Meet the Creators Behind Your Favorite 'Sopranos' Meme Accounts

During the quarantine, many young people got caught up on HBO's 'The Sopranos', engaging with the series in a new way via these Sopranos meme accounts.

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Image via Getty/Getty Images

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Television has been many people’s saving grace this past year. Staying at home during the pandemic was a little less daunting thanks to streaming services providing plenty of entertainment for viewers. While companies like Netflix, HBO Max, and Hulu, are releasing new content regularly, some TV fans have been revisiting or discovering older shows they may have missed in the past.

During the COVID-19 quarantine, HBO’s hit series The Sopranos (which premiered on January 10, 1999) has seen a huge surge in viewership. Personally, my family didn’t have HBO when I was growing up, so it was the first show I pulled the trigger on when I signed up for HBO Max. I’m a Goodfellas fan, and Mob Wives was my guilty pleasure in college, so binge-watching the series when I was home 24/7 last year was a no-brainer for me. I was hooked from the first scene. I knew about the premise of the show, but I had a totally different idea of what Tony Soprano would be like. Seeing him, a tough alpha male, sitting across from his therapist as he dealt with his vulnerabilities, guilt, and anxieties made it clear to me from the start that this was peak TV—and I zoomed through all six seasons in less than a month. It’s no wonder why people of all ages are still falling in love with the show now; it’s really the blueprint to many of the great shows we’re all watching today.

While the consumption of media has skyrocketed since last March, the rise of new Sopranos fans is also due to the show being available to stream. HBO Max launched in May 2020, and according to AT&T, it had 17.2 million activated subscribers by the end of the year—and many of those viewers watched The Sopranos. According to an HBO representative, the show’s engagement increased nearly three times during the pandemic and continues to be one of HBO’s most-streamed titles since the launch of HBO Max. GQ reported that the service alone helped increase the show’s viewership by 179 percent in 2020. That availability has allowed a new generation of viewers to access the David Chase series, expanding the fandom even more.

New Sopranos fan pages have also been popping up on social media, and the ones that have been around for years have seen an uptick in followers. Ahead of this week’s MobMovieCon in Atlantic City, Complex had the opportunity to speak to the meme creators behind some of the most popular Sopranos accounts, who shared some insight into what inspires their content, the changes they are seeing, how the pandemic may have accelerated the growth of their pages, and what it’s like to run these pages now that there’s a new wave of fans. 

Maya, the woman behind the Sopranos Out of Context Twitter page @oocsopranos, considers herself a second-wave fan. The show premiered 22 years ago in January 1999, just months before she was born. She discovered the show in 2017 when she was a senior in high school and watched it again while healing from a knee injury in college. “I watched Sopranos from start to finish for the first time. I really liked it. I didn’t have anyone in my age range to talk about it [with]. None of my friends had seen it. They knew their parents had watched it, but they didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “In my freshman year of college, I hurt my knee. I was in a bad place. I was pretty down bad, so I started watching the show again. I was like, ‘Man, this show is really funny. They say the most out-of-pocket stuff. Is there a Sopranos out of context page?’ There wasn’t one. I made the account, and almost three years later, here we are.”

— sopranos out of context (@oocsopranos) August 8, 2020

She now shares screengrabs from the show that are timely or relevant to whatever is trending that day, and the posts often go viral. Her Twitter account currently has more than 116,000 followers, many of whom have found it within the past year. “I definitely attribute the pandemic and also, with the release of HBO Max, the accessibility of the show and people having more time to watch things, to the growth of my account,” she said. “When the pandemic started, I was just shy of 4,000 [followers]. I woke up one day, and I had 8,000, and then I had 15,000, and it’s been a steady climb from there.” Maya noted that the new fans also seem to be more diverse than before. “The Sopranos is having such a moment. To see a show from 1999 about these Italian dudes from North Jersey who are in the mob and kill people, translated into a way that younger people communicate online today through memes and through Twitter and associating it with current pop culture topics, even though it’s very old, is very fun and very interesting to watch,” she shared. “To make the content and to be a young, marginalized person and have a big following because of a show that typically older, cisgender, heterosexual, white men like is so interesting. As a young Black woman, I have this platform because of this show which is typically associated with old white dudes.”

