From Mag’har to memes: A conversation with campus provocateur John Lynch

Big dreams · Junior John Lynch may be best known for his contributions to the “USC Memes for Spoiled Pre-Teens” Facebook group, but Lynch said that his comedic aspirations extend further. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)

John Lynch pulled up outside my apartment in a black BMW 320i, windows down, bumping Young Thug. We were getting KBBQ at Road to Seoul, and I had fretted over my outfit for an inordinate amount of time, unwilling to infuse my best dress with the scent of smoked meat.

John did not share my concern; he wore a cream-colored hoodie decorated with glittery palm trees that looked like it belonged in the bargain bin at Goodwill — except it was Saint Laurent and cost $850.

John is a junior majoring in screenwriting. His mom is a high school English teacher. But where did his money come from?

“World of Warcraft,” he explained. “I made all my money gaming.”

John, 22, started playing World of Warcraft when he was 10; between 16 and 20, he played professionally under the moniker “Snugglebunny,” streaming games and competing in tournaments. In 2014, he reached the upper echelon, ranking second in the entire U.S.

Around the same time, he figured he might as well put his earnings to work and dabbled in the stock market. He invested in Tesla, and has diversified his portfolio since. Now he stocks his closet with Gucci and Golden Goose.

I wouldn’t call him a celebrity, per se, despite the notoriety he has accrued as one of the first administrators of the “USC Memes for Spoiled Pre-Teens” Facebook group. The page currently boasts an impressive 36,000 members — even more so, considering its inception was a mere three years ago when John was a freshman. Though he wasn’t the original founder, his heavy involvement was instrumental in its rapid rise to popularity. The banner photo is of his beloved dog, Daisy.  

The memes page functions as a sort of sandbox for John — a chance for him to flex his comedic chops, test new material and hopefully stir up some mild controversy along the way. His reputation as a gleeful polemicist precedes him; some students have taken offense to his posts that poke fun at the Greek system. But John doesn’t care; he just thinks it’s funny.

“There’s a huge part of me that loves to provoke,” he said. “I don’t have any personal vendetta. I just love trolling people.”

He’s just another student, really. But there’s a certain aura that surrounds people who crave fame and attention, who, in their pursuit of the limelight, live life far more boldly and dramatically than me. Can you blame me for a few first-date jitters?

Fame and fortune

Even though he’d been to Road to Seoul multiple times, John didn’t know which meats to order. He said his friends usually ordered for him. He knew he liked bulgogi, so we got some, and when it arrived he speared it with a fork.

“I don’t know how to use chopsticks,” he said. “When I eat sushi I pick it up with my hands. Or I use Fun Chops!”

Emily Smith | Daily Trojan

John’s favorite book is “The Great Gatsby,” and it’s hard not to draw parallels between his life and Jay Gatsby’s. In his wildly ostentatious streetwear splendor, John embodies new money through and through: wide-eyed, unversed in the ways of the world and eager to indulge in all fine things life can offer to someone in the right tax bracket.

He’s planning to travel solo to Paris this December, his first time leaving the country. He wants to go all over the world: Australia, Japan, Iceland. For now, though, he racks up frequent flyer points by jetting home to New Jersey — business class, of course.

John drops racks on clothes to “try and compensate for [his] low self-esteem.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; his interest in psychology has manifested in a multitude of self-diagnosed neuroses. He struggles with depression and anxiety, stemming from a troubled childhood where his mom often left him in the care of his grandparents while she dealt with his alcoholic dad.

It’s not enough to say that he likes his eggs sunny side up; he speculates that he takes satisfaction in the perfect, intact yolk because his life is the polar opposite. He tends to lust after the unattainable — MILFs or emotionally distant sorority girls — due to his “fucked-up upbringing” and his absentee dad, an Oedipal complex rooted in his thirst for attention.

“It’s about conditional love,” he surmised. “If you don’t get attention from one of your parents, you’re drawn to people who treat you really nicely one second and then later bail.”

His particular brand of self-aware, self-deprecating humor lends itself well to stand-up, which he’s been doing for four years. But his comedy origins extend all the way back to first grade, when he would hold court in his elementary school bathroom: “I would have a crowd of people around me, and I would make up really stupid jokes.”

He’s not afraid to get personal in his sets, partly as a defense mechanism, and partly as a way to distinguish himself from what he calls the “I smoke weed and live in my mom’s basement” comedy crowd. How he lost his virginity is a favorite bit, though when I asked him to elucidate, he demurred, insisting that I have to catch his act on Nov. 15 to hear the story (to which I agreed).

