In fact, one use of “gaaay”—also written as “gayyyy” and with other A to Y ratios—as a derogatory term in 2010 became one of the most popular memes of that decade.
That would be none other than the meme, mostly used in GIF form, of Ken Jeong yelling, “Ha! Gaaay!” while seated in the back of the Community classroom. And while the phrase and Jeong’s delivery of it is supposed to be satirical, the meme took on a life (and meaning) of its own.
The origin of ‘Ha! Gaaay!‘
Jeong’s quip comes from Community, an NBC comedy series about a functional community college that ran from 2009 to 2015. It stars Joel McHale, Donald Glover, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Chevy Chase. Ken Jeong also plays a recurring role as Ben Chang, an employee at the fictional community college.
The line “Ha! Gaaay!” is from the first episode of Community’s second season.
For context, McHale’s character, Jeff Winger, stands in front of a classroom of his peers and says that “the tool most important to humanity’s survival … is respect.”
Without missing a beat, Jeong (as Chang) yells, “Ha! Gaaay!” And the gayyyy meme took flight.
While “Ha! Gaaay!” is not the most popular GIF originating from Community (that would be Donald Glover as Troy Barnes entering a room on fire while holding pizza boxes), clips of it on YouTube have racked up millions of views over the years.
One uploaded by @ImpactDesignsHD has been watched over 14 million times.
Jeong’s face has also been illustrated into a character used in Reddit’s rage comics (which were popular around the time Community aired) and sold on T-shirts, greeting cards, stickers, phone cases, and mugs.
Other iterations of the “Ha! Gaaay!” joke have been created with other characters: A particularly popular one is the homophobic seal (also referred to as the gay seal), which is a cartoon of a seal saying Jeong’s classic line.
Who is the butt of the joke?
In Community, the butt of the joke is Jeong’s character—because calling something “gay” and doing so in a silly voice was already seen as immature in 2010.
The quip, in a vacuum, is harmless: A character says something sincere, and another character, who is understood to be irreverent and unpredictable, yells out that it’s gay with comedic delivery. But taken out of context, as the joke was, it became homophobic IRL.
That’s the issue with making a homophobic joke that makes fun of itself. The comedic inception gets lost, and people start using “gayyyy” to actually call things “gay” and use the word as a pejorative.
This essential tension is sometimes referred to as hipster homophobia, or when being homophobic as a joke actually turns into homophobia. Hipster homophobia is the lesser-known cousin of hipster racism, or being racist ironically or “as a joke.”
How is the ‘gayyyy’ meme used in 2023?
Even though the joke is 13 years old, it’s been uploaded to TikTok many times and referenced in the captions of many videos as well. The phrase “gayyyy” is also still uttered on X in memes or text responses.
Most uses of “Ha! Gaaay!” are self-referential or within the queer community: Queer people make fun of themselves or their flamboyant quirks with the phrase or call out friends for being (or acting) gay in a celebratory, joyous sense.
But that doesn’t mean that the phrase isn’t still used homophobically in some corners of the internet.