How the Crichton 'Leprechaun' taught the internet to love racist viral videos


Ahh, the early days of YouTube. Who could forget classics like, “Charlie bit my finger—again“? Or “Chocolate Rain“? Or, of course, the “Leprechaun in Mobile, Alabama“?

In the video, dozens of Mobile residents take to the streets of Crichton in search of what they described as a leprechaun nestled in a tree who would only appear to people in the evening. Peoples’ reasons for going to see the apparition varied from sheer curiosity to the very sensible desire of wanting a chance at some of its gold.

“This sketch resembles what many of you are saying the leprechaun looks like,” WPMI anchor Ryan Johnson explained. “Others find it hard to believe and have come up with their own theories and explanations for the image.”

The sketch in question was presented the way a newscast might display a potential suspect’s police sketch or mugshot, without any degree of irony.

While the people featured in the video were clearly participating in a lighthearted bit of communal silliness, WPMI, the NBC affiliate that produced the now-viral news segment, took their words to heart in a way suggesting that they just weren’t all that in on the joke.

In the 10 years since the video first hopped the air gap between television and the internet, it’s achieved impressive cultural saturation, and in doing so, has also ushered in a new, problematic era in which the real lives of poor, working class people of color are easily mined, remixed, and Auto-Tuned for the public’s pleasure.

“Leprechaun” predated the sort of “wacky” (read: usually poor, usually people of color) local news report flotsam surfaced by blogs and given global staying power with social network algorithms, but it quickly became the standard for that sort of digital content. It was run through an early version of the internet meme machine, churning out numerous parodies, ad infinitum.

In the years after “Leprechaun” other news outlets would pick up on similar “local interest” stories and the inherent “joke” of the original video was rehashed by comedy shows like South Park and Key & Peele.

As time has gone on, though, and as the public has become more familiar with the concept of local news being tweaked to be funnier, the way that the media frames and searches for these videos has changed. It’s unclear if WPMI was trying to make fun of black people for believing in leprechauns on St. Patrick’s day. But it’s blindingly obvious that black people like Antoine Dodson and Sweet Brown became internet famous not just for the outlandishness of the things they said, but because the news stations knew their interviews were valuable for non-news reasons.

The trajectory of Antoine Dodson’s viral moment resembled a Russian nesting doll—the same story packaged inside itself, many, many times over. Inside an unsettling local news story about a man climbing into Dodson’s sister’s bedroom window, presumably with insidious intentions, is moment that would be remixed into a song (“Bed Intruder Song”) that Dodson would perform live at the 2010 BET Hip Hop Awards and peak at number 89 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The contents of that song, remixed from his comments on-air, are disturbing to read alone:

He’s climbin’ in yo windows, he’s snatchin’ yo people up, tryin’ to rape ’em. So y’all need to hide yo kids, hide yo wife, and hide yo husband cause they rapin’ everybody out here.

Dodson’s moment would serve as critical inspiration for the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which opens with a local news segment about a neighborhood shocked to discover that a member of their community had been secretly keeping women trapped in an underground bunker.

In typical fashion, the reporters find an incredulous black person (played by Mike Britt, an actor) in a T-shirt and a wave cap who can’t stop screaming about how the women’s discovery is a miracle.

The Kimmy Schmidt theme song went viral for many of the same reasons that Charles Ramsay’s did: it’s frank, direct, and describing something absolutely ridiculous that happened.

Where Kimmy Schmidt excels, though, is in the not so subtle commentary that its video is making about the fact that an Auto-Tuned video would eventually eclipse the actual enslavement of women. The song is funny because it’s crafted by songwriters, comedians, and performers; it’s smart because it’s looking directly at the actual news media it’s playing.

As Scott Walker, the WPMI news anchor in the original “Leprechaun” broadcast, says in his latest report, he still doesn’t get tired of people asking him about the iconic clip. Its legacy, traced along several iterations of the viral web, lives on, seemingly unsullied to his eyes.

“I never get tired of hearing about it,” Walker writes of the video. “It’s funny and ridiculous and makes people laugh.

“Unfortunately, after all this time, we still don’t know where da gold at,” Walker says.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin