Way way back in the 1990s, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini created a cartoon about a superhero. No, not that one. In contrast to the Caped Crusader’s brooding pathos, this was to be an off-the-wall comedy. While Timm and Dini wanted a straight superhero show, Steven Spielberg—coming off the success of Warner Brothers’ Animaniacs—wanted another comedy. Thus was born Freakazoid!
The tale of Dexter Douglas, a teen who was sucked into his computer and obtained all of the knowledge on the internet, Freakazoid! only ran for two seasons, with 24 episodes in total. Perhaps that’s because it was ahead of its time.
When the show first aired in 1995, the internet was still something of a curiosity to many. I remember furiously trying to connect to our dial-up provider, getting a busy signal over and over before we were finally able to get through to do… I honestly don’t really remember. One time I tried to find information on the Legend of Zelda and ended up at a porn site.
Eight years later, I was still using a dial-up connection. But my memory of the internet in those days is a little clearer—I was downloading ROMs (which took ages), playing MUDs, and browsing 4chan. I know, I know.
Back in those days, the site was still pretty underground. I felt like an explorer, digging into this place that none of my friends knew about. And my favorite threads were the ones that employed call and response, inside jokes, and early memes—the kinds of things that made you feel like you were part of a community. A creepy, unpredictably hostile community, but still a community.
We’d call a lot of this content “old memes” these days. This was back before “meme culture” was mainstream online, before Tumblr, before weird Twitter. Look up “Milhouse is not a meme”, “That Fucking Cat”, or Advice Dog. All classics—but today I want to talk about a meme that was spawned from Freakazoid!
See, there’s a villain in the show. He’s real creepy looking—kind of like a thinner, floating Oogie Boogie. His MO? He ties people up with rope and then charters a bus to spirit them away someplace where they’re never seen again. But here’s the thing: he can only get you if you say his name.
Enter 4chan. Some enterprising soul whose name is lost to history posted a thread in which their post was cut off in the middle of the sentence, sometime after typing this character’s name, implying they’d been kidnapped. Other users caught on, and it became a gag. In his original appearance, the villain never grabbed anyone in the middle of the sentence, but in a text format it worked perfectly. Of course, this also implies that he’s nice enough to hit “send” before taking the poster away.
You might think this would get old quick, but there were myriad ways to riff on the joke. One of my favorites was when a user wrote out a long post bemoaning the prevalence of the meme, berating other users, and wishing for new content before finally saying the character’s name and cutting off in mid-sentence themselves.
It seems poetic to me how one of the earliest memes I remember encountering on the strange, still-untamed internet of the early 2000s was spawned from one of the first internet-aware cartoons of the 1990s. And Freakazoid! still holds up today—it’s become a cult classic, and for good reason. The show regularly broke the fourth wall, employed stock footage to great effect, and lampooned of-the-moment celebrities such as Paul Harvey, Bill Clinton, and even executive producer Spielberg himself. Plus, talk about an all-star cast: Ed Asner, David Warner, and Tress MacNeille, to name just a few.
So go watch a few episodes of Freakazoid! And in case you were curious, the character I’ve been talking about, Candlejack, appears in the second episode of the show—it’s a true piece of cartoon and internet histor