Many years ago, when people still used Facebook, a certain type of food video became ubiquitous.
The recipes changed, but the elements stayed the same: One overhead camera. Two disembodied hands. An immaculate wooden surface. Several small dishes filled with vibrant ingredients. Add one flawless chef, forgettable instrumental music and a fast-forward button.
Two minutes later, you’ve talked yourself into finally attempting that souffle.
You Suck at Cooking’s YouTube channel is the antithesis to these slickly produced recipe factories. Everything on screen, from the dismal lighting to the ugly dishes, is deliberately gritty. Instead of high-definition lenses and studio lighting, we have a single, shaky iPhone filming an unapologetically messy kitchen counter.
Most importantly, rather than peppy, superfluous music that tends to be muted immediately, we have a wry, often exasperated, narrator. This nameless, faceless narrator would also rather sing his own weird songs, like the 90-second ode to bean dip that includes lines like, “Bean dip, it’s not mean dip / Unless I punch you in the face with it then I’d call it mean dip / Throw it on the floor, you can’t call it clean dip / Put some bleach in it, you got pristine dip.”
The identity of this mystery narrator is a topic that is discussed often in the comments, with eagle-eyed viewers scouring videos for any hints.
“Does anyone else try looking into the reflections of his appliances to see his face,” one commenter asked below the pan-fried kale video.
However you arrived at the channel — perhaps you were looking for seven ways to chop an onion and found this instead — the jokes are the reason you would return. This style of humor is unusual for food videos, but wouldn’t be out of place among Cartoon Network’s late-night Adult Swim programming, and it calls to mind similarly acerbic comedies like BoJack Horseman.
The pace of the narration is relentless, with a heavy peppering of witty musings and digressive riffs. A personal favorite is the backstory behind a tip about using a tin can as a makeshift vegetable strainer.
“It’s a little trick to drain a can of anything,” the narrator deadpans. “I learned from my friend Chris before he had a baby and ruined our friendship.”
Many of the recipes are setups for elaborate jokes, like the video titled “Break-Up Pasta.” The video opens with somber piano music and rain falling against a window as the narrator mutters, “break-up pasta is a way to end a relationship when you’re a giant coward like me.”
The best line follows, as the camera shows the cutting board and he introduces the dish, aglio e olio. “It sounds like a made up word, but its actually a real word from a made-up language called Italian.” At the risk of spoiling the punchline, the culmination of the video is an oily break-up letter that he pulls out from under a serving of spaghetti.
The channel has built an audience of 1.6 million people by being a parody of modern food videos. It’s an approach that has found success in other entertainment spaces — whether it’s the Colbert Report winning Emmy after Emmy for its satirical portrayal of a conservatives news program, or the Eric Andre Show’s absurdist take on late-night talk show pushing the boundaries of the format to its absolute limits. Similar to those shows, the channel leans into missteps rather than editing them out. So those moments, like burning toast in an egg sandwich video, become punchlines. To borrow a tech cliche, a mistake isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.
Part of the appeal for the audience is being in on the joke and adding their own in the comments. It’s one of the benefits of building an audience on YouTube, where comments can either be rewarded or penalized. Well, in theory anyway. Ideally, this system should encourage better behavior, but if you’ve spent time on YouTube, you’ve probably encountered vile comments with plenty of upvotes. From what I’ve seen, the comments on You Suck At Cooking videos offer more value than the average YouTube video, and the tone of the jokes are consistent with the videos. In some ways, its comments section is similar to what you’ll find in humorous subreddits, despite YouTube channels generally not having as much moderator oversight.
In the second episode, with a video simply titled “Tuna,” he jokes that if you cut cranberries at a certain angle with the right knife, you’ll hear a bass drum sound. This quickly transitions to a 15-second song about cutting boards, loosely set to the bass line of the Grandmaster Flash song “The Message.” (“Don’t chop too hard, or your knife will lose its edge.”)
In the comments, one viewer asks with mock earnestness, “I’m getting more of a chime type sound with my cranberries? What am I doing wrong?”
While the overall aesthetic is haphazard, it often takes a lot of work to make something look effortless. In most episodes, even the earliest ones, there are playful yet time consuming stop-motion editing techniques that often double as visual gags.
In the video “Gregg’s Bean Dip,” our nameless narrator places black beans on a cutting board while saying, “if you hum a frequency and touch the cutting board, the vibration will transfer to the board and show you the pattern of the sound wave.” The next 20 seconds shows a variety of stop-motion bean shapes as he hums.
There are also running gags and callbacks to previous episodes, like the prolonged cut scene spread across multiple episodes about two anthropomorphic eggs, John and Douglas, which turns into a film-noir detective subplot. Or the half-dozen videos featuring Pimblokto, the incompetent cooking “robot,” composed of sticks and a voice modifier.
These flourishes belie the careless tone of the channel, and it’s the type of high production humor his audience has come to expect.
YouTube and Facebook are flooded with pristine cooking videos and thousands of melting cheese time lapses. We don’t need more of those. But we do need more channels like You Suck At Cooking injecting absurdist humor into the fairly homogeneous how-to genre.