And the Internet Swooped In
Mahir Cagri (I Kiss You)
David Devore (Father, David After Dentist)
David A. Devore (Son, David After Dentist)C
Charlie Schmidt (Keyboard Cat)
Christian Sandvig (The Berkman Center for Internet and Society) [Moderator]
It was a tale as old as the internet. Boy meets internet. Boy posts personal thing online. Thing becomes massively famous. Here we have three cases of unintentional internet fame, ten years apart. A lot changed. What was similar? What was different?
NOTE: This is not a full transcription of the panel. If you have any corrections, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christian: I’m not internet-famous. Basic introductions:
Charlie: I am Charlie Schmidt and I have the keyboard cat.
David Sr: I’m the disembodied voice from “David after Dentist.”
David: I’m David from “David after Dentist.”
Mahir: My name is Mahir.
Christian: Could you also just introduce yourself?
Mel: I am Mahir’s manager.
Christian: What we’ll do is, I have some questions, have run them past the panelists already so no surprises. Then we’ll open up to your questions. First, can you tell us some sort of amazing that’s happened to you as a result of your internet celebrity? Let’s start with the good.
David Sr: I would have to say, the whole experience, maybe not what was public, but what we’ve been able to experience as a family…we’ve been able to meet people, go places we never would have been able to do otherwise.
Christian: Aren’t you a YouTube partner now?
David Sr: Yeah, we share in the revenue: that happened a few weeks in, I pushed that button and everything’s been good since then.
Christian: What kind of money? Ballpark? Too crass?
David Sr: Yeah, but, with licensing, I just signed a deal in the UK, we’re probably at about $125,000.
David Sr: Thank you for clapping.
Christian: Someone else? What good things?
Mahir: I must say many things. I first Internet celebrity. When I decided to do my web site. First day 800,000 people visited my site. Very simple web site. Only my pictures, my words. Then I am happy. I did many interesting things. I have many fans all over the world, US, Europe, Scandinavia. I am happy because I can use my face for good things. I have many famous fans like Julia Roberts, David Bowie. I continue living many nice, interesting things. If I live I can see many nice things.
Charlie: It reaffirms that in life if you do what you want to do full blast, something good will happen. I didn’t have a job, I just had a cat, a camera and a keyboard and just do the best with what you have. That’s what everyone should do. IF nothing happens, at least you did something you wanted to do.
Christian: So you’re saying, you’re passionate about putting your cats in a onesie.
Charlie: We try to humanize the cat.
Christian: Does your child also play the keyboard?
Christian: So the bad thing?
Charlie: The original keyboard cat died and went to heaven. There are no bad things that happened, but the reincarnated keyboard cat Bento pees on the rug.
Christian: I understand that Bento also plays the keyboard in a onesie?
Charlie: Bento also plays the keyboard. Right now, just for ROFLcon, Bento playing the Bongos is on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyctD6D1YAA
Christian: We just lost the whole audience…also, Bento was supposed to join us tonight but he’s fallen ill. So I would like to dedicate the panel to Bento’s health.
Charlie: He got sicker than a dog. They gave him a CATscan. $1400, blood transfusion, the whole bit.
Christian: Would the rest of the panel like to address, something BAD that came out of your internet celebrity?
Mahir: Sacha Baron Cohen stole my character and did the movie. All newspapers, TV say this. Borat stole Mahir. Guardian, NY Times, USA Today said that Borat stole Mahir your clothes, your words. I leave all good things. People love me.
Christian: The follow up, did you correspond with Sacha Baron Cohen?
Mahir: Why I must connect with me. He should connect to him. I never want to contact him before he did his movie.
Christian: So there was no communication, no participation in Borat?
Mahir: He must.
Christian: One of the Davids?
David Sr: Obviously the mischaracterization of what I’d done… people saying I was a bad parent, that the car was moving, which it wasn’t. Hearing that stuff made me cringe, and I got defensive at times. The worst example was… a columnist, Mary something, I guess her daughter came home excited and showed Mary the video and she was upset, why was this so funny, so instead of reaching out, doing some research maybe, she decided to give her own opinion, which she’s entitled to, but she wanted child protective services to be called… I don’t know what I did was wrong, I don’t see how taking your kid to the dentist, putting him in a seatbelt, and filming it… was child abuse. That I filmed it, I guess it was supposed to be child abuse?
