G-Man in Skibidi Toilet
Screenshot via YouTube

Plumbing the depths of Skibidi Toilet with Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw

Not even Mario would ever venture this far.

The expression “kids these days…” never fails to precede a superior display of generational and cultural disconnect. I’m trying to inoculate myself against one day getting the urge to say that by getting dangerously exposed to the thing that’s currently taking the youths by storm. That thing, right now, is Skibidi Toilet.

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Skibidi Toilet is a bizarre YouTube series that combines Half-Life 2 character models with toilets to tell a bonkers story. If it helps, you can think of it as an attempt at making the new generation’s Space Ghost Coast to Coast, or the G.I. JOE PSAs by someone who likely doesn’t even know those exist.

YouTube HL2 spoofs aren’t new, but the thing about Skibidi Toilet is how huge of a phenomenon it has become, and how it still managed to fly under the mainstream radar. To get an idea, “Baby Shark”—the most-viewed video on YouTube—came out in 2016 and has since amassed a bit over 14 billion views. “Despacito,” the most-viewed music video that isn’t about a Baby Shark, has surpassed 8 billion views after six years on YouTube. The Skibidi Toilet series is already past the 65 billion views mark being just a little over one year old.

I could try to describe what it’s all about, but there’s no replacement for watching it. Click play below! It’s short and sweet — one of the reasons why it’s such a big viral hit both on YouTube and TikTok.

To avoid assessing the cultural phenomenon from a place of dangerous ignorance, I asked for the opinion of Half-Life series writer Marc Laidlaw. Marc promptly said something along the lines of “What the hell is that?”, but then went on to watch the whole thing and even shared his thoughts with me.

How did it feel to see a series that turns the characters that you created 20 years ago into singing toilets becoming one of the biggest things in the history of YouTube?

Laidlaw: I don’t really feel any connection to the characters…I didn’t model the G-Man, for instance, and whatever part of that character I created, it’s not the visual aspect. So I experience no discomfort whatsoever, but just watch with bemusement as the Garry’s Mod community wreaks havoc with the old playset. I think those who sunk a lot of time and expertise into creating HL2’s facial animation system might feel differently when they see these models with their vertices twisted and distorted in ways that make the underlying models look broken and awful, but DFB clearly knows how to do careful facial animation when they want to, and they’re using the typical G Mod distortions to make the Skibidi Toilet people seem more alien. As if they came in at a bad angle from another dimension, and they’re unstable here. Plus when they leap at the camera and their heads open up like a lamprey, that’s just scary. And I enjoy being scared. It’s certainly a testament to something that these 20 year old character models are still robust enough to be repurposed and weaponized for the wholesale colonization of the YouTube eco-entertainment niche, but not to my role in their original design.

What were your thoughts on Garry’s Mod back when it started making waves? Did you ever see this as a possible outcome?

I have always been all-aboard when it comes to fan mods, considering that my first entry into the game industry was in attempting to make maps for Quake. My background was in the [science fiction] and weird fiction communities, where you start out as a fan, imitate your models, borrow from them and warp what you’ve taken and somehow through that try to find your own path and build your own worlds. So the fans of today because the creators of tomorrow, and that’s perfectly natural. The cynical view is that by encouraging this, the industry trains up its cheap young labor, so they are excited to jump in and be worked to the point of burnout doing something that they started off in all innocence loving until it becomes their ruin. Garry’s Mod seemed too insane and chaotic from the outset to give rise to anything other than more playful chaos, and in fact that’s still pretty clearly visible even in the more recent installments of Skibidi Toilets. No way could I have foreseen this, but it encourages me. A few people out there are aware that deep in the doldrums between HL1 and HL2, I made a few surreal maps such as “Ickypop,” where I used the resources available to me at the time (a limited number of models and environments and map entities). I love this sort of thing, and I recognized the same impulse at work in the first skibidi toilet episodes—just to build the weirdest thing you can imagine, with no explanation, but simply because you can. And then, the best part, you can share it with other people to see if they think it’s as amusing as you do.