— sopranos out of context (@oocsopranos) July 24, 2020

“I think it’s important that people who don’t fall into that category can connect with other people who are marginalized about an interest that we might have historically been left out of. When I started my account, a lot of my followers were not particularly people I wanted to engage with. So having followers who are closer to my age, or they’re also Black, or they’re also women, is very refreshing,” she continued. “I noticed the demographics of the people who follow me have been shifting. Earlier on, there were a lot of older white dudes, and now my following is more diverse,” she added. “I’m just happy that I, as a marginalized person, can connect with other people who are like me in some way about this interest that is ‘not for us’ or typically would not be something you would think young, Black and brown people, young LGBTQ+ people, Gen Zers might like.”  

me standing at my door to see how heavy the snow is

— sopranos out of context (@oocsopranos) February 9, 2021

For those who have been in the dark for the last 22 years, The Sopranos tells the story of how mob boss Tony Soprano manages his family, the mob life, and the toll that lifestyle takes on his mental health. He sees therapist Dr. Melfi, who helps Tony deal with the panic attacks caused by the pressures of being who he is. Sure, there’s violence, and people do get whacked left and right, but the show’s real magic is how it handles a strong and powerful man’s fragility. That aspect seems to be resonating with younger viewers since, as a society, we are now more open to talking about mental health than we were in the 1990s. “Being a young person right now is already hard, but then you throw the pandemic in, and that didn’t help,” Maya explained. “I think young people can see themselves in him and see themselves in the things that he goes through. There have been some moments when he says some profound things about his mental health and therapy with Dr. Melfi. So it’s about them being able to relate to the sadness and his melancholy and his existentialism.”

— sopranos out of context (@oocsopranos) September 5, 2020

Tony being in therapy is one of the most groundbreaking aspects of the show, and Maya agrees. “It was very progressive then, in 1999, to have Tony Soprano (in therapy). An older white man who is in the New Jersey mob, which is such a masculine thing and they have very high standards about masculinity, and there’s such a stigma around men and mental health. Our society, unfortunately, doesn’t encourage men to seek help for how they are feeling and how to deal with their emotions,” Maya shared. “We, as a society, have evolved and mental health is less taboo and it’s commonplace for people to be like, ‘I’m in therapy. I take Prozac. I see a psychiatrist.’ It definitely helps to see somebody who is supposed to be the pinnacle of somebody who shouldn’t be in therapy, in therapy, and even though he resisted it a lot and he swears that he hates it, he really gets something from it. And therapy really is for everyone, and I think that’s a really good takeaway.”

— sopranos out of context (@oocsopranos) November 6, 2020

John Loughlin runs the @sopranosgram Instagram account and says he too finds joy in sharing his content with fellow fans. What started as a hobby to take his mind off of a stressful job four years ago has become a creative outlet for him. “We created the meme page just as a form of entertainment for ourselves. And then, over the years, it quickly grew into a massive fan following. Then it turned into my life’s work every morning to make a couple of thousand people happy every day,” he told Complex. “It’s my one creative area where I can express myself a little bit, but I have to give testament to the show itself for being so timeless and relevant in the last 20-plus years. I wake up every morning, read the news, and nine times out of 10, there is something that applies to our show, and with some humor, as well.” 

The meme community goes through different trends almost weekly, and the creators have to adjust quickly to whatever hot new format or style is trending across various platforms. For Loughlin, his relationship with his followers is crucial to the content he creates, as they keep him up to date with the latest happenings. “A lot of times the fans are my foot soldiers out there and will be the first to send me a particular video or news story or just anything that relates to the show that often inspires some creation of a meme from that,” he says. “With the audience growth and the engagement that we create, they helped not only push me to create more and better content, but they really are out there to be my eyes and ears when I can’t be.” Loughlin is aware of the newer Sopranos meme accounts, and although they don’t often work together or collaborate, he still supports them. “There are amazing accounts, like Out-of-Context Sopranos or Millennial Sopranos that are just emerging, that are doing fantastic stuff for that particular niche. Four years ago, there were really only two meme pages, and now there’s probably more than I can count on my hand,” he said. “They’re doing fantastic things and inspiring work collectively through all of us in the community. I have tremendous support for anyone who takes the time out of their day to do something that, to this day it’s not a paying position or something that brings income, but certainly, the satisfaction with just getting so many people interested in and enjoying the content that we produce is worth its weight in gold.”

Dedicating his account to The Sopranos was a choice that came naturally to Loughlin. “It’s a timeless show that’s held up this long and is responsible for paving the way for some of the other great television shows with anti-heroes. It hits on so many levels for different people in different ways from the traditional mob genre that appeals to people, but also a family in turmoil and humor, all rolled into these 86 episodes,” he shares. “I’m 38 now, so when the show was airing, I was about Meadow and AJ’s age, and I enjoyed the show then. I probably didn’t come back to it until three or four years ago, and it resonated with me in a completely different way. I think it’s, again, a testament to how the show can connect to so many different demographics for different reasons. It had its appeal when I was younger because it was so risqué and unlike any other traditional sitcom. Now being older, I related to a lot more of the family aspect and the struggles that you can relate to your daily life, interacting in those difficult situations.”

The show hit its 20th anniversary in 2019, and with the announcement of the upcoming prequel film The Many Saints of Newark, the series is back in the pop culture conversation. “There’s been a little bit of exponential growth with the combination of a movie coming out and this younger generation becoming more interested in the show. The most unique thing about my audience I’ve noticed is that college girls seem to be the growth in my audience. A lot of 20-something-year-old girls are just huge fans of the show and connected it into the meme culture, so it’s been sort of a hot spot for girls there,” Loughlin said. “Much the same as the show reached out to different audiences, I look to do that. I think the greatest thing that I’ve done is not trying to be pigeonholed to one particular group or one style, but showcase whatever the day brings me.”  

Dan Trader runs the Instagram account @timeimmemorial and has been around since the start of the Sopranos fan pages more than a decade ago, long before the recent influx of fans. When Complex spoke to him in late 2020, he shared how he got started and how much the community has changed in the last few years. Trader noticed that no medium translated the show and its relevance in the current culture, so he started a Facebook page but never expected to be doing this for as many years as he has. “It’s just something that I thought wouldn’t last as long as it did, because 85, 86 episodes, how much can you realistically do? But, here we are,” he shared. “The meme side has been going on for at least four or five years. I have days where I’m like, ‘What am I doing? This has to end at some point,’ but there seems to be something new every day. I guess my goal pivoted a few years ago. Now, I’m just trying to show that the series can be related to current events or current pop culture, whether that’s meme culture, just general comedy, and news.”

The meme creator has been at the forefront of the Sopranos fan pages and has seen the community progress. He said there’s plenty of collaboration among creators, and the show is so rich with inspiration that there’s hardly any overlap in the content they each make. Trader has also witnessed the resurgence of viewers and has seen the demographics change over time. “We had so many people in their young 30s and high 20s coming in, and even younger than that, so I would say this year especially, you start getting more messages from younger people who are asking questions about the show that I’ve talked about so many times,” he said. “I can just tell that the revitalization is there, and seeing articles about it and just people incorporating it into their humor. I’ve seen an increase of relevance, for sure.”

The cast is also aware of the influx of new viewers, and they are doing their part in helping keep the interest in the show alive. Michael Imperioli (who played Christopher Moltisanti) and Steve Schirripa (who played Bobby Baccalieri) started the Talking Sopranos podcast, while Drea de Matteo (who played Adriana La Cerva) launched the Gangster Goddess Broad-cas‪t‬. Trader says they are also familiar with the hilarious memes they inspire online—and some of them aren’t too pleased with the jokes. “Ever since I got yelled at by… I won’t say who, but ever since I got yelled at, I’ve been a little bit more mindful to just be more on the considerate side. These are real people at the end of the day, and I can’t fault them for having an initial reaction that might not be favorable towards me. But at the same time, I’m just trying to promote the show and to show how it’s relevant to current pop culture,” Trader said. “It’s just about being respectful. There’s a balance.”

It’s no surprise that Gen Z and others are just discovering The Sopranos after they grew up watching other shows inspired by the HBO crime drama. The series paved the way for other popular shows like Boardwalk Empire, Peaky Blinders, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and more. Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony Soprano also opened the door for other flawed male characters to be beloved by fans even if they are an anti-hero. We still somehow root for them, despite their wrongdoings, cheering them on as they fight their demons. Sure, the show does have its flaws, and some of the writing and jokes haven’t aged well and wouldn’t be acceptable in the current climate, but its greatness supersedes any of that. Younger viewers are gravitating toward it now for the same reason people were drawn to it when it premiered on HBO two decades ago—it’s a damn great show, and it is now proving to be timeless. Not only that, but the memes it inspires still provide us with plenty of entertainment and laughs 20 years later—and that alone is priceless.

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