Wednesday, August 26, 2009
BlogHer Cross-Post: Interview with Matthew Gasteier, creator of "F U, Penguin" blog
I often forget to share my BlogHer stuff here but today's a good 'un.
Last October, 27-year-old Matthew Gasteier got fed up with all the cuteness of animal blogs such as ICanHasCheezburger and CuteOverload. The result was the creation of the devastatingly funny "Fuck You, Penguin" - "A blog where I tell cute animals what's what." Flash forward to present day, where the blog gets 10-20,000 hits daily and Matthew's blog-based book, "FU, Penguin" hit store shelves yesterday.
BlogHer's Animal Concerns Editor caught up with the busy boy to find out what his deal is.
So, Matthew, what's your problem with cute animals?
I don't have a problem with cute animals on their face. I just think that there's a certain way that cute animals should carry themselves that shows a certain level of respect to the person that is looking at the cute animal. If an animal is interacting with me on a normal level where, say we can discuss intellectual viewpoints on the geopolitical climate, then that's fine. But if they are going to just roll around on the ground and show me their belly, then I have I problem.
Are you not cute? I heard you were handsome, which is not even remotely the same thing.
I've gotten my share of compliments ... from made-up interviewers. The blog isn't about me, it's about what I've done for the world, which is the blog.
The blog is what you've done for the world?
Did I need to do anything else?
Does your entire human family have a heart of stone or just you?
I guess I should probably take offense to the idea that I have a heart of stone. I love animals and I love people. Just as there are good people and bad people there are good animals and bad animals. For example, I love krill. Krill are hardworking and trying to make their way in the world and penguins come along and eat them. Also, penguins love pyramid schemes.
Did you always have a potty mouth? Did you eat a lot of soap as a kid?
I try to keep the blog as clean as possible but the animals make me upset and I lose control. At a certain point, it becomes so ridiculous that I can't help myself. When you are dealing with something that is so dark and depraved, you really have to fight with fire.
Have you received any threatening letters - perhaps with hearts over 'i's' and smiley faces in the margins - from pro-cute sites like 'ICanHasCheezburger' and CuteOverload?'
I did have a brief battle with Cute Overload but that played out mostly in the comments section. I did, at one point, compare them to Nazi Germany but it's all in good fun.
What animals pisses you off the most? Who is the most manipulative? Is it indeed the penguin?
I named the site obviously after the penguin but after I've receiving lots of emails and looking through my own collection, I've concluded that it may be the panda, ultimately, because they are so entitled. They just sit around all day, eating bamboo while they wait for us to set them up with attractive women to have sex with. I don't appreciate it.
Yeah, it does sound like a pretty sweet deal. And what about the Red Panda?
Red panda is a complete farce - it's not even an actual panda. Its other name is the Firefox and it is not actually a fox so I don't understand what the panda is going for there. If there is one thing I'm not looking for in my pandas, it's a smaller version of them.
Are some animals more uppity than others?
The #1 uppity animal is the dolphin. It thinks that it's better than everybody else. It will never hesitate to point out that you are not shooting that basketball the correct way or bouncing that beach ball in the correct way. I just don't appreciate their attitude.
Also, they do seem to have a permanent smirk ...
Absolutely. Overall, think that they are better than us. Even though it is probably is true, they should keep it to themselves and be more discreet. After all, I don't go around to a sloth telling him all the things I did today.
Thoughts on cross-species canoodling?
I am opposed to it. That's all I have to say on the matter. A lawsuit is still pending.
Do you think there is an evolutionary reason for cuteness? Do you even believe in evolution?
Yeah, I believe in evolution although I never really thought about it. Reason? I guess so in the same way that there an evolutionary reason for lying. It's not that I don't respect the effort that these animals are putting up. I understand.
For example, I like cookies, I'm a big fan. I will do pretty much anything to get a cookie. When I see a puppy roll around on its back to get a cookie, I'm thinking, "Touche" but that doesn't mean I'm going to accept that from the puppy. I would hope that if I were in that situation I wouldn't resort to that. Then again, if the situation were reversed, I would hope that that were someone as equally as wonderful as me to set them straight. I'm here to keep the animals honest.
I notice in the book (pp. 96-97) that you were basically won over by the incredibly plump prairie dog, admitting that his fat folds were "as cute as shit" and you go on to say, "Damn you and your scheming ways." Is this a crack in your steely snarky armor?
