability to unravel a celebrity’s persona on screen and render them completely unfamous.
Both are strictly anti-talk show. Seemingly no prepared questions, no extensive promotional talk and no traditionally laugh-out-loud jokes that sustain a superficial entertainment identity. Instead, the hosts employ off the cuff, irregular questions and requests — like when Dimoldenberg asks Jack Harlow if he can read or Althoff requests money from Drake for a plane ticket back home.
This subversion of traditional talk show format leaves unprepared celebrities vulnerable. When reduced to a satirical and somewhat fabricated (for entertainment) dynamic, each guest copes with authenticity or better, their own brand of humor. Whether or not a guest can get through a gauntlet of questions with high ratings from social media comments depends entirely on these authentic responses.
Each celebrities’ gradual adaptation to this interview style may cause uncomfortability and sometimes friction, but the resulting expulsion of artifice is why so many watch Dimoldenberg and Althoff’s content. Alluding to Althoff’s strategically deployed uncomfortable pauses during her Tyga interview, YouTube viewer @drstevefonso commented, “She has the capacity and confidence to endure silence, and it forces her guests to slow down and loosen the grip of their natural defen[s]es … Brings out their authenticity, which is totally refreshing in the entertainment world.”
A Dimoldenberg viewer even noted their newfound adoration of the rapper’s sincerity during his “Chicken Shop Date” interview. “His personality and smile is contagious. I’m not even a fan of him like that, but this video made me smile throughout — raw, genuine and honest. I’ve fallen in love,” @k__1234 commented on her viral YouTube video. The message is echoed in many of the YouTube comments: There’s something truly bewitching about watching Central Cee squirm as he attempts to define his romantic “type” or his outlook on love.
In addition to subverting the norms of talk shows, “Chicken Shop Date” and “The Really Good Podcast” subvert the norms of social interaction. Dimoldenberg and Althoff, unfazed by their discomforting inquiries and awkwardness, invite the audience to join a reality where that awkwardness is the norm, not the exception. There is no wrong comment or interaction, no rephrased question (at least in the final cut), no re-evaluated interaction. Any traditionally “wrong” interview question — which is usually taken to mean one that exposes a celebrities’ private life or veers off-topic — is prime content.
While media content doesn’t always translate to daily culture, Dimoldenberg and Althoff’s media empires are ones of great influence — their combined number of YouTube views indicate as much — and sources of cultural conversation. So, as the now-household names carry out making their awkward content in the social media sphere, they’re also dictating a real-life trend in our quotidian spheres.
A slew of YouTube and TikTok comments, for example, calls for real-life applications of the cultural phenomenon of awkwardness. YouTube user @chiamika commented on Althoff’s conversation practices: “This is such a great way to get a little insight on who people are … I love how down to earth, smart, and funny Mark [Cuban] is, and how Bobbi keeps right up with him.” @realeques even claimed, “Amelias dry humor is what i need in a woman,” about Dimoldenberg’s interview with British rapper Fredo. Many other users indicate their willingness to try out the awkward conversation trend in their personal life.
With the rise of the awkward interview and its admiration, I feel my inner child mending its strained relationship with awkwardness. Instead of feeling a duty to abide by social cues like laws, I feel equipped to fumble a norm or violate a taboo like these exemplary comedic trailblazers; at 19, I finally found a comfortable enough internet space to do so.
Yes, I sit with my awkwardness, lean into it even. I’m a comedian with poor punchlines, a confrontational date, a forward friend because Dimoldelberg and Althoff among other sources of awkward have allowed me to be. Media has snuffed the flame of normalcy and lit a new one in celebration of everything awkward, and I couldn’t be happier.