Bob Ross and Chill
A happy little accident on Twitch
For me, the litmus test for whether or not a person has the potential to be a great friend is how quickly we can birth and develop little references and gestures and word things together, hoping sometime later to harvest them as some ripe-ass inside jokes.
I love inside jokes and I cannot lie. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t at least like inside jokes. Sure, there are certain insecure sects of no-chill douchebags who poison the well by needing to incessantly and excessively deploy their inside jokes amid large groups of other friends and people not in-the-know, but whatever. Inside jokes are for the most part great. In some ways you could say inside jokes — often based on something not inherently humorous — represent a moment in which you and another human being saw the world in the exact same way. How is that not beautiful?
Starting last Thursday (Oct. 29) at 2 p.m. PST, Twitch.tv, the Amazon-owned streaming service for gamers, celebrated the launch of its new Creative channel by streaming a marathon of every episode of Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting. “That’s 403 episodes of Bob Ross that will play over the course of 8.5 days,” Twitch wrote in a blog post announcing everything. For those who don’t remember or who weren’t alive for The Joy of Painting’s 11-year run on PBS, each episode features Bob Ross, glorified by his iconic-ass perm, softly, at a near-whisper, guiding his viewers through the day’s tutorial for the wet-on-wet oil painting of some natural setting — a setting he’d elevate to near holy levels with his “happy trees” and “friendly clouds” and “lazy rivers” and “almighty mountains.”
Art, like gaming, can be a lonely sport. You could almost even say isolation of some sort is necessary to the success of the endeavor. What Ross did with The Joy of Painting was he made art a little less lonely and a little more like his clouds: friendly. He talked to you like a friend sitting right next to you while you and he painted. In other words, if you think about it, The Joy of Painting presaged the absurdly insane popularity of Let’s Play videos that have become the most dominant voice in video game culture.
That is one thing that inspired such a pairing. Beyond that, you find out very early on watching “BobRoss” on Twitch how inspired and how perfect of a choice Ross was for the launch of the Creative channel. There’s the aspirational aspect for sure. It almost goes without saying Ross’ cajoling and comforting “You can do it if you believe in yourself” tone is the signature value of his show. But it’s only when you begin reading the accompanying real-time chat from the stream’s viewers that you realize the value of Ross and the value of Twitch itself: They manufacture a plethora of inside jokes with absolute ease. In other words, they’ve achieved the Holy Grail of the internet: They have the ability to create a meme at will.
If you watch multiple episodes in a row, you’ll see both in the episode itself and in the chat that there are motifs abounding and that Ross tends to rely on a set of phrases and gestures. Episodes often open on Ross standing next to his blank canvas saying, “Hi” or “Hello” with the chat responding back, “Hi Bob!” or something of the sort.
Next, Ross will introduce the oil paints he’ll be using throughout the episode which, among others, almost always include (which I’ve learned were paints from his own line of oil paints):
- Alizarin Crimson (which in his Floridian accent sounds like Lizard Crimson)
- Dark Sienna (which, whenever he says the color, invariably inspires people to type “Dark Cena” or “John Cena” into the chat)
- Pthalo Blue (which just sounds funny)
- Van Dyke Brown (which seems to be the favorite color of the chat, occasionally inspiring chants of “Van Dyk Hype” re Paul Van Dyk)
- Titanium White (Ross pronounces white the same way Stewie from Family Guy pronounces Cool Whip with extra emphasis on the H…in a later episode, Ross’ son Steve took over the easel for an episode and even referred to his use of Titanium “Hhhwite” as putting Cool Whip on a pie, which promptly exploded the chat…which in other words, STEVE ROSS IS A GENIUS FROM THE FUTURE WHO IS TROLLING US FROM THE PAST)
Next, Bob will make his first brushstroke on the canvas, which without fail inspires perhaps the funniest and longest-running inside joke of the chat: Ross RUINING and then SAVING his paintings. Usually, Ross will RUIN a painting when he first starts painting (disturbing the serenity of the beautiful blank canvas) and when he makes the first strokes to create some new feature of the landscape.