Christian: We have a way of addressing the child abuse question, so David, do you feel exploited?
David: [emphatically] No I do not.
Christian: Would you like to elaborate?
David: The people ask my parents but they never ask me. If it’s embarrassing me or not. It’s not!
David Sr: David came up with that all on his own, he was wondering why people would ask me but not him.
Christian: So what kinds of fame does David Jr. experience because of this? Is her recognized?
Christian: A lot?
David: Sort of.
David Sr. It’s the best of both worlds, we used to test it sometimes, about half the time people knew who he was. And were really happy to meet David. We’ve also walked around, maybe not here, but mostly no one knows who we are.
Christian: I want to extend the same question to the other panelists…how often are you recognized? Charlie, was Fatso recognized?
Charlie: Not in her lifetime. But she knows about it. And that’s why she’s back as Bento. It’s all a big circle.
Christian: What about you Mahir, are you often recognized? Your hat has your name on it.
Mahir: You must ask my cheeks because of the many kisses.
Christian: We’ve come to the end of my planted questions, what about you guys. I’d like to ask Charlie in particular, how did the video get discovered?
Charlie: I had it on my website for a long time, 1 hit a year. I put it on YouTube. That was only 2 years ago. This guy named Brad juxtaposed it to the word FAIL, he emailed me to ask for permission to use it. When someone says maybe you can be famous, you just do it. He is not a normal person, and neither am I. He had the vision that putting a cat on a wheelchair and putting it down the stairs is something people would want to see. So many emails I can’t read them. I’d love to teach a cat how to read.
Christian: I’d love to expand this question, are there any sides of popularity, some detail that isn’t well known? How did your videos break out?
David Sr: In that first week it was radio. Our video is unique because it’s a sound bite, I don’t know if it was timing or what, but some morning show people, they played the clip and then went straight to YouTube before going on with their day. The only real proof is that that first week we did a lot of radio interviews. I thought that was interesting, helped it go viral.
Christian: Mahir, how did your website become the sensation we know?
Mahir: My home telephone non-stop calling November 1999. I opened and somebody talk about English, somebody France, somebody Espanol. Shocked.
Christian: Did your page have your phone number on it?
Mahir: Yes. I wrote everything about my life correct. My home telephone. How can I know whole world suddenly call me. Then 5 November, when I wake up I can’t answer all telephone, I told my friends come help me talk telephone. First shock, surprise, I understand- I ask somebody why you call me, how you know me, she said I visited your website. Then I understood people visit the website.
Christian: I believe you said you’d wanted more friends.
Mahir: Then thousands. I am only one person, all the world at me. Hollywood offered movie, Universal wanted. Then step-by-step, 800,000 people visited and crashed my web site. Very interesting world, you don’t need visa. Only kiss, and I wrote about my life. I play music instrument. I love travel. I wrote about normal things. But suddenly famous.
Christian: I understand there was controversy, if your fame was partly due to your website being hacked, and people adding words that you didn’t write.
Mahir: First my site some Turkish guy hacked other places. But kept original site. No changes. Then I couldn’t find my site. Where is my site?
Christian: So the words on the website were all yours, or some were written by the hacker?
Mahir: No one changed anything. He wanted only hits.
Christian: Who doesn’t? Now we have questions for a variety of panelists. We have a question for little David, do your friends know about the video?
David: They do, but they never really say anything anymore. They used to. They mention it sometimes, like before I came here I told them.
Christian: You remind them.
David: I tell them, like when I’m on any shows. Like the Superbowl.
Christian: A lot of shows?
David: Mainly interviews.
Christian: How many?
David: I don’t know.
Christian: Does big David know?
David Sr: More than 50, less than 100. Last week we had Inside Edition at the house, a morning show in Australia, in Germany… [references parody video person in audience]
Christian: Some people say the parodies are funnier than the original video…
David: No it isn’t!
Christian: This is a leading question from the Backchannel. Where’s the money going? To David’s college?
David Sr: No, well. This has allowed us to continue the lifestyle we had before, I was in real estate in FL; that should tell you something. That was the short term vision. In the last 6 months we’ve realized we could do more long-term, I think we’re gonna somehow incorporate this into our next video. In our video we might sign up for some pre-paid college… we’ll see. That’s one of our goals.
