Before Elmo’s iconic delivery of the phrase “balsamic vinegar” on The Tonight Show—before his feud with Rocco rocked the internet and before we all realized he had a New York accent—there was the Elmo on fire meme.
Elmo is, of course, one of the main muppet characters on the children’s show Sesame Street. Read on to learn about the Elmo meme that took the internet by (fire) storm.
The meme’s origins
Also known as “Hellmo” or “Elmo Rise,” the Elmo on fire meme originated from an Elmo-themed birthday cake. For a child’s first birthday, a cake with a strange, possessed-looking Elmo was baked—and then at some point in 2012, posted on CakeWrecks.com.
Two years later, an image of Elmo on the cake was superimposed onto a GIF of flames and captioned “All hail Hellmo, our dark lord of the internet,” according to the meme database Know Your Meme.
Hellmo is included on most standard GIF keyboard extensions, and the internet has sung its praises for years. HuffPost even deemed it “The Single Best GIF For Conveying Messy Workplace Emotions.”
The GIF can really convey anything you want: Extreme happiness, extreme anger, chaos, feeling overwhelmed, or even just your reaction to the inevitable passage of time.
The meme has also been recreated and posted in different formats online: One TikToker drew the meme digitally, another made it in Fortnite, one braided it into a friendship bracelet, and many have set actual Elmo dolls on fire.
Spotting Elmo on fire IRL
Not only has it migrated offline, but it’s also been recreated IRL. In 2020, a protester dressed up as Elmo attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Philadelphia and stood in front of trash cans that had been set ablaze, bringing the meme to life.
Other Elmo Memes
Though the Elmo on fire meme dominates the Elmo meme space, other memes that feature the iconic character have gained traction, as well. One is Elmo sitting on the toilet and dancing from an episode of Sesame Street during which he is potty-trained by his father.
Tickle Me Elmo, an Elmo toy that was originally created in 1996 by Tyco Toys, also has an internet presence of its own. The lore of the toy is that it’s possessed, as apparently malfunctioning versions of the dolls have threatened children.