August 31, 2022 - 7:15am

Whether fans of boxing like it or not, YouTube vloggers, Twitch streamers, and other content creators have begun drawing more eyeballs to their work by fighting each other in high-profile “creator clashes” — and people like brothers Jake and Logan Paul have raked in millions of dollars as a result. The format is making big stars out of people who aren’t household names. Now, it seems like it could restore the reputation of the extremely “cancelled” American comedian Sam Hyde, who trended on social media this weekend after he knocked out popular music influencer Jake “iamthmpsn” Thompson in a heavyweight boxing fight.

To put Hyde’s return in context, it helps to understand his precipitous fall a half-decade ago. After announcing himself as a force on the comedy scene in 2013 with a subversive TedX talk entitled “2070 Paradigm Shift”, Hyde rode this bit of minor fame to a cable television deal with Adult Swim. The resulting show, Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace, represented an evolution in sketch comedy aesthetics beyond the tamer territory staked out by its obvious inspiration, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!. But the show triggered critics and network executives alike with its edgy, uncomfortable humour and what some claimed were “coded racist messages” hidden in the intricate sets and animations. Comedian Brett Gelman quit working with Adult Swim because of the show, and Tim Heidecker — one of Hyde’s comedic influences — denounced the young comedian, starting a long-running feud.

Hyde was one of the first semi-mainstream pop culture figures to fall from grace, wiped away completely in the initial wave of cancellations that followed Trump’s election in the United States. He made some strategic missteps afterwards, such as signing up to be part of alt-Right gun activist Cody Wilson’s “Hatreon” service for “cancelled” creators — which quickly disbanded after Visa refused to process its payments — and pledging $5,000 toward the legal defense fund of Andrew Anglin, who ran the neo-Nazi publication The Daily Stormer

Were these components of Hyde’s elaborate troll character, a sort of Andy Kauffman-like response to current events? The line between reality and trolling is never clear when Hyde is involved; he has staged numerous in-your-face pranks over the years, his name is always circulated as a suspect whenever a mass shooting occurs (the May 2022 shooter in Buffalo, New York actually included images of Hyde in his manifesto as “recent self pictures”), and even his own height has been questioned until a proper boxing weigh-in established it at 6’5”, as opposed to all of the other random numbers put forward by his legion of fans. 

In recent years, the comedian has seemingly righted the ship, developing a profitable creator-owned business selling his Hyde Wars and Kickstarter TV shows, apparel, and books on Gumroad. Long-time collaborators like Million Dollar Extreme co-star Nick Rochefort have turned up on mainstream podcasts like Cum Town as well as at “dissident media” events in New York. Hyde, meanwhile, had begun documenting his strength training and combat sports journey on his show — and even serving as boxing trainer for Epic Meal Time vlogger Harley Morenstein. 

Flash forward to last Saturday and Hyde is trading blows with stocky but shorter “violin influencer” Jake Thompson at DAZN’s X Series 001 pay-per-view event. The match was your typical amateur heavyweight affair, with both men gasping for air after the first round and Thompson even resting his hands on his thighs, but it ended with Thompson knocked out on his feet. 

Hyde, who had been in character throughout the entire fight week, remained so during the post-fight interview, in which he threatened to kill the popular Left-wing streamer Hasan Piker. Piker, who is almost as tall as Hyde but considerably thinner, has thus far declined Hyde’s overtures, but their back-and-forth continues to raise Hyde’s profile. 

As oft-criticised vloggers-turned-fighters Jake and Logan Paul have already demonstrated, controversy creates cash for people who can launch their own platform — and a Hyde-versus-Piker match would surely be a main event draw given Piker’s enormous fanbase. Hyde, as resoundingly cancelled as any creator of his generation, would be right back in the mix — firmly established, to quote incendiary 1970s New York Yankees outfielder Reggie Jackson, as “the straw that stirs the drink.”

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work