ROFLCon, in case you hadn’t guessed, is a huge conference populated by nerds talking about Internet memes. As I’m writing this, Tron Guy is right behind me. In the lobby, Scumbag Steve walked through and was high-fived by six different people, all of whom were obviously strangers. But what about the guys who aren’t famous anymore, except to nerds? Apparently, they grew up and got jobs.
I sat in on a panel with Leeroy Jenkins, Daft Hands, the One Red Paperclip blogger, and Chuck Testa — and unlike most former celebrities gathered in one place, it was not hugely depressing. Well, except for the people threatening to kneecap Chuck Testa and put his head on a spike.
Here, have some transcript under the jump.
Moderator Christian Lander (“Stuff White People Like”): Tell us a little about how your fame began?
Daft Hands: I guess Daft Hands was just a thing I put on the Internet. I was really procrastinating on my History final. A C minus equals Internet success. Then Digg, I guess that was a thing, and then I don’t know, I was on Ellen and was in a video with Weezer.
Chuck Testa: I was in a reality show called “Commerical Kings”. The idea was to make a commerical that would never be on TV. The TV episode aired in July of last year, and it never went anywhere. My kid put it on the Internet. And all of a sudden, a month later, all this chaos just starts. The phone starting ringing and rang for seven months straight.
Mod: What’s an average phone call?
CT: They either call and just hang up, sometimes they laugh. If they get really weird I’ll answer it and they’ll go UT! The best reply I got was sorry, wrong number. Questions like “Could you stuff my grandma?” Then there are the gross ones.
Mod: Has business gone up?
CT: I won’t know until this season, it’s kind of a seasonal business. Then there’s all this stuff I can do that I couldn’t do a year ago. They shot it a year ago today.
Leeroy Jenkins: People like to ask me exactly how it happened. After the video got onto Warcraftvideos.com. The video’s six or seven years ago now. We were a bunch of a college kids. Global Game League got in touch with me, we went to BlizzConn. I went to a second BlizzConn where I announced some Warcraft tournaments. I thought after two years it’d be done, but newspapers still call me up once in a while.
One Red Paperclip: I was just playing a game called Bigger/Better. I was shy and I didn’t want to bother people on the street, so I put it up on Craigslist. Eventually I turned it into a blog. At one point BoingBoing posted about it. It became this media feeding media thing: I’d go on CNN and I’m in Canada, so the media here would say “The American News reported on it!”
It became a choose your own adventure thing, I got 500 replies. And then all these random things started happening. I started doing a lot of speaking, and MasterCard had some money they had to spend, so I was in a MasterCard commerical. After the fact, all these opportunities came along that I never would have thought.
Mod: What was the most surprisingly moment?
ORP: I can’t believe so many people didn’t have anything else to talk about!
CT: Yeah, people knocking on my front door and they don’t speak English.
Mod: You encounter people who for whatever reason absolutely hate you. Do any of you have experiences with people who hate you? My experience: “Dear asshole, I hope you go to jail, get raped, get AIDs and die slowly so you can watch your whole family die of cancer.”
CT: Do death threats count? Somebody from some homegrown animal terrorist people were threatening to kill me. They started on the phone, and it started escalating. At one point a cop called and said the FBI was investigating. They said they were going to shoot out my kneecaps, cut my head off and put it on a spike, and burn my house down. So I said, “to all the people trying to kill me, I’ll be here so you can come kill me there.”
DH: The only things that really happen are mostly the worst jokes like “Too much time on your hands” and annoying commenters who thought they were witty. People don’t know my face, so it’s not like people say “Hey, your hands look familiar.”
LJ: WoW can have a very hateful core to it. My first BlizzCon I was just announcing some giveaway. Once somebody gave me a dollar that said “I hope you made more than these.” And then some guy came up to me and told me “I want to punch you in the face so hard right now. You’ve ruined more dungeons for me, because somebody yells Leeroy Jenkins and we all die.” I just said you can’t blame me for the Internet.
ORP: The only hate I got is mostly people saying “You got a house for free.” People put a weird value on things. I get emails like “This is the essence of capitalism” and then another about “thank you for bringing back the barter system.” Oh, and Gawker hated it.
MOD: How long did you think it would last?
ORP: There was times where I’d go on a TV show. An ambulance driver pulled over with the sirens on once just to shake my hand. I was so glad when that stuff stopped happening. But I love walking down the street and being anonymous.
It’s surprisingly how far things can suffuse on the Internet. Within a day, everyone can know about it.