Time will see culturally relevant work end up estranged, sometimes to the point of it losing all connections to its original context. It goes from cover songs that replace original in our consciousness, to revolutionary messages becoming mass-produced merchandise. Skibidi Toilet has over 65 billion views, most from a demographic younger than Half-Life 2. It’s possible some from the younger generations may know the G-Man as a huge toilet, rather than the enigmatic Half-Life adversary. How does this make you feel?

As you say, this is one way we pass down our cultural DNA. I grew up watching Looney Toons full of celebrities of the ‘40s, some of whom were already nearly forgotten by the ‘60s. Mad Magazine parodies were my introduction to all sorts of seminal movies I’ve still never seen, but feel I have. Kids younger than me who never read Mad still saw images of Alfred E. Neuman, though I’m sure many don’t really know where he comes from. Maybe the G-Man is just our new Alfred E. Neuman.

Anyone who follows you on Instagram or YouTube knows that you love making music. You have already created at least two remixes of the Skibidi toilet song at the time of this writing. What are your thoughts on the song itself? Do you consider yourself involved in the movement now?

Well, I gotta say, Little Big’s original Skibidi song, which is where it all began, is really fantastic. I know there’s more to it than that but I haven’t dug into it too much. And yes, I did two remixes, but I can’t see doing any more of these. I love sampling but I’m wary of making music out of things that aren’t mine. However, if some actual rightsholder were to approach and ask and commission me to do a remix, then hell yeah! As far as being in the movement, I think my ongoing YouTube series sets about the right level of involvement… I’ve made over three hours of videos of me looking at my laptop, and somehow a number of people derive enjoyment from watching me watching a screen they themselves cannot see. But I confess the whole culture of reaction videos, where an audience watches someone else watch something, is bizarre and unfathomable to me. I say that even having done it myself now. And I did it partly to understand it. If I were writing a new satiric sf novel about the near future, in the vein of Dad’s Nuke or Kalifornia, this would be a pretty good starting theme. Maybe that’s why I did it. Yeah, it’s research! “Who will watch the watchers watching the watchers watch the watchers?” (It sounds much cooler in Latin, believe me.)

One of the most endearing aspects of the Half-Life series is its mysteries. Fans constantly wonder about things such as the (real) G-Man’s endgame. Does experiencing the Skibidiverse make you wonder similar things about this bonkers new world?

Hahah, not really. I am not all that big on the lore side of things, even as a consumer. I’m happy to just take what I’m giving, enjoy it as I’m watching, and move on. Very rarely does any kind of fictional world—game, book, or movie—no matter how much I enjoy it, make me want to delve deeper into its background. I like to know there’s shadowy stuff there and reasons under the surface level of what I’ve seen, but it’s enough to sense them. I think the only game that ever inspired me to seek out the external lore (whether official or pure speculation) was Bloodborne. I can’t say I spend any time wondering what’s going on between the Skibidi factions when I’m not actually watching an episode.

Do you prefer to watch from the sidelines, or does Skibidi toilet give you even the slightest urge to come up with your own story set in its universe? Would you be down to a collab with the man behind this series?

I don’t like to interfere with people who are making cool stuff. My own involvement or injection of myself into this world would just make it less amusing to me. It’s not very “me,” and I like that about it. It is its own thing and I respect that. It’s original and unique. Why mess with that?

Lastly, anything else you’d really like your fans to know about Skibidi toilet, and your feelings on it?

I try to express my thoughts and feelings as I watch the episodes, and interacting in the comments is enjoyable and the best way to keep up with how I feel at a given time. I learn from the comments…there are people in there who know a LOT about Skibidi Toilets! I decidedly do NOT. I still don’t really know the whole kid angle, I admit, I don’t have any family members or friends who are the prime age for this as a youth phenomenon. Maybe I should be grateful for that.

When not binging Skibidi Toilet on YouTube, Marc spends his time writing and making music. Do you find yourself dearly missing the Half-Life series? Well, then you should consider heading right here and getting a book written by the person who wrote that universe. You can check out his solo tunes here, and his band Mort Solár here.

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Tiago Manuel
Tiago is a freelancer who used to write about video games, cults, and video game cults. He now writes for Destructoid in an attempt to find himself on the winning side when the robot uprising comes.