There are a few signature features of a @LePubJames food video: the oil-slicked, carb-loaded, highly visual fare that has become the standard of top-down recipe videos everywhere; an infectious enthusiasm and appetite articulated in a voiceover; and unexpectedly funny catchphrases like the word “PARSLEY” sprinkled throughout in a Georgia drawl.
This sums up the work of Quentin Johnson — known as @LePubJames on Twitter and @pubbylongway on Instagram — a 26-year-old telecommunications worker in Albany, Georgia. The premise is simple: Johnson, a former Vine comedian, overlays recipe videos from food content factories like Tasty and Twisted with his own running commentary, narrating each step of the sped-up cooking process in a way that can only be described as delightful — and, with their meme-like appeal, practically designed to go viral.
Within a week of uploading his first food video to Twitter and Instagram in late May, Johnson racked up more than 10 million views, saw multiple videos achieve simultaneous virality, quadrupled his followings on Twitter and Instagram (as of press time, he now sits at 49,000 and 196,000, respectively), and received praise and retweets from admirers as prolific as Ava DuVernay. “I didn’t know it was going to blow up like that,” Johnson told me in an interview last week. “It was something that just came to me through boredom on one of my days off.”
Johnson had been at home, watching Facebook videos auto-play one after the other, when he came upon a clip of a man cooking a cartoonishly huge rack of ribs. It only took one take to nail the commentary track — and thus “Cookin in dis bih” was born.
Over the phone, Johnson is winningly gracious, though milder than his voiceover persona. He calls me “ma’am” (hard for me, the same age as him, to digest as a Northerner) and hypothesizes that his “country accent” largely inspires viewers’ zealous responses to his videos. “They like the way it sounds, I guess,” he said.
The accent isn’t an affect so much as just a punched-up version of himself — ”pure naturalness,” in his words — but it’s true, his fans are obsessed with how he says things, often honing in on his exaggerated enunciation of words like “parsley” (an urgent wheeze of “PARS-” followed by a softened “-ley”) and “penne” (“pa-nee-nee”). The comments below each video are filled with fans parroting their favorite lines; on one clip, the top-liked comment is a transcription of Johnson’s entire commentary, written verbatim:
“It’s just me, I’m not trying too hard,” says Johnson. “I’m not trying to change it for nobody.”
Now, two weeks after his first cooking voiceover hit it big, he is putting up content near daily. As a comedian, Johnson is hopeful that his videos — which take about 20 minutes to film, starting with 10 minutes of weeding through the recipe clips fans DM him — could be his ticket to the kind of career he’s been hoping for since his Vine days. (One person whose career path could be a model to follow: Kalen Allen, another recipe video commentator who eventually parlayed his flash of fame into an ongoing deal with viral lamprey Ellen DeGeneres.)
In theory, the options are endless. Some ideas Johnson floated include a YouTube show in which he cooks while commentating, and collaborations with local chefs and cookbook authors; just this week, Johnson uploaded a video showcasing the cooking of an Atlanta food truck owner (he confirmed via text that the video was both “paid promo” and a first attempt at a more “homemade style” of food). It’s entirely plausible that somewhere down the line, Johnson could be rubbing elbows with someone like Antoni Porowski or even Ava DuVernay, whose invitation to make crunchy PB&J sandwiches still lingers in the back of Johnson’s mind.
No matter what, he said, he just wants to “continue to make people laugh.” But of course, “if the opportunity comes, I’d take it, 1,000 percent,” he said. “If the Food Network comes knocking at my door, I’m opening it.” Between Johnson’s ambition and the fans clamoring for a major channel to snatch him up, maybe — just maybe — they can make it happen.