A spectator holds up a sign saying “Go Josh Swain!!!” before the 2021 Josh Fight at the Air Park Green Area on Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo credit: Dylan Widger

As far as spur-of-the-moment internet gags go, the #JoshFight by Josh Swain has to be one of the all-time online success stories. Last April, while locked down at home, 22-year-old Josh Swain created a Facebook messenger group with other people sharing his exact same name.

With his tongue firmly pressed against the flesh of his cheek, Swain challenged his fellow namesakes to a battle royale; winner takes all. Or at least, the winner earns the right to be the one and only Josh Swain.

“We fight, whoever wins gets to keep the name, everyone else has to change their name,” Swain wrote in the original Facebook message. “You have a year to prepare, good luck.”

What started as a joke to amuse his friends quickly snowballed into something far more significant, a viral social media moment that highlighted the healing power of people.

The idea would expand from Josh Swains to anyone named Josh, with Joshes from all over the country declaring that they would also attend #TheJoshFight. On April 24, 2021 – a full year after the idea was conceived – the first-ever #JoshFight was held at AirPark in Lincoln, Nebraska.

A little over two weeks after #TheJoshFight, ICON caught up with Josh Swain to discuss his newfound internet celebrity, why strangers want to do good things, and most importantly, what’s in a name?

ICON: Hello, is that Josh Swain?
JS: Yes, it is.

As in, the Josh Swain.
One of many, as it turns out.

What are you up to?
Not much, hanging out at the University of Arizona. I’ve got finals next week so just preparing for that.

Do you even need to graduate now? Can’t you just be Josh Swain full time?
No! I’ve got a great job lined up as a civil engineer, so I can’t wait to start.

This must have been the strangest week of your life?
It has been the weirdest week of my entire life; it’s been so bizarre. The other day I had the Wall Street Journal on the phone, and then another call came through, and it was the New York Times. So I was like, ‘Oh sorry, WSJ, just have to talk to the Times.’

It will never happen to me again, but a portion of my life will forever be associated with this Josh fight.

Let’s go back to the start. Why did you decide to hit up all the Josh Swains on Facebook?
Whenever I’d joined a social media platform, like Twitter or Instagram, I’d go to register for the username Josh Swain, and it was always taken.

I’m on the internet a lot, I’m an early adopter, but I was always a little bit late. So I was like: who are these Josh Swains? Where are they coming from? I’ve never even met another Josh Swain. So then I jumped on Facebook and added all these other Josh Swains into a group message and laid down the gauntlet.

Did you think any of the Josh’s would actually respond?
Most people were like, ‘Oh what the hell,’ and figured I was just trolling. But a few people said, ‘What do we have to fight because we have the same name!?’ That made me laugh.

When did it start to take off and become a real thing?
It became a real thing when I posted to Twitter. I like making jokes on Twitter, and usually, I’ll get 20 to 30 likes. But I posted a screenshot of my Facebook message, and it just blew up, something like 60,000 likes.

Then it got posted on Instagram and Reddit, and that’s when people started discussing travel plans and carpools. I could tell they would travel to this random location, so I knew I had to make it a bit more legitimate.

How do you go about doing that?
I made an official details page and told everyone to wear masks. I also told all the Josh’s that the fight would be a pool noodle fight, just so no one mistakenly believed we were actually brawling. Then I shared the coordinates of where #TheJoshFight would take place.

You chose Nebraska. Why?
I knew that Nebraska was roughly the geographic centre of the USA, so from there, it was just like throwing a dart at a map. Initially, I picked a spot that was someone’s private property, so we had to change locations a few months out.

Probably the best thing about #TheJoshFight, besides all the Joshes, is that you raised money for charity. Was that always the plan?
Not at all, but once I knew people were paying attention and listening, I figured it couldn’t hurt. We had all these people engaged online and asking about the event, so I just decided to see if they wanted to help. I asked people to bring along non-perishable items to donate to the Food Bank of Lincoln. I also set up an online fund to be donated to the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Foundation in Omaha.

How much did you raise?
I think the deadline for raising money closed last night, and we ended up with $14,350.

And who was declared the winner in #TheJoshFight?
Well, before it started, I tried to establish some ground rules: if you get hit before you hit someone else, then you’re out. But the moment we said go, it was a shit show. Immediately, I was like, ‘Alright, we need a winner here,’ and there was only one innocent lamb that everyone will be fine with should he win.

Are you talking about ‘Little Josh?’
Exactly, he was only four years old, and he was there with his dad. He became the kind of champion for the day. He was very cute.

What has #TheJoshFight taught you about people and the power of the internet?
I think that both are inherently good. Even if there are some assholes floating around, most people enjoy doing funny stuff that might help someone in need. Especially during the pandemic, I think we’ve been reminded of what is important in life. We need to laugh, we need strength in numbers, and it’s nice to band together.

It reminded me that sometimes all you have to do is ask people to help each other out, and they will respond in droves.

Do you feel the pressure now to use the platform and exposure to do something else?
People have been hitting me up and asking if we should make #TheJoshFight an annual thing? It’s hard to say because I think so much of the event’s success was just dumb luck. But it is hard to let go of the fact you can raise money for charity off an internet joke, so imagine if we put some effort in.

Is there an irony to the fact that your name will be forever linked to #TheJoshFight?
It is weird, but it’s a cool thing. I have been trying not to bring it up unless somebody else does. I went to a bar with friends last night, and they’re like ‘Oh, it’s the famous Josh’, and it felt so cringey, it hurt so bad inside.

Whenever I go to a job interview, they’ll Google my name, and so I will probably have to answer questions about it forever.

Way to make the other Josh Swain’s jealous.
Mission complete.