f you’ve ever spent time online searching for a particular piece of internet lore, you’ve probably stumbled across one of Internet Historian’s videos on YouTube. As one of the most renowned archaeologists of the web, he’s covered historic moments ranging from Shia LaBeouf’s “He Will Not Divide Us” saga and the Dashcon Tumblr convention to Leeroy Jenkins and Fyre Festival over the last several years. Donning the image of Hide the Pain Harold to hide the pain of his true identity, Internet Historian agreed to let us speak with him at his home in Hobbiton, New Zealand for a rare interview in the Green Dragon Inn. Recalling the origins of his YouTube channel all the way up to the present day, we discussed everything from his creative process to some of his most cherished memes. Enjoy.
Q: Welcome, Dr. Harold. As big fans of your work, we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with you. Would you mind introducing yourself a bit and letting those unfamiliar with your channels know what your content is all about?
A: Cheers Bruv. Internet Histoman is a Liverpool-based vlogging channel that talks about memes and internet jives and whatnot. We’re mostly on the YouTube at the moment but there are some big talks with DailyMotion. Please use my Amazon affiliate link.
Q: So what’ve you been doing these days? Any new pieces of internet or meme culture you plan to cover in the near future?
A: We just wrapped up on a couple of videos about (unmentionable global event), and we’re working on a feature-length Sundance Rejects next. It’s about this guy, Stede Bonnet, in the early 1700s who had a sort of mid-life crisis and decided to become a “gentleman” pirate. True story. Google him (it’s on Incognito Mode, not the main channel).
Q: Since you’re based out of New Zealand, I have a random question. Is Hobbiton really as cool as it looks, or is it a bit overhyped? Always wanted to check it out.
A: I can’t believe you would doxx me like this. I watched the three LoTR movies in school, as it’s required viewing in the curriculum, but to be honest, I’ve never been to Hobbiton. I’ve heard good things about the food court.
Q: Let’s jump back to your background before discussing more recent topics. Since your content revolves around so much of the internet, especially memes, what were some of your earliest experiences with the web that influenced your curiosity in the subject?
A: My earliest experiences on the web are all just frustrated searching for free, online flash-based games.
Q: During your younger years online, what were a few of the sites, communities or platforms that you spent most of your time on? How did some of those impact the course of your channel and the content you eventually produced?
A: I guess the Hasbro flash games website? Neopets a bit. Oh, one time I got one of the rare pets (looks like a dog but with pointy ears), and I used to feed it every day and buy it toys. Then something happened to my account — I think it got muted for swearing at the other accounts or something — so I tried to make a new account and transfer the rare pet to it. But there’s no mechanism to do that, so I thought, “What if I abandon it at the Adoption Centre then quickly switch accounts and adopt it from the new account super fast?”
Alas, I was too slow. Some other guy nabbed it first. I asked for it back. He said no. So I wrote a tearful goodbye letter to it. I was 7. It was a heartbreaking moment that I think about a lot. If you’re out there, I’d still like it back, please. Probably hasn’t been fed in a decade. Status: Peckish.
Q: That’s quite tragic, I’m sorry for your loss. So, many of your videos also cover video games, so what’s your background with gaming? How’d you get into it back then, and what interested you in the more meme-related topics surrounding that culture?
A: Please, we prefer you use a capital “G” when using Gamer. I dunno. My background? I used to play a ton of vanilla WoW … I’d like to make an indie game at some stage. I’m thinking GTA5 but with a way more detailed map and all the gameplay polish of Uncharted 4. If you know anyone who wants to collab on my game please send resumes to [email protected] (my business email). No money. Paid in exposure only.
Q: Great, thanks for sharing my email with the world. At the beginning of 2017, you launched your YouTube channel and released your first video shortly after. Was Internet Historian your first attempt at content creation, or were there any other earlier channels, concepts, etc. that preceded it?
A: I thought about livestreaming on Twitch in 2016, but I tried it once for about an hour and I didn’t have the confidence — or anyone watching. Other than that, not really.
Q: In addition to your main channel, you also launched Internet Historian: Incognito Mode a few months later. What’s the difference between the two channels for those who don’t know, and why did you ultimately decide to set them apart?
