Whitmer Thomas’ HBO stand-up special The Golden One premiered in February 2020, but it wasn’t until the next month that he became a viral sensation. Merely a week after COVID-19 stay-at-home orders went into effect, Thomas uploaded a new video to Instagram and Twitter; “Big Baby” finds the comedian, his face digitally de-aged, singing nonsensical phrases (“Skip skop ribbet don laptop pop”) over a thumping beat. The song couldn’t be more different than the deeply personal, somber-yet-humorous tracks Thomas recorded for The Golden One, about depression (“It Hurts To Be Alive”), his mom’s alcoholism-related death (“Partied To Death”), and his complicated relationship with his dad (“Dancing With My Dad”). But “Big Baby” is still a big part of Thomas’ persona.
“All of those little things I say in there, like ‘slappy do’ and ‘baby shoe’ and ‘mommy was a big baby’… those are just things that I’ve said when I’m moseying around doing shit,” Thomas told The A.V. Club. “All my friends make fun of me [for it]—when there’s silence, I go like, ‘Daddy wore a baby shoe’ or whatever.” He even noted that his girlfriend, fellow comedian Mitra Jouhari, says “Baby shoe!” whenever she does an impression of him. And “slappy do” has a connection to The Golden One: “I said ‘slappy do’ in that a bunch but we cut it out because it just doesn’t make sense.”
When he was nominated by Rory Scovel to take part in Tom Papa’s #LiveFromHome challenge for quarantined comedians, Thomas shared the “Big Baby” video on Instagram and Twitter, and it’s since amassed 1 million views on the latter. “I planned that bass groove on the bass, and I just sort of recorded all that, and then I put the synthesizer on it, and I was like, ‘I’m just going to put all my catchphrases into a song,’” he said. “And then I love that Snapchat baby filter, so that made sense to just get my roommate to show me dancing around singing the song.” All told, the video came together “in a couple of hours.”
Going viral is a crapshoot; we often see the most random things become online phenomenons. But it’s easy to understand why “Big Baby” resonated. It provided levity at the beginning of a dark time full of fear and distress. And while Golden One’s songs feel extremely relatable in the pandemic—especially “Hurts To Be Alive,” which is Thomas’ top song on Spotify with 329,683 streams— “Big Baby” was a nice distraction from the world being a dumpster fire. It also helps that it’s a family-friendly song that parents could entertain their kids with, too, which Thomas loves.
“I always want to toe the line between things that are more personal and maybe a little darker, maybe a little cynical, and then also making the silly… it’s like Adam Sandler-kinda vibe. That’s kind of my dream,” he said.
Soon after “Big Baby” started doing numbers on social media, Hardly Art general manager Matt Kolhede—whose label also released Songs From The Golden One—reached out to ask Thomas he wanted to put the song out on Spotify as a single. Thomas recorded a full-length version that became available on all streaming platforms.
The popularity of “Big Baby” brought a new audience to The Golden One, but they found out the hard way that it’s actually a special tied to trauma and grief, with Thomas telling his life story, detailing experiences like being abducted as a toddler (thankfully, the man who abducted him was caught immediately); his dad’s estrangement and consequent return into his life; and coping with the death of his musician mom, Jenny Henderson.
“A lot of people hit me up like, ‘I discovered you through “Big Baby” and then I watched your special,’” Thomas said. “And I’ve tweeted like, ‘There’s either Golden One Guys or ‘Big Baby’ Bros’ as far as my fanbase goes, and there are definitely more ‘Big Baby’ Bros than there’s Golden One Guys. People are gonna be really disappointed when I go on tour again!”
Though he eventually created a holiday sequel, “Big Baby Christmas,” Thomas has decided to retire the “Big Baby” bit. “I can’t think of any other Big Baby ideas. It was hard to make a sequel that was like, at all worth it, but I think it did okay. I didn’t make it good enough to where I put it on Spotify,” he said. Not every quarantine-era pop culture favorite has aged well (looking at you, Tiger King) but “Big Baby” will continue on making us sing along to being a hunky, chunky baby long after the pandemic eventually ends.