Part of the job of a hard-hitting, investigative humor writer is to uncover the truth; to pull the curtain back on the stories that you, the reader, are wondering about. Today, judging by the nearly 7 million views it has garnered since it debuted on YouTube, the news story that is apparently at the top of everyone’s minds boils down to one fascinating idea:
Hamsters. And how the heck they manage to get an entire burrito into those adorable little cheek pouches.
Because what is cuter than a tiny animal eating a miniaturized burrito?
Nothing, except for maybe the inevitable follow-ups, like “Tiny Hamster Eating a Tiny Pizza.” We, the citizens of the Internet, are preoccupied with tiny things.
Set to a lively classical score, “Tiny Hamsters Eating Tiny Burritos” may have gone viral because it hits us right in the feels: an adorable, pocket-sized pet is treated to a lavish — by hamster standards — meal, prepared lovingly by a chef whose fondest wish is that his furry customer give his homemade burrito the thumbs-up, if only hamsters had thumbs.
We marvel at the dexterity and possibly unhinged mental state of the chef, who is willing to go to admirable culinary lengths for his little friend. We get to say, “Awww, how cute!” as the hamster cleans its plate by jamming the entire thing into its cheek. It’s a nice break in our care-laden day. Maybe it reminds us of our own beloved pets.
Also, the production values are wonderful: perfect ingredients, great ambient lighting, top-of-the-line dental equipment with which to handle and examine the tiny food (because who doesn’t have dental mirrors and stainless-steel picks in his kitchen?), agency executives lingering just off-camera …
And that’s where this gets weird.
The hamster video is actually an ad.
I’m sorry. I know that’s like telling you that Santa Claus doesn’t exist — he absolutely does, don’t you worry — but it’s true. It was designed by the Denizen Agency, which performs acts of social media for its clients, to show off its ability to create visual content.
Now that we have the god-given ability to zap past commercials, media agencies and the brands they represent have had to become increasingly devious — sorry, more creative — in their efforts to reach us. That’s given rise to the branded video, which is designed to pierce your hardened heart and make you want to tell all your friends about what you’ve just seen, so they can weep or laugh or say, “Awww…” right along with you.
And every time you click Share, another friend sees that brand’s name.
As far as branded videos go, though, the hamster video isn’t as manipulative as this one, which turned out to be an ad for Wren Studio, a clothing designer:
Or this one, by Dove, which highlighted how critical women are of their own appearance:
Get back to the hamsters!
OK, here comes the investigative journalism. “Tiny Hamsters Eating Tiny Burritos” is a huge hit, and while the hamster had no comment, I was lucky enough to score an interview with the human star of the video, food writer and comedian Farley Elliott:
Deb Amlen: How did you get involved with the “Tiny Hamsters Eating Tiny Burritos” video? Was the concept your idea?
Farley Elliott: Actually, I can’t take credit for the concept at all. Some friends of mine run an ad agency called Denizen, and they had the — now known to be very correct — notion that tiny, adorable animals eating tiny, adorable portions of human food might be a bit of a hit. I’m actually a food writer by trade but do a bit of home cooking for my site OverOverUnder.com.
The look and feel of those videos is actually pretty similar to what Denizen wanted to shoot for “Tiny Hamsters,” so they reached out to see if I might be interested in playing the chef. From there, we worked with a hamster trainer to make sure we were feeding the hamsters properly, and then I spent some time in my home kitchen R&Ding some possible ways to make an inch-long burrito. Eventually, we got together and shot the thing in a single afternoon.
DA: What do you think it is about hamsters and tiny food that really speaks to people? Right now, your burrito-folding skills have been watched nearly 7 million times, and I might be personally responsible for at least a third of those clicks.
FE: The notion that adorable [animal] plus food would have some success online is not entirely unique, though I would argue the third part of that triangle is “quality.” Being able to shoot something that looks, feels, and sounds great is a key part of what made the video so successful.
And at the end of the day, when that hamster pushes an entire burrito into his cheek in one motion, we all feel like we’ve been there before. Maybe at 2 a.m. at a taco truck, or sitting at a Chipotle before racing back to work. There’s a tiny, adorable hamster inside all of us, and it’s very, very hungry.
DA: Were any hamsters hurt in the making of this video? You can be honest with me. Totally off the record, I swear.
FE: Absolutely not! We worked really hard to only feed the hamsters things that they would be comfortable eating, and to give them smoke breaks as needed. SAG rules, after all. But really, the burritos that the hamsters eat are nothing more than rice flour wrappers, some seeds and raisins. We did NOT feed them chicken or cheese or beans or anything, really, that you see at the beginning of the video. That’s the magic of Hollywood. It’s nothing you’d want to make yourself at home, but it’s perfect hamster noms.
DA: Where were the hamsters discovered? Were they hanging out at a PetSmart, just waiting for their big acting break?
FE: Hamsters this cute always get found, whether it’s at a mall in Minnesota or along the Venice boardwalk. Lucky for us, we had a hamster trainer on speed dial, so we didn’t need to go far to find our star.
DA: How were the hamsters to work with? Did they have any excessive demands, like Evian in their trailers?
FE: To be honest, the hamsters couldn’t have been more delightful. Professional, always on their mark. And they knew exactly why they were there — to stuff their faces, while the rest of us looked on.
DA: What’s up with the dental instruments? Any subliminal messages there?
FE: I mean, if you’re going to scale down a burrito for the animal that’s eating it, you might as well scale down the instruments used to make it, right? We really just wanted to use size-appropriate tools to make sure the whole thing could be effectively small-ified.
The mirror used to check the final specs on my work, though? I use that for every meal I make.
DA: What do you do when you’re not feeding hamsters tiny foods, and what’s next for you?
FE: I’m a full-time food writer and comedian living in Los Angeles. I write for outlets near and far about the great world of food in L.A., and then at night I hang out with my friends and we tell jokes to each other. Not bad.
And if nothing more ever comes of this video than occasionally getting looked over in line at the bank because someone can’t figure out where they know me from, then I’m a happy camper. After all, I’ve already looked into the beady little eyes of pure, burrito-eating joy. It doesn’t get much better than that.
If one cute hamster wasn’t enough for you today, check out 9 More YouTube Videos Starring Adorable Tiny Hamsters