Visit homestarrunner.com (AKA: H*R) and find a collection of oddball cartoon characters living in a surreal, animated world. The website’s videos show the life and times of this peculiar cast in mostly harmless, comedic situations. But they’re not just videos. Visiting homestarrunner.com is an experience that rewards the curious, dedicated viewer.
Now, what the hell is a Homestar Runner? Well, he’s the always-cheery, playfully ignorant title character. Imagine a children’s storybook character that actually grew up. A description that also extends to his supporting cast of friends and neighbors. In fact, the original appearance of Homestar Runner was in a physical, picture book.
The website’s humor is dry and witty; full of pop-culture references from the 80s and 90s with some occasional adult oriented jokes buried well enough for it to remain suitable for viewers of all ages. Adults, especially of the older millennial or younger gen-X population, will enjoy the references and public-access television aesthetic such as the parody of G.I. Joe. Kids will love the slapstick humor and easily draw-able characters. Check out the “Toons” area of the site, where most of the content lives, and notice how it catalogues the content as a stack of VHS tapes and a list of shows in a tv guide; another way homestarrunner.com conveys an air of low budget production.
The website’s most popular, longest running series is “Strongbad Emails.” In each episode, the rambunctious Strongbad answers fan emails from his outdated, junky computers. He wears a red Mexican wrestling mask and types up verbose responses that transition into sketches that incorporate other characters such as his brothers Strongsad and Strongmad. In what is likely the most famous episode, Strongbad responds to an email in which the sender asks him how to draw a dragon:
Thus the reoccurring character “Trogdor” was born. One thing that homestarrunner.com does particularly well is continuity. Characters, storylines, and references extend across toons like the series that spawned out of a Srongbad email called Teen Girl Squad. Another example is when characters reference a fictional hard rock band called Limozeen. The Homestar Runner creators took this even further by performing real life Limozeen concerts.
While no other characters beyond Strongbad have a series running longer than a few episodes (Strongbad’s email series spans over 200 episodes), the short roster makes fitting everyone into a single vignette doable. One Halloween special serves as a prerry good representation of what to expect from many of the toons. In the 2014 Halloween special, Homestar comes to believe he accidentally killed the balloon shaped character Pom Pom. Within the first 2 minutes, the toon references Arrested Development and the McDonald’s character Mac Tonight. Although most references are not quite as straight forward as these, it’s fun to keep an eye out for more.
Engaging in Homestar Runner videos is not only enjoyable, but also interactive. The creators bury easter eggs in almost every video. Clicking on certain visual items or text leads to additional content or references such as a follow up to a joke that appeared earlier or to a 4th wall breaking gag. The hunt for more made die hard fans comb each video over and over.
In its height of popularity, Homestar Runner was well recognized and nods to the universe reached far across the Internet. While its best days are behind it, the Atlanta based creators continue to update the site once or twice a year with a new toon or short. Despite offers to bring H*R to TV, it never really left its home on the web; the interactive nature of the content doesn’t even work on YouTube because of the clickable easter eggs.
Few Internet IPs are as well-polished and consistent. An immense amount of passion and thought goes into each and every toon on homestarrunner.com. It’s more than a website, it’s a relic, a true masterpiece in storytelling on the Internet. Popular YouTube channels and other entertainment websites still don’t hit that sweet spot quite like H*R. If someone were to ask “So, what? Why is it so special.” Well, the answer is simple: active-passive entertainment. Participating in a Homestar Runner toon will gift the audience with more enjoyable content. Almost as if the creators reward the viewer for engaging in the site and getting lost in the world; an experience far more satisfying than clicking a thumbs up or leaving a shit-post comment.