Christian: I haven’t heard any of the other internet celebrities talk about charity…
Christian: What about you, Charlie? Any favorite videos?
Charlie: Wow. There is so many. It’s different for me every day. I kind of like the one where the very overweight African American women is dancing on a coffee table. And the table goes down but she’s hurting really bad. It’s her looking at herself, and being surprised. [applause] and then having the courage to upload it.
Christian: I’m gonna look that one up. So it’s actually gone off the Backchannel, because it seems like a hard question, but I’ll ask it anyway… there’s a distinction between laughing with and laughing at. Particularly Mahir, do you feel your fans are mocking you in their responses?
Mahir: If people visit my site, if they smile, this is good every time. Because people need smile to be happy. This is a good thing. I am happy.
Christian: Another question is, what do you guys do for a living? And Mahir, what have you been up to for the last ten years?
Mahir: I did many things. I did TV shows in US, Europe. I can’t control my life because this time 3 camera followed me everywhere my documentary. To be famous is too hard, people follow you. You can’t secret life, no, finish it. All people want to see you, follow you. This time maybe I will go Hollywood, do my movie.
Christian: Could you tell us about your movie?
Mahir: There are many offers. Somebody want to see Mahir, Peter Sellers. I don’t know my acting capacity. I try to do nice things to because I am famous. I love music, sport, sex. I go to Africa help kids, try do do good things because I am famous. Other problems, Animal rights, orphans, homeless people.
Christian: Could you give me an example of the good things?
Mahir: I went to many countries in Africa, I see kids without arms. [I like sex]. I try to do good things.
Christian: There’s a lot of tittering in the audience. He is saying what you think he’s saying. So — Charlie, what have you been up to?
Charlie: I do create things on the internet, paint draw, creative endeavors. If you add it all together, this is what you get.
David Sr: I’m not doing the real estate stuff any more, I’ve been doing this full time. Managing our small empire. It’s allowed me to have a lifestyle that I also enjoy doing. But it’s fun doing this as well.
Charlie: I started the Keyboard Cat Church, and it has helped a lot of people.
Christian: You’re ordained?
Charlie: Yeah. keyboardcatchurch.com, I am not making this up, it helps people
Charlie: People have adored and deified things a lot stranger than my cat. If you need help, check out my web site. If you don’t, that’s OK.
Christian: I’ll be looking at it. So there’s a question people have been dying to ask. David, is this real life?
Christian: I’m a little surprised at the Backchannel… people want to know if you read theoretical works about this… I’m guessing no, but…
David Sr: There are books about internet fame?
Christian: The academic’s lament.
Charlie: Because you can’t explain stuff. It’s just baloney. Everyone can tell you what just happened. You just take your chances.
Christian: In defense of academics… the most famous media scholars work or have worked here… it’s a living…
Charlie: You’ve got a point. Cat food isn’t cheap. I’ve got 3 cats.
Christian: Have you read academic works about your life?
Mahir: My life, I can’t read anything but everybody reads me. There are masters and doctoral thesis taking Mahir as an Internet meme. And researching why he is famous.
Christian: yeah I don’t know. Sorry Backchannel. Anyone have any questions to shout out?
David Sr: Copyright stuff?
Christian: Right, so remix, fair use…
David Sr: I don’t charge anyone to see our video… on YouTube, people use it to create something, that’s fine, but if I see something that’s just to drive traffic, to rip us off, I use content management software to take care of it. Which drives traffic to us to… but licensing, some people outright steal it. Like Ebaumsworld, they don’t care about the copyright…
Christian: Are there people making money off you?
David Sr: The news organizations, the clip shows, yeah, but then it becomes a matter of economics. Lawsuits aren’t cheap. It’s just more — it’s nice to be asked.
Christian: Charlie, was there a transaction between you and Brad?
Charlie: No, he asked permission. He said he would monetize it. He might make money off it.
Christian: Are there knockoff keyboard cat t-shirts?
Charlie: Oh yeah. Right now there are. There’s counterfeit money out there, still the real thing is worth more. Who can beat keyboard cat? No one can.
Christian: Apparently Bento.