Ross, of course, SAVES the painting when those once seemingly RUINING strokes turn into something beautiful, a reflection or a bunch of bushes or one of Ross’ many, many, many, many happy trees.
At the end of each episode, with the painting finished and looking beautiful, people in the chat will resoundingly respond to Ross’ episode-ending line of “From all of us here, I’d like to wish you happy painting and God bless” with “GG” (which means “good game” in gamer parlance).
That’s not all though, of course, I mean, it could never be. In between “Hi Bob!” and “GG, Bob” are moments rife with inside joke potential. Here are a few:
- When Ross cleans and dries a brush, he dips it into a can of odorless paint thinner and then smacks the brush several times against the leg of his easel or the side of the can of thinner, smiles and says something to the effect that he just “beat the devil out of it” to which the chat responds “R.I.P. Satan.” According to his Wikipedia, this was one of his favorite parts of painting.
- From time to time, Ross will use his finger to apply some paint to the canvas. He’ll pronounce finger as “fanger” which causes the chat to erupt with laughter. Also any close-ups of Ross’ fingers with particularly long nails will inspire a stream of “coke nail” jokes, NATURALLY.
- Whenever Ross paints particularly bright sunlight or a reflection of sunlight, he’ll say something about needing sunglasses which inspires the chat to break out the Twitch emote of the cat wearing sunglasses.
- “Thanks for the story, Bob!” If you’re lucky enough to catch an episode where Ross passes the time by telling the audience a quasi-relevant story to the painting at hand, you’ll encounter tales of the ordinary elevated to a level of sort of storytelling nirvana. The most recent story I encountered was earlier this morning when Ross told the story of how, when he was a kid, someone told him that wasps wouldn’t sting him if he pretended he was a tree. So one day he took a big stick and hammered a wasp’s nest and then proceeded to mimic a tree to no avail as the wasps absolutely destroyed him. LOL, BOB!
- [Insert name of thing found in nature] + HYPE. Given the motifs of the landscape painting genre, Ross paints the same objects enough that viewers can begin to anticipate when each object will come about. This elicits chants of, for example, “TREE HYPE” or “CLOUD HYPE” or “WATER HYPE” right before Ross begins to paint the object being beseeched.
My personal favorite thus far has been when Ross etched the outlines of a barn with his trusty and oft-referred-to painting knife, momentarily creating what he called a “ghost barn”.
Around 3 AM EST this morning, there were over 50K users viewing the stream. As someone pointed out this weekend, Bob Ross’ stream has many multiples of the amount of viewers of the most popular StarCraft stream. StarCraft isn’t anybody’s idea of a hugely popular game anymore but prior to this Thursday, it was still more recognizable and absurdly more popular than a PBS show that ceased airing over twenty years ago.
I’ll leave the “What does this all mean?” and “Is Twitch the future of TV?” for someone else. To be honest, there are less than five days left to marathon and I want to Bob Ross and chill (in this case, chill = take screenshots of funny chat memes on my phone…I WANT TO REMEMBER IT ALL) for as many of those remaining hours as possible.
I am not lonely nor am I alone. But I am 30. As is the case with the thirtysomething narrative, I see my friends less and less. They have husbands or wives and now children. The number of inside jokes I have with them dwindles by the day. Twitch chat is far, far, far from perfect and no amount of exposure to the philosophy of Bob The Boss Ross will change things in any real, tectonic way. But at 4:30 am PST Saturday, Twitch chat was awake with Bob Ross making jokes and making me laugh. At 11 am PST Sunday, Twitch chat was awake with Bob Ross making jokes and making me laugh. At 1:30 am PST Monday, Twitch chat was awake with Bob Ross making jokes and making me laugh. That is not nothing. This is how the future starts. If I could see all my friends tonight. If not, there’s this.