I Think You Should Leave conquers our greatest fear: babies

Deirdre Fidge on the surprising pathos of Tim Robinson’s absurd comedy

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I’m Michael Sun, Netflix Culture Editor at Junkee and I’m scared of babies. This week, I chat to writer, comedian, and winner of the Hog Shit Snarfing Contest Deirdre Fidge on the one scene from I Think You Should Leave which reveals to us the stunning existential truths behind absurd king Tim Robinson’s crazy antics.

MS: Deirdre, normally in this newsletter we dive right into the scene at hand. But I feel like we need to do things a little differently this time to fully prime the uninitiated into the cult of Tim Robinson. At the risk of inviting chaos, tell me…what I Think You Should Leave…is about…

DF: I Think You Should Leave is a show about those tiny, bizarre moments we all experience… and also tiny, bizarre moments literally nobody has experienced. I’ve never before encountered a show that is simultaneously relatable and yet so surreal and distinctly UNrelatable. Its second season only heightens its dark moments and instantly sympathy-inducing characters — a “haha!...aww” type of reaction. That’s comedy, baby! 

A more boring person would say that ITYSL is an absurdist sketch comedy that often seems to take a predictable narrative structure or scenario but flips it on its head. Many of the scenes disguise themselves as straightforward jokes but abruptly go in a completely unexpected direction. And then really keep going. But I’m not boring, I’m very cool, so I didn’t say that. 

Some people also say analysing comedy takes the fun out of it, but to that I say *whoopie cushion noise*. Oh so what’s the joke? That I had a milder fart than I normally do? That I farted and nobody barfed? 

Unfortunately I am not cool and am very boring so I love explaining and over-explaining jokes. I also love this blend of absurd comedy and pathos that you mention, which is exactly what the scene you’ve chosen exudes.

Oh, absolutely. The sketch opens at a birthday party, with adults cooing over a baby. Tim Robinson plays one of the guests, who is offered the child to hold. As soon as he’shanded his friend's child, I cringed, which only intensified when the baby started crying. Now that I'm 32, I've had infants handed to me non-consensually for over a decade. If you have little experience with them, babies are terrifyingly confusing and fragile. THERE IS A SOFT SPOT ON THEIR HEAD WHERE THE SKULL HASN'T FORMED AND THEIR BRAIN PULSES OUT OF. Sorry. I really hate fontanelles.

Alongside the fear of dropping the baby and having it crash like crockery in one of those corporate smash rooms, there exists a primal need within us to be accepted by an infant. They are so pure of heart. It is a major rejection if a baby is distressed by your mere presence, akin to the experience of trying to pat a dog only to have it flee. Unfortunately this is what happens to Tim Robinson in this scene. : "It's not a big deal,” he apologises. “He probably doesn't like me because I used to be a piece of shit." 

Most of us can't speak to this very specific definition of being a piece of shit (if you can, please reach out, I have so many questions), but we have all been forced to revisit our own past at one point or another.

The sketch could have ended there and still been funny. When a baby looks up at you, it feels like they're looking directly at your soul, and we are reminded of our own past. Fears and regrets are exposed and we softly hear the drumming of the slow march towards death. 

Never has anything quite accurately captured the Venn diagram intersection of my two greatest fears: babies and existential dread. It’s truly scary to see both depicted — with alarming clarity — in this sketch. But wait…there’s more?

There IS more! Like many of ITYSL's scenes, the bit continues for longer than you expect, and totally unpredictably. The kicker of this sketch is that we learn this guy's 'piece of shit' history is surprisingly tame: he explains that he used to slick his hair back, wear a white bathing suit and engage in something called Sloppy Steaks. 

Most of us can't speak to this very specific definition of being a piece of shit (if you can, please reach out, I have so many questions), but we have all been forced to revisit our own past at one point or another. Or daily, if you're lucky enough to have depression! The sketch demonstrates that we are our own harshest critic, carrying shame and regret around in our pockets. It weighs us down, and is often pointless.

After the absurd flashback of these young men dampening their dinners and fleeing to the beach, a surprisingly tender moment follows. We see the same baby, now in the man's memory, looking at him. They both smile. He accepts himself, and the inner turmoil is lessened, even if only slightly. Most of us can only dream of achieving this self-acceptance. It is one of those aforementioned 'haha!... aww' moments that takes us completely by surprise, and it is frankly annoying that Tim Robinson is a master of both goofiness and pathos. 

I want to dig deeper into what actually goes into that goofiness to pathos pipeline. It literally feels like watching a magic trick, except the magician is Tim Robinson and the trick is making us feel 🥺. Is it that, by heightening our own anxieties — around babies, bedrenched steaks, being a piece of shit — he shows us how ridiculous they truly are?

That’s exactly it. It’s a solid example of season two’s tone which offers more humanity and pure desperation than the first. Being an auntie to two (lovely) toddlers, I’ve been surprised by my own self-critic when my nephews don’t laugh at my joke, or decline an offer of a hug or activity. That’s brilliant! They’re developing personalities and showing autonomy! I think to myself, a single tear rolling down my cheek. It’s definitely not because you’re a huge failure with no redeeming qualities and a scary face!

In this sketch, and in much of the series, Robinson’s character voices those inner anxieties and forces us to laugh at them. In many of the sketches, his characters are crying during the climax of the gag. In this particular one, he walks over to the parent, saying earnestly, “I’m worried the baby thinks people can’t change.” It’s okay, Tim, they know — and we can. And maybe, just maybe, you weren’t such a piece of shit after all.

If there is hope for a guy who eats his steaks doused in water then there is hope for us all.

Frankly Michael, this has inspired me to try it out, so I’m on my way to the local steakhouse, which is what I call a nearby café who keep requesting I stop asking for steak.

Deirdre Fidge is a Melbourne-based writer whose work has appeared in the Guardian, ABC News, Sydney Morning Herald and Frankie. She has written sketches for BBC Online and Season Two of Get Krackin’, and was most recently on the writing team for ABC’s The Weekly. You can follow her on Twitter here.
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