March 2022

Where Is “Joe Byron” Now?

How “Bing Bong” Is Haunting NYC

Where Is “Joe Byron” Now? How “Bing Bong” Is Haunting NYC

As chanting “Joe Byron” replaced T-posing in middle schools everywhere, the simulation we live in became a lot more peaceful. Internet-using kids and adults everywhere, on any platform (not just on TikTok), were familiar with the sound, and likely, the man saying it too. Most were repeating “Joe Byron” in their head every day, maybe following it up with a “Take me out to dinner.” Aimless “Bing Bongs” rattled around everyone’s skulls last December, and that’s why it’s surprising that no one’s talking about him now. No one really thinks about that homeless man who started the Joe Byron trend.

It all started in Coney Island, September 2021, where the street-interview collective Sidetalk NYC was performing a routine check-up. They’d been to Coney Island, a deep part of Brooklyn, two times before, once in April and once in July, and both times they ran into an unmistakable local.

At first glance, many would classify him as “a tweaker,” someone who Urban Dictionary defines as, “An extremely paranoid individual.” It’s a term and concept associated with drug abuse and it’s been around a lot longer than the internet, however, its prominence in viral video content outweighs any of its prior popularity. Tweaker content, first of all, has always been easy to create, since all one needs is to be in the right place at the right time. Second of all, everyone’s inherently interested in watching it — just watching a tweaker is a lot easier than seeing one in real life.

In this, tweaking content has proven again and again its reliability in regards to audience reach. An extreme example of this would be in 2012 when a “bath salts cannibal“ ripped a man’s face off. It was something news outlets wanted cover, each showing a small clip of it, no matter how gruesome the details were. More recently (and less extreme) Tweak Season, a creator on TikTok dedicated to documenting drug-addicted randoms, has grown a large following. Another modern, TikTok example is TwistyP, known for his chaotic singing of “Where the problem at?”

Joe Byron (at first) was no different. Sidetalk went to Coney Island and engaged with anyone who’d bite. Most of the time, someone “who bites” usually has to be tweaking (at least in some regard).

It’s not really Sidetalk’s fault for what happened (all they did was post the thing). Like any viral creator, they wanted the attention, and no one cared since Joe Byron saying, “Take me out to dinner,” was hilarious.

When the Sidetalk video was posted at the beginning of September, the video trended across all platforms. By late October, the original clip had been reposted so many times on TikTok that it gained even more traction. Due to this over-saturation of the clip, a repost became an original sound and a lip-dub trend started to blossom. In each iteration of people recreating the “Take Me Out to Dinner” scene, the creators became increasingly flamboyant in their motions and lip-syncing.

When the TikToks started to trend, alongside it, the catchphrase “Bing Bong” mirrored its popularity, evident in internet trend graphs showing both keywords (”Joe Byron” and “Bing Bong”) having the exact same arc in search history, starting in mid-November and petering out by late December. In fact, “Bing Bong” nearly quadrupled searches for “Joe Byron” at the beginning of December. This could be because of the New York Knicks’ adoption of the catchphrase, who during every game and on every T-shirt at their stadium had “Bing Bong” written seemingly everywhere. Just like the search-engine graphs though, that too petered out in a month.

Now, in New York City, no one’s wearing a Bing Bong T-shirt. This is partly due to the inherently fast lifecycle of multi-million hit memes (like Joe Byron) in general;  the ones that get news coverage within a month and die quickly. However, with Joe Byron, it’s another issue too, and it has to do with the optics of the man himself.

The world would later find out that the man behind the meme was TJ. Homeless and recently enrolled in a rehab facility, TJ had just left recovery as a sober man sometime before December. When the trend was at its peak, a friend of his, whose handle is @therealpowerpuffgurl on TikTok, recorded a somber video of him. In it, he’s vaguely weeping and asking the camera, “Why am I homeless?” I that video, it was decided that TJ needed a GoFundMe which his friend started immediately. In only four days, the campaign raised over $26,000, with donors like Bhad Bhabie (also known as the Catch Me Outside girl) giving $10,000 of the proceeds.

Things were looking up for TJ as Christmas approached. On December 10th, he was seen in a TikTok flashing house keys, reporting that he'd bought a home. On December 12th, he was seen shopping in SoHo, updating his wardrobe to match his new lifestyle. He was seen on December 16th, recorded by a passerby, sitting in a brand new Chevy Camero, all decked out with lights and decals.

All of these creators, that documented him during his “glow-up” era were strangers, recognizing him organically. Their tone was happiness too, excited for TJ and his life having turned around. In fact, shortly after, he thanked his fans in a separate TikTok, praising them for their support and proceeds.

But unfortunately, the positive documentation stopped there. In multiple TikToks posted after the aforementioned ones, TJ was purportedly seen “tweaking” again, documented once more by strangers. In one video, he’s seen rolling around in a TD bank ATM room. The stranger recording him is standing in the doorway, not helping him as he babbles nonsense and proceeds to cry a little bit, asking the stranger to take him home. The guy recording him continued to think he was in a meme or something, telling Byron that he's “dripping" and “tweaking” in adjacent sentences. He almost doesn’t believe TJ’s current state, reiterating to him that he's "seen the videos," in regards to the ones of him owning expensive things.

The whole video felt terrible (on both sides of the camera). TikTokers in the comment section let the creator have it, telling him how insensitive it was. One commenter even noted the most dystopian yet undoubtedly hilarious moment in the video: when TJ is crying against the glass and the stranger asks him, “Who’s the president?” as he actually responds “Byron” through tears.

The last time the internet heard from Joe Byron, he went on a road trip with Zoe, a friend that started the GoFundMe campaign for him. They made it all the way out to Dallas, Texas, encountering fans there who took pictures with TJ or danced with him in a club en masse. But the video of them on the road trip has since been deleted by Zoe and her TikTok page has been awfully quiet. In the comment section of her most recent video (posted on January 8th) TikTokers are asking “Where’s Byron?” in various ways.

Now, we not might be hearing from Joe Byron for a completely different reason too. Perhaps he just doesn’t want to be associated with the Jonas Brothers and Joe Biden. When they recreated his video in the oval office, it was a cringe felt ‘round the world. Now, when anyone looks up “Joe Byron” on a platform like Twitter, the only tweets they’ll see are those trying to denounce Biden, using it as a cryptic meme-based slogan similar to “Let’s Go Brandon.”

No one’s really looking up “Where’s Joe Byron now?” either. Even the two students behind Sidetalk NYC won’t talk about him (but it’s not like anyone’s asking them either). Nems, the man who was holding the mic in the original video and is also a Coney Island content creator, is the most recently interviewed person out of the collective. He was interviewed by Variety in mid-January but nowhere in it does he mention the status of TJ.

This isn’t a sob story, but the next headline about Joe Byron might not be a positive one. It’s not Sidetalk’s fault or Nems’ or Zoe’s. In reality, it’s just another story on the internet that everyone needed to latch onto for a month. The internet needs clicks (clicks to fuel the economy) paying off goober journalists to cover a GoFundMe-based retribution arc. People are always going to watch tweakers tweak because it’s the visualization of a mindset they’re so close to understanding but never want to inhabit themselves. Everyone’s rooting for TJ (of course), but if he fails, they’ll watch that too.

click here to read this article in the March 2022 Meme Insider issue.