Chungus: A brief oral history

“What’s up, Doc?” meets “How do you do, fellow kids?”

From April 2-6, Warner Bros. is running a special event in their free-to-play mobile RPG Looney Tunes: World of Mayhem featuring a chubby variant of Bugs Bunny, now officially called “Big Chungus.” This version of Bugs first appeared in a 1941 animated short called Wabbit Twouble, though he was not any sort of chungus in a formal capacity until now. Sweet children and sad adults hooked on the title might assume that this new fat rabbit is just another wacky original concept. But anyone who farted around gaming Twitter for the past few years is likely aware that Big Chungus started with a meme in 2018. 

Or did he?

They say that explaining a joke is the best way to kill it. That goes triple for “random internet humor” that thrives off the appearance of coming out of nowhere and meaning nothing. 

Friends, nothing is random. Everything has meaning, and everything comes from somewhere. Even Chungus. Especially Chungus. 

No one knows exactly who was the first person to say the word “chungus.” It could have been a caveman. It could have been your dad. It could have been the famous Meatloaf, mispronouncing his own stage name in Vietnamese in a weak, sweaty attempt to sound cultured. When it comes to social media though, this off-hand tweet from 2010 is often cited as the oldest chungus utterance. 

It doesn’t seem to mean anything though, and no offense to @Sheelgetskyphy, but the tweet didn’t gain that much traction until 8 or 9 years later when chungus had already blown up and gotten itself everywhere. The place where chungus really started to spread was right here on Destructoid. In 2012, reviews editor James Stephanie Sterling told a story of Chicken Chungus on Podtoid, Dtoid’s official podcast.

Jim Steph’s new chungus wasn’t in reference to Sheel’s tweet. This chungus wasn’t among us at all. It was an organic, independent expression of ironic horniness, fascination with the bodily functions, and affectionate disgust with flesh in general. Over the next nine years, Jim Stephanie would regularly talk on podcasts about packing my chungus full of worms, running a train on my chungus, or any number of other sexual and/or horrific acts involving what, I thought, were probably my private parts. This continues to this day. Like Jim Stephanie themselves, chungus is many things at once, and it has captured the imagination of thousands. 

And so, “chungus” became a sort of a catch-all catchphrase for fans of Podtoid and multiple other podcasts Jim Steph starred on. Like so many internet things, those who understood it felt like they were part of a mainstream-unfriendly inside joke, and in that way, found a special sense of community through it. Also like many internet inside jokes, the persistence of time eventually led it to bubble up to the masses, though there were still a few steps of chungus ahead before it would get there. 

One of the major steps was the video below, created by Podtoid fan Blockbird in 2013. 

The audio came from the podcast, but setting it to visuals from The Dark Knight Rises was all Blockbird’s idea. The video did fairly well on YouTube, but it wasn’t until 2018 when the video was embedded on Facebook, uncredited, by a page called The Deepest Part of the Internet, that it really took off. I’m not going to embed the video here, but last I checked, it got about ten million views, and features Jim Stephanie exclaiming “I am the Chungus” at least once. Here is their tweet from 2018 reporting on the situation. 

So while we had wondered for years if little chungus-like ideas like Rick and Morty’s Plumbus were either chungus-influenced or directly chungus related, this was the first time we knew for certain that chungus had been taken and delivered by foreign hands to a larger, chungus-hungry audience. It was a little strange, but we figured it was just a brief, hot flash in the chungus pan. Then, in December of that year, we saw chungus blow up in ways we never could have predicted. 

In December of 2018,  GameStop store manager Justin Laufer posted a story on Facebook about a customer who came to the store asking to buy a game for their child called Big Chungus for the PS4. This was in reference to fake box art that a Reddit user named GaryTheTaco (who has since been banned from the site) had created as a joke. From there, the meme spread like wildfire, leading to songs, fan fiction, and God knows what else, eventually leading Warner Bros. to take it and make it “real.”

But why did this happen? Why did this nonsense word become something a billion-dollar corporation would co-opt and cash in on?

It’s anyone’s guess, but if I were to take a stab at it, I’d say it has to do with a certain tension that was in the air at that time, and it’s a tension that lingers today. The rules are constantly being upended. Every day you’re online, you may discover some strange new interest, new fetish, or new subculture that you may or may not want to be a part of. In the days before high-speed internet; TV, movies, and radio were largely in control of what we considered “normal.” There was a certain standard of beauty that we all thought we were supposed to adhere to (thin, clean, human).

Now, in 2021, objective standards of beauty are fractured at best, obliterated at worst. Every day, people openly explain online that they are most attracted to fat men, or women with dragon tails, or video game characters with no gender at all, and they do so without shame, leading them to inevitably find others that share their feelings. This is what chungus was on Podtoid, and this is what the half-sarcastic adoration of a chunky cartoon rabbit was playing off of whether people knew it or not. Older generations may feel left behind by the abandonment of a universally agreed-upon standard for beauty and normalcy. They may want to try to keep up, to ask to buy some fresh chungus at the local GameStop in order to connect with their child, hence the joke, and why it resonated with so many people. 

And now, you can actually buy some real chungus. Looney Tunes: World of Mayhem isn’t sold in stores, but you can bet that more than a few parents booted up this game this weekend with their kids in order to “See what all the fuss was about” regarding “that picture of a fat rabbit that makes my son laugh every time they see it”. Big Chungus is now just another “normal” thing, a crowd-pleasing icon that plays it safe. The underlying tickle that made Big Chungus, and all other chunguses (chungii?) pop with surreal charm has been flattened.

Chungus is dead. Long live Chungus. 

Jonathan Holmes
Destructoid Contributor - Jonathan Holmes has been a media star since the Road Rules days, and spends his time covering oddities and indies for Destructoid, with over a decade of industry experience "Where do dreams end and reality begin? Videogames, I suppose."- Gainax, FLCL Vol. 1 "The beach, the trees, even the clouds in the sky... everything is build from little tiny pieces of stuff. Just like in a Gameboy game... a nice tight little world... and all its inhabitants... made out of little building blocks... Why can't these little pixels be the building blocks for love..? For loss... for understanding"- James Kochalka, Reinventing Everything part 1 "I wonder if James Kolchalka has played Mother 3 yet?" Jonathan Holmes