The internet basically exploded when megalomaniac (but borderline musical and business genius) Kanye West began spewing rage-filled Tweets about Jimmy Kimmel after the comedian recreated West’s recent BBC One interview with children.
But is the feud real?
Media outlets are reposting West’s caps-lock-only rants, ranging from reasonable (albeit hyperbolic) criticism ….
… alongside the disclaimer that we have no idea whether the social media sparring is true or “a wild parody.”
A month ago, most people would have immediately taken the social media sparring at face value. Kanye is famous for his Twitter tirades. He hates Matt Lauer and tweeted more than 80 times between a Wednesday night and Thursday morning about his plans to start a clothing company called DONDA. He also has a big ego.
But now people are thinking before they laugh—thanks to Kimmel. That’s because, two weeks ago, the comedian engineered one of the biggest web hoaxes in recent memory: he released a video of a twerking session that went horribly wrong under a decoy account. Perceived as a genuine nugget of viral gold, it accumulated 9 million views in less than a week and was widely covered. Then, with a gotcha smile, Kimmel revealed that he fooled us all.
And it made people mad. As Slate‘s Daniel Engber put it: “Kimmel’s prank is not a biting satire, nor is it a mirror to our stupid culture. It’s a hostile, self-promoting act—a covert ad for Jimmy Kimmel Live—rendered as ironic acid that corrodes our sense of wonder.”
In other words, he made his audience the butt of the joke—the opposite of his previous pranking successes, like the video of kids’ reactions after parents had lied about eating all of their Halloween candy, that let his viewing audience in from the get-go. We were laughing with Kimmel; he wasn’t laughing at us. We believed it was real, and it was. And the video has 42 million views and counting.
Now, Kimmel himself—embroiled in what could have been a purely amusing back-and-forth—has to assure fans he’s not kidding. And even then, they’re not all convinced:
Of course, given the nature of this particular feud (Kanye is still seething), we’re inclined to believe him. But if more and more fans do not, Kimmel’s overall brand could take a hit. Even though comedians have license to toy with their audience, says Nick Nanton, CEO of The Dicks + Nanton Celebrity Branding Agency, “he’s walking a fine line. Not many people will hang around if they feel like they’re the butt of the joke.”