Comedian and television writer Demi Adejuyigbe is one of the most recognizable people on the internet, known as much for his writing — on The Good Place, at The New Yorker, and elsewhere — as he is for his parody rap videos. But there’s one recurring goof that has been getting people riled up every September for the past three years: Adejuyigbe’s September 21st video, in which he creates a new edit of Earth, Wind & Fire’s song “September” and records a video of himself dancing. It sounds simple, but the results are magnetic, year after year.
2018’s video was the third and most elaborate entry in the series: it features a stunt double, a custom tearaway suit, two curtain drops, two confetti cannons, and a children’s choir. This year, he’s selling a version of the Sept. 21 shirt he’s worn in each video, and all the proceeds are going to RAINN, RAICES, and the National Center for Trans Equality. So far, he’s raised $17,568 and sold 1,485 shirts. (The sale is open until October 5th at 5PM, so if you’re interested in a shirt or donating to charity, you haven’t missed your chance.)
That’s not bad for a joke video series that started with Adejuyigbe taking 20 minutes to impress his roommate Ben Cahn. “I don’t remember how it came up, but I think he just said, ‘Oh, hey, so the 21st of September, like that September song. Bah-di-yah.’ And I very quickly was like, ‘Oh, Ha.’ And I ran into my room, found a blank gray T-shirt that I had, and stenciled September 21st on it, originally just as a bit to make him laugh,” Adejuyigbe tells The Verge. “And then I kept thinking, and I was like, ‘Oh, this would be a funny thing to do... the video.’ So I quickly edited together a mashup and put ‘that’s today’ on the back of the shirt, and then shot a video of myself dancing to it, and just put it online.”
The response was instantaneous, if self-evident. “The general response was, ‘Oh, yeah, I guess it is today.’ And ‘Oh, that’d be fun. Oh, what fun you look like you’re having,’” Adejuyigbe says. “People were shocked when I turned around and saw “that’s today” on my back. But the general response was, ‘Oh, another weird video from Demi.’”
2017’s video was slightly more considered. “I got a bunch of things, like a giant piece of fabric that I went and got from JoAnn’s Fabrics,” he says. “I made another shirt, had a bunch of confetti cannons that I just had and like, just started going wild.” In general, he says, he’s trying to do things that make people ask “why did you do this?”
The third time around, the gag was a lot more difficult to top. “So basically, I was straight up not going to do it,” he says. “I’d been talking with a friend about it. And just like, ‘I don’t want to do it. I don’t feel like I want this to be a thing that people expect from me every single year.’” Then, he had another idea: what if there was suddenly a marching band behind the curtain? “As soon as I thought that, I was like, ‘Ah, well, shit, I guess I’ll do it again.’”
Of course, filming in August means most youth marching bands are out of commission for the summer, which was how he ended up with the West LA Children’s Choir. (Fun fact: it’s the same children’s choir that appears in the viral “Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf” video.)
“[They] gave me a pretty low-ish quote, and then also [were] like, ‘If you bring ice cream for the kids, I’m sure they’d be into it,’” Adejuyigbe says. “So that was the first step of the plan.”
While bigger isn’t always better, it usually means harder. The 2018 video was more difficult for him. It involved finding a stunt double for himself via Backstage Casting and making a tearaway suit jacket by hand. As he tells it, because of the way he makes things, “I feel like I can only do it if I do it myself.”
While that DIY ethos is baked into the architecture of the web, it does make producing new things and asking for help difficult. “It’s very hard for me to be comfortable directing other people because I’m just like getting nitpicky about things. And I know that I will want to do like, 10 takes of the same video,” Adejuyigbe says. “And I don’t want to make other people do it, so I’m like, ‘Well, it’s going to be a hassle to do anything bigger by myself, so I won’t do it.’”
The day before the shoot, Adejuyigbe was up at 5AM trying to figure out how to do a double curtain drop with a machine he built out of PVC pipe that was 19 feet by 9 feet. He had some friends who’d agreed to help out with the shoot anyway — because, as he tells it, he knew he was going to need two people to pull the trigger on the rig — but he finally convinced himself that he should ask them to just hold the curtain instead.
“My friends were, of course, very into it, like, ‘Yeah, of course, we’ll help you out with whatever,’” he says. “It was just a lesson for me to just start asking people for help. And stop being scared that they’re not going to want to do 50 takes of whatever idea I have.”
One thing Adejuyigbe wants to make clear, though, is that he always knows what day it is during the month of September. “The charity angle makes me feel good about doing it ... every other part of it gives me a lot of anxiety,” he says. “In the months leading up to September, my mentions are just people reminding me or tweeting countdowns like, ‘Hey only 10 days left!’ and I’m like, ‘No, I know. I know.’” Next year, he says, he’ll probably just log off Twitter completely in August and September until he posts the video — if he decides to do it again, that is.
“I like doing things for the internet, but at the same time, I have to figure out a way to do things more concrete that aren’t just going to make people think I’m a content creator,” Adejuyigbe says. It’s hard to turn ephemera into a sustainable career. But if he does do it next year, he says, he’ll definitely go bigger. “I have to!”