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As humanity crossed into a new millennium, many within our species adopted a catchphrase courtesy of Budweiser.
It’s hard to overstate how ubiquitous this ad campaign became in popular culture. For a good couple of years there, everywhere you turned, someone might ask you “whassup?!” with their tongue dangling loosely from their face. Though the ad debuted in December of 1999, the campaign took off after it ran an advertisement during the 2000 Super Bowl between the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans.
The commercials were based on a short film, entitled True, written and directed by Charles Stone III, that featured Stone and several of his childhood friends – Fred Thomas, Paul Williams, Terry Williams, Jimmy “Puerto Rock” Perez and Kevin Lofton. The characters sat around talking on the phone and saying “whassup?” to one another in a comical way. The short was popular at a number of film festivals around the country was eventually sent by Steve Weinshel of C&C STORM films to creative director Vinny Warren and art director Chuck Taylor at the Chicago-based ad agency DDB, who took the idea to August A. Busch IV, vice president of Anheuser-Busch, who licensed the idea from C&C Storm films and signed Stone to direct Budweiser TV commercials based on the film. Scott Martin Brooks won the role of Dookie when Kevin Lofton declined to audition.
Eight years later, Stone made another version of the ad with the same cast, called Wassup 2008. The two-minute short film was heavily critical of the presidency of George W. Bush and was a clear endorsement of the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. The 2008 video was nominated for the Favorite User Generated Video award at the 35th People’s Choice Awards.
In popular culture
The film Scary Movie (2000) parodied the ad in one scene.
In 2001, the British music duo Shaft released a song and video titled “Wassuup!” under the name Da Muttz, referencing the Budweiser ad, set to a sample of “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer (which, in turn, sampled Rick James‘ “Super Freak“). It reached number 11 on the UK Singles Chart, and was also a hit on charts across Europe and in Australia.
Professional wrestling tag team The Dudley Boyz incorporated part of the ad as one of their signature moves. D-Von would climb to the top rope while Bubba Ray held an opponent’s legs apart, before they both stuck out their tongues and did the Whassup head shake. D-Von would then execute a diving headbutt to the crotch of the opponent.
The Greg the Bunny episode “Father and Son Reunion” (2002) featured the character Gil trying to bond with his son Jimmy. Gil thinks all young people use the expression to be cool. They go out together along with Greg the Bunny and Gil shouts the expression at everyone they meet, much to the embarrassment of Jimmy.
In the 2003 Friends episode “The One With Phoebe’s Rats”, Ross enters Monica and Chandler’s apartment saying “Whassup” trying to imitate the commercial, to which Chandler replies, “Seriously dude, three years ago!”
The Office episode “Pilot” has Michael Scott, Jim, and Dwight exchanging the expression with each other. Jim wryly tells the camera that Scott is still doing it constantly, seven years after the ad was popular.
The ad is also parodied in four episodes of the web series The Annoying Orange. It has since become a staple running gag.
The band Falling in Reverse parodied the ad in the music video of the song “Good Girls, Bad Guys” (2011).
The phrase is used as a recurring joke in the 2012 film That’s My Boy, starring Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg. There are also multiple occurrences of Budweiser product placement throughout the film.
In the film Central Intelligence (2016), Bob Stone sends Calvin Joyner a video clip of the ad and asks, “remember those commercials?”
In the Letterkenny episode “The Election” (2016), Stewart parodies the ad with Reilly & Jonesy in a campaign video for Wayne.
In the film Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) Luis pulls up next to Scott and says it multiple times.
In June 2018, Burger King and Budweiser partnered to create a new Whassup? commercial.
In episode 148 of “Being the Elite” titled, “Dead Friend 1”, Socal Uncensored (SCU) parodied the ad but instead of “Whassup”, they say SCU.
Why did this catch on? I suspect that the ad taps into a a collective unconscious desire for close communities. You don’t green someone this way unless you either have a close relationship or unless you desire that. Associating that desire for intimacy with a drink often associated with group gatherings is actually quite clever.
Or maybe it’s just funny and that’s all that there is to it.