Panelists: Austin Hall (Daft Hands), Leeroy Jenkins (Leeroy Jenkins), Kyle McDonald (One Red Paperclip), Chuck Testa (Ojai Taxidermy), Christian Lander (mod – Stuff White People Like)
For all those who don’t find their way into the drug-filled corridors of mega-fame and mansion-owning fortune, internet celebrity ends up being just another chapter–albeit a chaotic and awesome one.
So, what do people get up to after their time in the internet spotlight is over? This panel brings together folks that have packed up their bags, moved on, or otherwise returned to life as usual after the meme. What we’re aiming to find is: what has returned to normal? Are they relieved? And, in what ways were their lives irreversibly changed?
Life After the Meme, or, “The washed-up panel.” Our moderator Christian wrote Stuff White People Like. Austin did the Daft Hands video. Leeroy Jenkins is in the house. That’s not his real name, but it’s what was printed on the agenda, despite his request to use his real name for once. We’ve also got Kyle from One Red Paperclip, who successfully traded his way up from a red paperclip to owning a home.
Austin was procrastinating on a history assignment: “C- equals internet success.” He put it on Digg (remember that?), and then Ellen, a video with Weezer, and other strange series of events. Luckily, he says, no one knows what his face looks like.
Chuck was on a reality show called Commercial Cable. The show’s premise was that they’d make him a commercial, which he’d never put on TV. The show was on IFC for a while, but never really took off. His kid put it on YouTube, a girl posted it to Reddit, and all of a sudden, a month after posting the video, chaos reigned and the phone didn’t stop ringing for four months.
His initial hope was to get 100 views. He surpassed that, and is currently nearing 12,000,000 views. Christian asks what the average incoming phone call to a meme superstar sounds like. “They usually call, then hang up, or laugh, and hang up. It’s really productive.” His taxidermy business received a lot of inquiry, but it’s a seasonal business, so he’s not sure yet. He imagines business won’t go down after 12 million views. Today is actually the one-year anniversary of the day he shot that commercial, so we’re sharing in his meme-iversary.
Ben (Leeroy Jenkins) had his video posted to YouTube six or seven years ago. The Global Gaming Company invited him to BlizzCon, as did Blizzard. He was invited to Warcraft tournaments, but it turned out he wasn’t very good at the game, unfortunately. The video’s had surprising staying power over the years.
No one knows his face, but he can settle debates for friends claiming his acquaintance. “I’mm Leeroy Jenkinsss.”
Told the story of meeting each person, BoingBoing posted it, and then the media jumped on it and created a self-reinforcing media firestorm. The Canadian news companies covered it because CNN did. Only 14 trades secured him a house, which became one of the larger roadside attractions in Canada.
Then the weird invites started coming. He was invited to speak at an investors’ conference, and starred in a MasterCard commercial. He echoes previous speakers that the fame brought amazing opportunities they never could have predicted. “I also couldn’t believe that so many people had nothing else to talk about.”
The Dark Side of Internet Fame
Chuck had people knocking on his front door, including visitors who didn’t speak English.
Besides the fans, you also encounter people who absolutely hate you. Christian admits that not everyone’s a fan of Stuff White People Like, and has received vehemently angry screeds in his inbox for having the audacity to claim on the internet that white people like yoga and expensive sandwiches.
Chuck has received death threats from a domestic animal group. There’s a common theme in these threats: disgustingly violent language. Chuck invited his enemies to an April 1st car show, but they didn’t show.
The worst Austin received was the fate of reading the same witty comment hundreds and hundreds of times: “Wow, you must have too much time on your hands.”
Leeroy Ben has suffered the wrath of Warcraft’s legions of small children. At BlizzCon he was invited to sign a $4,000 Alienware computer, but also had to face a gamer who wanted to punch him in the face for all of the copycats out there, who have “ruined more dungeons” than anyone else out there.
People assign their own values to your actions. Kyle trading his way up to a house triggered both congratulatory notes about the beauty of capitalism, and accusations that bartering is essentially socialism. “Gawker hated me,” but still reviewed the book.
Leeroy Ben has been attacked by an angry mother, who blamed him for her son’s addiction to WoW.
Permeating Mainstream Culture
The fame is surprisingly global. Kyle had people buying him beers in South Africa.
Leeroy Ben appeared as a trivia question on College Jeopardy, and later in a joke by Jon Stewart. He enjoys seeing its longevity.
Believe it or not, Chuck Testa is not an internet guy. “You are now,” the crowd shouts back.
It’s a lot of fun, you get a lot of kids writing you letters: “Dear Chuck, [whatever].” I write back: “Dear Kid, If I could write, I’d write you something.”