A: Ok, so I made this diagram a while back. This sort of explains everything (but also nothing if you don’t know about the channel). To be honest, I’m a bit more excited about Incognito Mode recently. Although I like to think we’re only producing “main channel quality” going forward, I think it’s important to keep the two channels separate so the audience can pick and choose what kind of content they like. Otherwise, you get a lot of “Huh? What’s this? dislike” and fair enough. Always better for the audience to decide than to have content foisted on them.
Q: What about your name and iconic avatar image of Hide the Pain Harold? Where did those come from, what’s their significance, and were there any others you considered before settling on those?
A: I’m not familiar with that meme.
Q: During that initial period where you began producing videos, what was your creative process like, and how did it evolve over time as you improved your prowess in the space?
A: My space prowess eh … WELL. It tends to be 10 percent draft and 90 percent polish. It’s almost a hyper-critical approach, where you take a block of marble and point out every flaw and chip them away until what’s left is something you hope the audience will enjoy. Reduce anything that wastes people’s time. If you’re not explaining something or presenting something amusing, throw it out. Be honest, is this bit kind of self-indulgent? Cut it. Get straight into the story. Make this faster — you’re boring people. Fix this fix that. Do people actually care about this? I know you do, but does the audience? Throw that out. Over and over and over again. Next thing you know, it’s two months later and it’s ready to preview it to a few people (including Herstorian — wife) and based on that sugar-coatless feedback, we continue polishing right up until the deadline for publishing.
Then it goes to Patrons and there’s still a chance for a couple more tweaks. Then it goes live and if it doesn’t perform well, we take that to mean the video wasn’t good enough rather than saying it’s a problem with the algorithm or bad luck — and we try to avoid those problems next time. It means we trash a ton of content. I’m probably a nightmare to work for. But we have free soda in the office.
Even on Incognito Mode now, the regular viewership is 2 million per video, which is nuts to think about, so it feels like a responsibility to not waste millions of people’s time by putting out subpar content for quick views or just for the sake of putting something out. The attitude we’ve always had is that we get money for people viewing the content and people go to the effort to subscribe and watch — it’s like millions of people doing us a favor, so we really do try hard to make it worth their while and put in a lot of hours.
Is this too unironic of an answer? I feel like I’m breaking character. Sincerity bad.
Q: While researching your subjects for videos, what places do you tend to use for gathering information and interesting details? As internet historians ourselves, we’re curious about what that process looks like for you.
This answer has been redacted in accordance with our policies about mentioning competing websites. Hello Zach. Internet Historian here. I love to use KnowYourMeme.com. It is my favorite and only meme website.
Q: Good answer. So, a lot of your most-viewed videos revolve around things like blunders and failures, such as Fyre Festival. Why do you think people are so curious about these things vs. other topics? What about them is so interesting, and why do these viral failures have such a demand?
A: I guess it’s a more elaborate version of “man fall down” or “football in the groin?” Everyone likes to see a good fail. Not sure.
Q: Back in 2017, you also covered Shia LeBeouf’s “He Will Not Divide Us” in a series of videos. Aside from that particular series, there were many other “viral trolling campaigns” or pranks you’ve covered over the years, such as “Dub the Dew” and “#BaldforBieber.” Given the success of those topics, why do you think people are drawn to those stories, what makes them special?
A: It’s fun to watch corporations fall on their face. Celebrities too. They’re pretentious, self-satisfied and calculated (drink Nescafe to be a good person or shave with Gillette to end racism) and whenever a campaign goes wrong it feels like the failure for the marketer is a win for the marketed-to. But it’s not all schadenfreude or whatever. Sometimes a brand can bounce back from it — even during the trolling, usually by playing along — and then it can be even more endearing. It’s like watching a high school play and some of the set collapses. The audience laughs at what’s happened. If you don’t like the actors, especially so. But then if one of the actors on stage ad-libs “strong winds today” or something and plays it off in stride, you’d go, “Yeah all right, I like ‘em.”
Q: Building off that, do you think these types of online trolling attempts are less likely to happen now than in the past or do you think we’ll continue to see them in the future?
A: I can see businesses being a bit more cautious about opening things up to the public — but the ability to destroy an advertising campaign is only limited by the imagination of the audience. There’ll be more to come.