The stand-up comedy show, taking place at Ground Zero Performance Cafe, is for charity, in memory of his friend Mckenna Martin, who died from suicide in April.

He also jokes about his brain tumor, a pineoblastoma, for which he underwent surgery in 2014, a procedure that left thin grooves arcing across his scalp. They are shrouded when his hair is grown out, but when it’s shaved, he employs a rotating cast of baseball caps to avoid the intrusive ogling.

He’s performed on and off at the comedy club UnCabaret, a gig that his screenwriting professor, Robert Ramsey, helped him land. When John was a student in his “Intro to Screenwriting” course freshman year, Ramsey took an immediate liking to him, and they have developed a rapport over the years.

“I had a warm spot in my heart for John Lynch from the get go,” Ramsey said. “He is nothing if not an iconoclast. If you’re a stickler for authority and demand the right kind of behavior at all times, you’re gonna run into problems with John Lynch.”

His irreverence is both a blessing and a curse. It can get him in trouble, like when he emailed a professor — no caps, no punctuation —  about slugging Jack and Coke on the plane. But there’s a certain charming appeal, too, to someone who refuses to genuflect to social conventions. Everyone gets the same version of him. There is no public or private persona with John Lynch — what you see is what you get, and he doesn’t care if you don’t like him, because he likes him.

He’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea either. Ramsey told me that other professors have asked him for advice on how to approach him. But the select few with whom he’s developed a relationship all share similar trademarks: an insolent sense of humor, and a fierce, vehement loyalty, a reflection of his own devotion to the people he cares about.

His friend Lili Jenkins described him as “the kind of person when, if you need someone, you’d want him to be there … just the definition of a good friend.” And he and his partner-in-crime, Dylan Rohn, rib each other mercilessly, but ultimately, they’re ride-or-dies.

“John’s just a kid with his head in the clouds, his heart on his sleeve, a chip on his shoulder and the world in his eyes,” Rohn quipped, before his sardonic tone sobered into earnest affection. “It’s easy to forget sometimes that John is a human being, ’cause he’s such a big personality. He’s like a whirling dervish, in the best way possible.”

Name in lights

John wanted ice cream after KBBQ, so we headed to Jeni’s, an ice cream parlor with hip artisanal flavors. He was restless, his attention span a hummingbird, darting from one interesting thing to the next. He changed his mind at the 11th hour and asked for brown butter almond brittle, even after the server already brought him a scoop of the chocolate-flecked salted peanut butter. Our conversation often devolved into digression and tangent; once, he put me on hold to pine over a Labrador retriever in the distance.

There’s no wonder that, when considering his future, he’s unwilling to settle on a single career path. When asked where he sees himself in five, 10, 20 years, John is a veritable jack-of-all-trades, confident in his ability to succeed in any venture he chooses.

“Five, probably on ‘Saturday Night Live,’” John said. “Ten, I want an Oscar. For screenwriting, acting … I think I can direct too, ’cause I got good vision. I think I got one really, really good movie in me. I got a good TV show too. And if anyone wants to put me on a track, I think I got one guest feature in me.”

Then, after he’s made his mark on the entertainment industry, he wants to try his hand at politics and “do some good.”

“Maybe it’s naive, but I want to make a difference,” he said. “Oh, and I want to buy my mom a house.”

Clearly, the kid’s got big dreams. But for now, his day-to-day routine looks a lot like any other 22-year-olds: wake up, brush teeth, shower. He might pop in and say hi to some of his classes. Or you could find him playing a pick-up game on the basketball court, even though “people on the west coast can’t hoop.” Or maybe he’ll be putting the finishing touches on his screenplay, an autobiographical account of his experience with cancer, which he hopes to produce this summer with Dylan’s help.

The point is: Life is good. The future is good.

A regular guy

Night had fallen, and on the ride back, I plucked up the courage to ask about the handicap placard dangling from his rear-view mirror. Was it for his tumor?

“No, it was my dad’s. I just took it after he died,” he said matter-of-factly.

He rattled off a series of tragedies he’s weathered, dating back to 2012: John’s grandfather died that November, then his dad died in December 2016, then his grandmother eight months later. And then Mckenna died last April.

“That’s kind of where everything became a bit much for me,” he said.

The radio blasted 2000s pop punk. The garish, disconsolate lights of Koreatown flashed by. I wasn’t sure what to say — I’m sorry? For what? For being dealt lousy hands in life, over and over again?

But then John spoke up again: “I’ve had a great life overall. I would never change anything that’s happened to me. I’m very grateful. I have so many great people who love me. I love USC. I love the world. I have so much love for everything.”