Charlie: Yeah, Bento can. If it weren’t for people taking stuff and sharing it, none of us would be here. I mean we would be on earth, but we’d be eating a cheeseburger alone somewhere. That’s fine too. I’m hungry.
Christian: That’s right, we’d be on earth but not at ROFLcon. Now, I can’t speak for the organizers of ROFLcon, but if we COULD get Sacha Baron Coen to talk to you, what kinds of things would you say to him about Borat?
Mahir: I can’t say anything. What I can say?
Christian: What’s that?
Mahir: He did a movie. He never connect with me.
Christian: So you hadn’t tried to contact him…
Christian: So you made a lawsuit…
[manager pulls Mahir back]
Manager: We are in to it for a lawsuit, it is confidential and can’t talk about it. If Sacha Baron Cohen and Mahir meet, Mahir won’t talk at all. He is very upset. Two points: Sacha copied his web site. And Borat gives Mahir a bad impression, because Mahir is a positive person does not do all the bad things Borat does.
Christian: But you DO share that swimsuit.
[Manager asks audience if they should sue Borat.]
[Audience mostly no.]
[Manager asks audience to compare Borat trailer and Mahir's webpage -- audience does.]
Audience man: Do you find yourself compulsively filming everything your children do?
David Sr: No, it’s never to try to recapture that same thing. I think I’ve had my one… don’t want to push my luck.
Christian: What about the dentist?
David Sr: There were two, a regular dentist and an oral surgeon. The family dentist thinks it’s hilarious, the oral surgeon wants nothing to do with it. We talk about it when we go to the dentist.
Christian: Now we’re all for love and happiness and cats, but if I could return to a theme from earlier, did you have any uncomfortable personal experiences because of your fame? Difficult conversation, inappropriate appropriation of your work…
David Sr: Our neighbor, where we lived at the time, did NOT like the video. And our relationship changed after that, and she had a really hard time with it because it showed a kid on drugs, medication, still a drug, because her brother passed away from drug abuse…and the family contends it was due to him being given novocaine as a child. I don’t agree, and the kids still played, but… the grownup relationships totally changed. Or, when people ask you what you do for a living.
Christian: Do you have a concise answer? What you do for a living?
David Sr: It changes every time, I have to come up with something better, something consistent…
Christian: David Jr’s could be “dental patient,” it’s been very lucrative for you. What about you Charlie?
Charlie: Really, no. I know things have a positive and negative side. But not keyboard cat. Just a problem with a carpet in that one corner.
[Charlie almost falls out of chair]
Christian: Mahir, you wanna answer? Is there an uncomfortable situation? Besides Sacha Baron Cohen?
Mahir: My grandmother angry me why all these girls want to kisses you. She says Mahir choose one girl. I say only kisses, I don’t say other things.
Christian: We appreciate that. So… the scary side, that’s what the Backchannel questions are about. Anything scary? Charlie, I know there’s that one spot of carpet…
Charlie: If the internet went away, it would be bad.
David Sr: We’re only planning 6 months out at a time. We’re still getting 150,000 hits of the video every day…
Christian: But scary? What about the scary things?
David Sr: Sometimes people call and tell us our address, to show us how dangerous it is to be so visible…
Christian: The Backchannel already found your dentist.
[points to screen]
Christian: Is it [name of dentist]
David Sr: No.
Christian: Can we get 4chan to check on that?
Audience: what is your advice to someone on the beginning of internet fame?
Charlie: if there are keywords that define it, then go buy the URL. Somebody else will, if you don’t. Before it happens, make sure you own everything in it. If you don’t the song or something in it, you’ll be famous but not rich.
David Sr: Get a good screen printer. I wish I’d jumped on that earlier, I had to reinvent the wheel, be all cute about it…would have liked to get “is this real life” on a shirt, but…
Mahir: CafePress made my shirts when I was famous without permission. The head of Cafepress flew to Turkey and apologized to me.
Christian: What other pieces of advice do you have?
Mahir: Be open about your life, no lies, no secret anything. If you give positive energy, people will accept it. If you do bad things, people will be bad. If you can be honest, people will like it.
Christian: The guy in the hat, open your heart. Also… big David wants in on this.
David Sr: You have to be careful when you submit a video to America’s Funniest Home videos, they own it. Don’t give anything up. Read the contracts.
Christian: We’re going to end it here… please join me in thanking all our presenters.