The “Do a Barrel Roll” meme is one with a mostly fun history that starts with a video game and includes a bit of pranking. It’s also a phrase that some have discovered can produce a bit of unexpected fun. Before you keep reading, open up a new browser tab, type “do a barrel roll” into Google and see what happens. (You can also try it in Bing, but it won’t be the same.)
How did the ‘Do a Barrel Roll’ meme start?
According to Know Your Meme, the “Do a Barrel Roll” meme has its start with video games—specifically Star Fox 64, released in June 1997. The “do a barrel roll” command came from a character in the game, Peppy Hare, portrayed by Canadian-American voice actor Rick May.
A video uploaded to YouTube by creator DeusExBenigma has generated more than 5.9 million views since going up on June 4, 2007, and got the phrase “do a barrel roll” (and various permutations of that) more firmly out into the world.
Know Your Meme notes that in 2004, an Urban Dictionary entry first provided a definition for “do a barrel roll.” The entry reads, “An expression for what seems to be the solution to almost every impossible situation (in other words, a way of saying there is no solution.)”
How did “do a barrel roll” spread?
As Know Your Meme notes, there were conventional means — a Facebook fan page that has since been made unavailable to the general public — as well as more niche internet destinations, such as the YTMND site, on 4chan, and as a prank call to a 2016 Tom Green livestream show, captured for posterity on YouTube.
There, Green declared the person behind the prank, Xenon, “probably my favorite caller we’ve ever had.”
Though it originated in video games, the expression later became attached to a number of images, such as a cat and a helicopter, that could conceivably do a barrel roll.
Mourning the voice behind the meme
Rick May died in April 2020 of complications from COVID-19, as the pandemic was just beginning to fully take shape. His bio on IMDb notes that in addition to portraying “Peppy Hare and Andross from Star Fox 64,” he was also responsible for voicing “the Soldier from Team Fortress 2 [and] Dr. M from Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves.”
But his signature “do a barrel roll” was what inspired an entire server, as shown in this tweet, to pay tribute to May upon his passing.
An entire server paying respects to Rick May. pic.twitter.com/rFy5xmLUlg— DBlackjack21 (@DBlackjack21) April 13, 2020
In a reply tweet, another user shared what was reportedly a quote about May from a fellow instructor: “Rick used to laugh about the fact that he had done Shakespeare, he had done musical theater, he had directed and acted in stage productions, but what his students loved most about him and connected with, that he would most likely be remembered for, was his voice work in (games).”