LJ: Obviously my roller coaster is still going a bit. Once it was on Jeoparody, I realized it maybe was going to last for a while. Of course, no one knew the answer to the question. My name was said on Jeoparody by Alex Trebek. I don’t want to sound like a cocky bastard, but I am Legend now. A few weeks ago, Jon Stewart referred to it.
CT: I was told it was going last like two days by my family. Because I’m not an Internet person. I don’t know how to drive the thing and all that. I kept expecting to be nobody every day, but fortunately, all these other offers came in. You can go here, go there, kids write you letters, it’s so much fun.
DH: It was so early in the Internet world, five years ago, nothing really made sense about the longevity of things. I didn’t know when it was going to end, but by the time it did, I found other opportunities.
MOD: Internet fame is fleeting. But what you do with it is up to you. Have you guys used this to launch a career?
LJ: I thought about doing something with Leeroy Jenkins. I was approached, but I realized that there’s just too much to do, too many pieces to fall into place. I tried to do something with Blizzard, but that didn’t work out, so I just pursued my college career.
DH: Now I work at Memebase. I was in my parent’s basement, reading CL for jobs, and I thought let’s check out Seattle. I just applied and happened to mention that I made “Daft Hands”. I guess that helped.
CT: I got a YouTube channel. It’s given me the opportunity to take taxidermy out of wherever it was and bring it to the whole world, and teach people about what a craft it really is. From that, I have these other offers. My real dream is to do an online taxidermy course, take the correspondence course model and bring it online.
I’m a reluctant spokesperson for taxidermy, so I feel I need to speak for my craft. Maybe I’ll become a traveling taxidermist.
ORC: Everybody who comes up with a barter system website emails me. I always take the calls. And there’s a lot of sketchy offers that come along. The book keeps being optioned to be a movie, too.
MOD: Who do you want to play you in the movie?
ORC: Arnold Schwartznegger.
MOD: Have any of you guys had any international experience?
ORC: I went over to Japan. You tell your story, and then you pause, and then it’s translated and the crowd laugh.
LJ: I’ve had a lot of international production companies come up to me at events and ask me to say “Leeroy Jenkins”. There was one where they interviewed me in my apartment that was weird. Somebody in Europe is founding a meme museum and wants my old microphone.
CT: I’ve been interviewed all over by people from Australia, France, Argentina, Brazil. Australia I had to wake up some ridiculous time of the night. I did another interview in Austria. But all of them were crazy.
DH: Brazil stole my thing for a commercial. I have literally no recollection of the product they’re selling.
MOD: Did you do anything about it?
DH: I just didn’t want to worry about the legal things and the money and whatever, it’s more of a challenge in my life to earn money for myself than to litigate.
MOD: What advice do you have for memes on the way up?
ORC: I don’t have any regrets and all. I was doing something I generally enjoyed. I got less calls than people think. I think being open, if you actually want to communicate and reach out to other people, do it. Stay open, unless it’s hated. If people are taking it the wrong way, it’s a per meme experience.
DH: For the hated: the trite advice is haters gonna hate. You’ll get negative feedback. The first person I showed it to told me “This is dumb.”
CT: Just stay open, and don’t put your real phone number out there. My phone finally quit ringing last week. I’m down to 25 to 50 a day.
LJ: Just roll with it for a while, it’s all pretty good. You get calls like “You’re Leeroy Jenkins!” “Yes!” “You’re a dick!” Just go with it. I thought about monetize certain things, but I just let it go. A lot of people made about as much as I did off T-shirts, which is like $100.
MOD: I had a rip-off artist try to sell me his surplus shirts.
Do you think Internet fame comes with a built-in sense of “this is not going to last?”
DH: I think the Internet is so separate from real life that Internet fame doesn’t seem real.
CT: People told me that it’s better than winning the lottery, and they’re right. Since there’s no real money involved, you can just have fun. I just embraced and I’m just going to go with it for as long as I can. There’s no downside, unless I get killed.
MOD: If you got killed who would stuff you?
CT: Hopefully not one of my friends.
LJ: There’s someone like me, who got famous using someone else’s product, essentially, so it’s difficult for me to make money. But I will say, if you’re like me, I don’t want to be Hollywood famous. Anyone walking up to you on the street all the time would be annoying, it’s neat to be Internet famous but be able to go back in real life.
ORC: It’s just sort of funny, that’s the great part about it. The journey part of it is the total value. With money you can buy stuff like anyone else, but the fame gives you these bizarre opportunities.