For those of you lucky enough not to spend your life on Reddit and Imgur, (unlike me), let’s take a sec to go over what we mean by “Internet memes.” These are photos accompanied by text that Internet users to share jokes, life insights, good news, bad news, and practically anything else you can think of.
You can turn any photo into a meme, but some have become quite popular. Many memes use images from movies and TV shows, like this Star Trek meme people use to express outraged disbelief:
But other memes use photos of real life people, like this Success Kid meme I just made about myself:
Who are the people in these photos? What’s their background? What do they think about their Internet fame? And, most importantly, are they really “like that”?
1. Success Kid
Let’s start with a happy one: Success Kid, a fist-pumping toddler who people use to share their own victories, both big and small.
Success Kid’s real name is Sammy Griner, and he was just 11 months old when his mother Laney Griner took the photo and shared it on Flickr. Whoever then found the photo and used it to make the first Success Kid meme is unknown, but that’s true for pretty much any meme.
Here’s Sammy and Laney today:
Being an Internet celebrity, Sammy still gets recognized in public, but usually prefers not to sign autographs or pose for pictures. In an interview with The New Statesman, Sammy and Laney say they’ve been contacted with several opportunities to make money off Success Kid, but they prefer to do that sparingly. Like in 2015, when Sammy’s dad Justin needed kidney surgery, Sammy took to the Internet to solicit donations and the people of Reddit raised over $100,000. Nice.
2. Overly Attached Girlfriend
Ah, Overly Attached Girlfriend, the convenient straw man (straw woman? straw girlfriend?) that countless teenage guys use to vent their frustrations over perceived female neediness. Fun!
In reality, her name is Laina Morris and she’s anything but an Overly Attached Girlfriend. The story begins in 2012, with Justin Bieber of all people. Justin Bieber had debuted a popular music video called “Boyfriend,” and challenged his fans to makea “Girlfriend.” Morris decided to send up the original by performing in character as a needy girlfriend who stalks her boyfriend on Facebook. Her video went viral, and she continues to run a popular Youtube channel here.
3. Scumbag Steve
Nobody likes a scumbag, and in January 2011 the Internet found a punching bag in Scumbag Steve, a teenager standing in a doorway wearing a fur coat and some kind of Red Sox hat. There’s just something about his getup and his attitude that says “I do terrible things all day long and don’t give them a second thought.”
Once again, the real Scumbag Steve, whose name is Blake Boston, is completely unlike the online persona others have created for him. The photo was taken in 2006, when Boston was a 16-year-old aspiring rapper from Boston, Massachusetts. Boston’s mother needed a model for her photography class, so he agreed to pose. Later, he used the photo for the Myspace page of his rap group, BeanTownMafia. And that was that, until 2011 when someone posted it on Reddit and Scumbag Steve was born.
Boston quickly experienced the downside of Internet fame. As he said in an interview with KnowYourMeme.com, strangers got a hold of his personal information and harassed him, his girlfriend, and his then-unborn son. Apparently some people took the “scumbag” thing way too seriously.
Today, he’s a father pursuing a music career. Check out his Youtube channel.
4. Hipster Barista
For a hack wannabe comedian, there’s no safer target than hipsters. And for a hack meme creator, there’s Hipster Barista, a scarf-wearing, arms-crossed snob who judges you for your enjoyment of pop music and red meat.
If you ever meet Hipster Barista in real life, it’s best not to bring it up. His name is Dustin Mattson, he actually is a barista, and no, he doesn’t find the meme funny. For starters, he’s not a “hipster” with a hipper-than-thou attitude. But also, he doesn’t appreciate his profession being belittled. As he said in an interview with Eater.com, being a good barista takes lots of training and it’s hard work, and the meme completely ignores that.
Here he is today looking much less hipstery:
5. Sheltering Suburban Mom
I promise not all of these are a downer!
Sheltering Suburban Mom represents everything angsty teenagers hate about their parents: she’s overprotective to a ludicrous degree, and she’s a big ol’ hypocrite about her rules.
Unlike the other folks on this list, SSM was famous before she became a meme. Her name’s Carly Phillips, and she’s a best-selling author of the romance novels your horny aunt buys at CVS. The photo used for the SSM meme is actually from one of her book jacket covers.
When Phillips found out she had been made into a meme, her initial reaction was “Horror and fury and hurt,” since she thought people were specifically making fun of her. But after fans of the meme explained it was nothing personal, she let it go, and she continues to kick ass on the romance novel circuit.
6. Naive College Freshman
Everyone who went to college can relate to this one. Hell, everyone who went to college probably WAS a Naive College Freshman.
Naive College Freshman is the Internet version former University of New Hampshire student Griffin Kiritsy. Back in 2012 Reader’s Digest was doing a story about how technology affects people’s lives. Kiritsy agreed to pose for the magazine holding his mobile phone, embodying Modern Education, probably.
Kiritsy thought that was the end of it, but once the photo went online and the memes started, he became a campus laughingstock. “People are coming up to me and are like, ‘hey, you’re that guy.’ It’s really awkward,” he told The Daily Dot at the time.
But eventually Kiritsky overcame his Naive College Freshman notoriety…by becoming a SECOND meme a couple years later: Successful College Senior. He’s the only person on this list to achieve dual meme status and for that we should applaud him.
7. Bad Luck Brian
You don’t want to be Bad Luck Brian, the grinning, sweater-vest-wearing, awkward middle schooler whose defining characteristic is that humiliating and terrible things happen to him. He’s kind of the Mr. Bill of the Internet Age.
His real name is Kyle Craven, and at the time he became Internet famous, he was just a 22-year-old college student in Ohio with a particularly awkward school photo. Craven’s had shown the photo to his friend Ian Davies, who promptly uploaded it to Reddit with the caption “Takes driving test…gets DUI.” To date, that Bad Luck Brian joke remains the funniest.
Brian has since grown out of his awkward phase and he has a day job, but still makes money off his Bad Luck Brian identity. His business ventures include a Youtube channel, appearances at conventions, and licensing the photo for ad campaigns around the world.
“Ermagerd” loves Goosebumps books almost as much as she hates wearing braces. Which is to say, a lot. We should all be so lucky to love something as much as she loves the acclaimed young adult horror series. Her enthusiasm for reading and her garbled way of speaking capture what middle school was like for a lot of us, myself included.
Maggie Goldenberger was just goofing around with friends when she took the photo. As she told Vanity Fair, she “Put on the vest, hoisted her hair up into intentionally dorky pigtails, brandished the chosen books, and pulled an intentionally hideous face for the camera. Normally, she hardly ever wore her retainer like she was supposed to, but it felt right for the character: she put it on for the shoot.”
Today she lives in Phoenix where she works as a nurse and hopes to break into comedy writing. Here she is on the left, next to a friend:
But maybe the best thing to come out of the Ermagerd saga is this 2012 interview with Goosebumps author R.L. Stine at a book convention. Ol’ R.L. seems none too pleased to be bothered with any of this nonsense:
Interviewer: Do you know the meme ‘Ermahgerd’? It’s one of the most popular memes on the Internet this past year.
R.L. Stine: Yes. You’re the third person to ask me about it today.
Interviewer: Will you pose for a picture with me wearing this Ermahgerd wig?
R.L. Stine: No. No, I will not. I have to say, I don’t really understand what’s funny about it.
Interviewer: I don’t know, man, it’s just ‘Ermahgerd’!
R.L. Stine: Well I’m on Twitter and about five people a day say, ‘Have you seen this?’ I just don’t get it. I don’t get it.