Q: Over the years since beginning your channels and experiencing success with each, was there ever something wild or crazy that you discovered on a certain subject after the fact that you wished you’d been able to include?
A: That “Spokane” is pronounced “Spo-can.”
Q: While some YouTubers have spent many years attempting to find success on the platform, your channel really took off in a relatively short amount of time. What do you think is the sort of “secret sauce” behind your content? Can you tell us more about when you noticed this for the first time and how you reacted?
A: Humble time: luck.
Q: Well what about YouTube itself? How’d you settle on that as your main platform, and have you ever considered any other outlets to host your content, such as StoryFire?
A: It just always stood out as the obvious platform, and I spend all my time there.
I like YouTube a lot. I like the people and the commenters and the staff I’ve met have all been super kind to me and the channel. Despite its hiccups, everything I’ve seen behind the scenes at YT makes me think they want content creators to succeed and produce good stuff — even the edgier ones. The censorship is far more imposed from governments nowadays than imposed internally, as I understand it (whoops, Germany says you can’t play this video, whoops Scotland says this joke is illegal). So it feels more like YT is actually on the content creator’s side these days, and they’re just doing what they can to navigate through the legal mist.
If the censorship got out of hand, I suppose I’d move to StoryFire, but I don’t think the audience is large enough to sustain our extended production times. We’d have to produce more diluted content, I think, and publish at least weekly. I dunno. I’m rambling. What was the question again? RedTube? Never heard of it.
Q: Would you say you generally like or dislike the community on YouTube? Are there any larger issues you’ve noticed since joining in 2017, or do you think it stems from particular groups you’re not involved with?
A: Love it. Some of the commenters are so goddamn funny. I don’t have much critical to say about YouTube. It’s still got some of the Wild West spirit left in it yet.
Q: So backing up a bit to memes again, since your content so commonly covers them, would you mind sharing a few of your more recent favorites with us and why? Do you ever dabble in creating some of your own memes we can share?
A: NO SPOLLERS.
Q: All right then, keep your secrets. Speaking to meme culture as a whole, what are your thoughts on the current state of memes, social media and the internet at large? Do you think the culture is headed in the right direction, or are memes seeing a bit of a decline as opposed to previous years?
A: Memes are getting “spent” (if that’s the right word) faster and faster now with hubs like KYM and /r/memes being so widely trafficked. More are made — that’s good. They’re “cringe” sooner — that’s bad. For us, it’s made us change the formula of the content a bit more over the last couple of years. We tend to do more set pieces and snippet references now than really engage in “memes” and instead try to do “jokes.” If that makes sense … Do I think the culture is headed in the right direction? Probably yes? I don’t have my finger on the pulse with that one, to be honest with you.
Q: Outside your YouTube channel, are there other sites, platforms, etc. that you tend to spend most of your time online these days? Why are those your current hubs?
A: Twitter, but I shouldn’t. That website is infinitely more toxic than YouTube and run by malicious people. There’s Twitch, but I should more often.
Q: Okay, let’s wrap this up. Before you go, I have one final question. Hypothetically, if the internet was to shut down tomorrow and all memes would be erased forever, but you were able to preserve just one, which would you choose and why?
A: Preserve it? Like, keep it in a jar? Maybe this one? Then I’ll put it on the mantle and when people visit they can go, “Oh …” and don’t mention it further out of polite obligation.
Although if I had to pick the BEST meme, I’d say it’s Markiplier E. It breaks my brain, and even after several years, if I stare at it for long enough it makes me start laughing again. No idea why.
It reminds me of this one time when I was like 9 and I heard the word “woodwork” for the first time, the equivalent of shop class in the U.S., and it just made me have a ministroke or something. I still don’t know why, but it was the funniest two syllables I’d ever heard put together, and I was literally on the floor gasping for air for 20 minutes over hearing it — well past the point of it being amusing to onlookers. I remember my sister is just standing over me wondering wtf was going on. It was the hardest I ever laughed at anything ever. Anyway, Markiplier.
Q: Any final word or additional info you’d like to add?
A: Please subscribe for more daily vlogs.
Internet Historian is a YouTuber whose content focuses on the history of internet and meme culture. You can check out his YouTube channels, Internet Historian and Internet Historian Incognito Mode, or his Twitter to find more of his videos and stay up-to-date on his latest projects.