The BuzzFeed Interview: The Chuck Testa Phenomenon
How did Chuck Testa's local TV spot turn into a full-fledged participatory meme? And does Chuck Testa even know what a meme is? I asked the man himself, as well as the guys behind his commercial -- producers Rhett and Link -- to see if they could help shed some light on the road to viral fame.
Chuck Testa was only looking for a low budget, local TV ad to promote his taxidermy business. He ended up becoming an Internet legend.
The campy ad for his Ojai, CA, taxidermy business, with its meme-ready "Nope, it's Chuck Testa" refrain, has been online for months, but a post on Reddit last week brought it to the point of virality.
It was a huge surprise for Testa, but Rhett and Link have an established track record of making videos and commercials that rack up hundreds of thousands, if not millions of views. It's that proven record of going viral that earned them their own TV show, "Commercial Kings," on IFC. Although their videos go viral regularly, its not every day that one of their spots becomes an internet meme in its own right.
BuzzFeed: Your commercial has made you into something of a star on the web. How has becoming an Internet meme impacted your business?
Chuck Testa: It happened so fast. I haven’t really gotten new clients since the commercial. I mean, I’ve been doing this for years, and the Internet has changed things for taxidermy already. When I started it used to be really competitive. If you ran into another guy who was in the business you’d compete over everything. Now everybody’s sharing their techniques and teaching each other. So I’ve seen how that’s changed things. I’ve had a lot of clients and done a lot of really good projects for public displays and universities.
BuzzFeed: Had you seen many viral videos before this?
Chuck Testa: Let me put it to you this way. I don’t even have a cell phone. I hadn’t even heard the word, what do you call them? Mimes? Memes?
BuzzFeed: Yup. Memes.
Chuck Testa: (laughs) Yeah, they’re fun. I didn’t even know this kind of thing existed, but I love seeing all the pictures and the positive support from everybody.
BuzzFeed: You do some impressive work. In that ad I saw a Cheetah...
Chuck Testa: A leopard.
BuzzFeed: Yeah a leopard, a rhino... What are some of the most exotic or out-of-the-ordinary requests you’ve received in your time as a taxidermist?
Chuck Testa: Well, you know the leopard was at one of my clients’ houses. The rhino’s a long story. Rhett and Link, they don’t have a lot of people. So, You know, three guys lugging those things around to the deer lodge... (laughs)
BuzzFeed: What would you say is the most bizarre thing someone has asked you to mount?
Chuck Testa: Oh well, sometimes I'll get someone asking if I can do their grandmother.
BuzzFeed: Do their grandmother?
Chuck Testa: Yup.
BuzzFeed: The episode of “Commercial Kings” with Chuck Testa’s Ojai Valley Taxidermy ad first aired back in July, right?
Rhett: Yeah, I believe it was one of the first episodes of the season which began in July. As for the delay between airing and the meme...What we do is we make a local commercial for free, which we then include as a part of the show, and we give it to the client. We upload some of the commercials to our YouTube channel, but not all the time. I mean, people see this funny video online, and then they see that it was made by a couple of comedians, and they sometimes assume that it’s just a sketch. But these are real commercials for real businesses.
In August, [Chuck] made the decision to upload the commercial to his own YouTube channel, and it slowly gathered some views. And then another four weeks passed, and someone uploaded it to Reddit where it really became what it has become.
BuzzFeed: Were you hoping that the punchline -- “Nope, it’s Chuck Testa” -- would turn into the kind of thing that people would quote themselves and incorporate into their own jokes? Were you aiming to make a meme?
Link: We definitely scripted and conceptualized the repetition of the “Nope, it’s Chuck Testa” line in a way that people would find funny. I had the concept but we did not anticipate how people would react. That said, what we’ve learned from this experience will definitely inform how we make commercials in the future. I couldn’t predict how Chuck would say “Nope.” I had an idea for how I wanted him to sound, and we got there, but the online reaction is the kind of stuff, what people do with it, that you can’t predict.
Rhett: The approach is always to make something that people latch onto.
BuzzFeed: A lot of people don’t want to get laughed at, but you find a way to get people to laugh at themselves, bringing them in on the joke in a way that they might not have been comfortable with before.
Rhett: If we were to pick one of the best, it was Robert Lee, the owner of Cullman Liquidation. We won some advertising awards for that one. I think it was Ad Age Magazine that called it the Best Ad of the Year.
Link: I read in another article recently that if Robert Lee had a catchphrase like Chuck Testa, it would have been even bigger. I mean, that ad earned over 2 million views, and Chuck Testa got over three million in just a few days, plus it grew into this big meme. I think that had we designed the ad with a catch phrase like Chuck’s it might have been... well... even bigger.