Austin’s video went online five years ago, but the speed of the internet versus the surprising longevity of memes have produced a strange relationship to time.
Leeroy Ben was approached to attempt to make more movies and reproduce the magic, but realized that the video that went viral was just a perfect storm of conditions. He attempted to parlay it into a job with Blizzard, and then other game companies, but game testing doesn’t pay too well. He has an electrical engineering degree to fall back on.
Austin now works at Memebase. He applied for a content moderator job, and had a good answer to the “Anything else special about you?” question in the application.
Chuck got his own YouTube channel, and an opportunity to share his craft of taxidermy with the entire world. His real dream is to produce an online taxidermy course online in the grand tradition of correspondence courses.
Christian: “I think it’s safe to say you’re the world’s most famous taxidermist.”
Chuck: “And my friends are pissed. It’s so competitive and ego-driven.”
Kyle gets emails from everyone who’s ever thought up the idea of creating a bartering system. His least favorite activities as a child were book reports and public speaking, but he gave in and wrote a book, which required speaking events. He’s enjoyed watching his story translated into Estonian and exaggerated well beyond the actual events. Dreamhost optioned the story for two years, it reverted, and now another production company is considering making a movie. And then whoever plays Kyle will make him look good. He hopes for Schwarzenegger.
Several of the panelists got book deals out of their success online. Stuff White People Like was a New York Times bestseller, and was translated into Japanese, where the title became A Guide to the American White. Christian dreams of it becoming a textbook for the Japanese businessman. During meetings they can use it as a cheatsheet: “Uh…ultimate frisbee?”
Leeroy Ben has been invited to speak station identification spots: “This is Channel Four, and I’mmmm Leeroy Jenkins.” He’s also been approached by a meme museum to donate the microphone he used.
Chuck has been interviewed in Australia, France, Argentina, Austria, and Brazil. He’d wake up at a ridiculous hour to appear on an Australian morning show.
Austin’s video was stolen by a foreign company for an advertisement.
Advice for the audience of internet famous, or soon-to-be, ROFLCon attendees:
Do something that’s generally enjoyed, not hated. Making your information available can
Haters gonna hate. You get negative comments and feedback no matter what. The first person Austin showed his video too thought it was dumb. The rest of the world disagreed.
Chuck advises us to stay open, but don’t put your real phone number in the video. He’s finally down to 25-50 phone calls a day.
Leeroy Ben’s phone number has been posted to the Trade Channel, so he gets calls from people telling him he’s a dick, which he doesn’t argue with. Like Daft Hands, he considered monetizing things, but has let it go. There are people stealing his voice for t-shirts and an app, but the lawyer expenses easily outweigh any money they’re making on it. The real value is going to cool things and meeting cool people and drinking free beer.
Austin says that the internet is still such a distinct part from “real life” that being internet famous still doesn’t go too far.
Christian: “If you get killed, who would stuff you?”
Chuck: “Hopefully not one of my friends.”
Leeroy Ben says there aren’t a lot of downsides to internet fame. He got famous on someone else’s product; Blizzard owns all of the visual art in his video. He likes being able to be internet famous without being recognized in public like Hollywood stars. Christian’s been recognized in public ten times, and tends to get more excited about being recognized than the actual fan is about seeing him.
Q&A quickly devolves into playing with Leeroy Jenkins.
Is there a lottery effect, where distant relatives try to reconnect with you in the hopes that you’re now wealthy?
Christian gets asked to get people votes for things non-stop. People want their iPads.
People from high school reconnect.
Was the Leeroy Jenkins video planned?
At WarcraftMovies.com, people were ripping on the Leeroy Jenkins clip, but on YouTube, people were more trusting. Ben won’t say.
Christan, how do you feel about the spin-off sites?
Christian lists some of the more prominent spin-offs: StuffBlackPeopleLike, StuffGayPeopleLike, StuffUnemployedPeopleLike, WhiteStuffPeopleLike (cocaine, sugar, flour). Stuff Hipsters Hate, Stuff Midwesterners Like (#1: ranch dressing) both got books out of the idea. Christian’s happy that other writers got something out of the concept.
What are you working on now?
Kyle answers this question with an inside joke, where he’s using his occasional fame to track down some random people in a random photo his brother sent him. His goal is to someday meet them and trace back how he managed to do so. http://whoaretheseguys.com
He’s also in love with Tom & Gary’s Decentralized Dance Party, a collection of hundreds of boomboxes and an FM transmitter.
Ben’s working on his professional engineering license, but for fun is looking into voiceover work and reading books on tape.
Chuck just shot another commercial “for this thing called the Turtle.”
Christian’s working on a show with MTV.