I think occasionally an animal will get to me for a moment but I've shown time and time again and that I will return to where I am firmly in control of the situation. I think that's why people come back to reading the site because they know they can trust me because they know that it is 100% literally how I feel.
Do you know any cute animals personally? Do you live with any?
I don't live with any cute animals. I have known a few on occasion. Recently, I had a puppy stay with me but it left to go back to its owners and it's okay. I've moved on ... kind of. Things have been hard in life but I'm putting the pieces back together.
I'm looking for a dog right now and I've met a few applicants but I haven't really found one that has clicked with me on an inter-personal basis. I mean, you want a dog that you can walk up to, shake hands with and say 'How do you?' and I think people have stopped demanding that from dogs. People have really lowered their puppy standards.
It's almost a dumbing down of puppy-dom.
Yes, and I really think that the TV and the Internet are to blame. Most of the kids these days can't even spell cheeseburger, which is really strange.
Especially considering it is a major food group for them.
Do you ever visit zoos or circuses just to yell at animals in person? It seems kind of cowardice to only insult them online.
I haven't left my house in awhile so .... but sometimes I take virtual zoo tours online which is basically the same thing.
Isn't your book just a republish of your blog? Is there anything new here?
There actually is. 1/3 of the posts are new and I've spent years in the field doing research coming up with nano-facts for each animal. There's cold hard truths about penguins. There's also a whole suggestion section for domestic animals - a 'Try this at home' section. It's a how-to on the proper way to raise an animal. There's pitfalls that the conventional books don't teach you and I want to make sure you don't fall into those traps.
To make sure you don't have an asshole for a pet?
(The rest of the interview Matthew kindly conducted out of out-of-character.)
How much time per week do you spend on your FU blog?
When I first started, it was every day. Some posts will take 5 minutes and others will take an hour and half, including moderating comments, answering emails and such. I probably spend two to three hours per week on the blog, maybe four.
Do you have a day job?
Yes, I do film market research. I even called myself a 'soul sucking vampire' today.
Where do you get the photos for the blog?
I pull them off web for the blog but for the book, everything was cleared. I've been using a stock photo house that's been pretty good to me. All the domestic animals are from people - readers send them in, pet owners - and you'll notice I call those animals by their real names. These days, about one-third are specific photos sent in from owners.
How many readers?
It ranges - somewhere around 10-20,000 hits a day.
Can you quit your job?
No! I don't see myself quitting my job. It's a nice thing to do but ...
Here's one piece of advice to anyone thinking of starting something like this: Use user-submitted material! Cheezburger posts 200 times a day - all from readers. It's a lot harder to keep it fresh when it is all you. Fortunately, I still producing funny work and people seem to like it but who knows when it will no longer be funny? I want to make a good site but I don't want to make a career out of it.
Where do you see you and the blog a year from now? Do you expect to run out of annoying beasts to vilify?
I have no idea. I didn't think it would last this long, to be honest. When I was approached about a book, I didn't think the blog would last through all the way to publication. I don't know where any of this comes from so I don't know how long it will last.
When did you know it was big?
It all happened really, really fast. The blog started last October and the book came together in late January, when I was approached by publishers. It got popular in early December. The first big thing was being linked by VeryShortList. It was building before then but that day I got 80,000 hits or something ridiculous. That's when I realized. Agents and publishers started contacting me - which was weird and silly. Being on Jezebel ...and in WIRED! You're thinking nothing else big is going to happen and then something else happen.
Why do you think it is so popular?
People like cute animals and cursing - two of the most popular things on the Internet. It does seem like this weird combination of things. I didn't know that there were so many people out there who share that sense of humor and to see it on a website was exciting.
Is it the same people who love Cheezburger and Cute Overload?
It's a sliver of those people who like that kind of stuff but also have this other side to them that is snarky. There's also people who read my blog who hate that kind of stuff and they see it as a response to that. As long as people are laughing, it doesn't really matter.
Have you heard from PETA?
It was funny - I got followed by PETA on Twitter, that was surreal, but I haven't heard from them. I have received submissions from people who work in other animal rights groups. I think they are in on the joke.
Matthew Gasteier, 27, lives in Massachusetts with his wife. He also wrote another book, this one about music: "Nas' Illmatic" Evidently, Matthew was a hip-hop music critic for awhile and the book is part of a series on classic hip-hop albums.
'FU, Penguin' can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders and Indie Bound.
(Image Credits: Top - Villard Publshing; Middle - doggie - FU Penguin; Middle - RedPanda - Rolf Hicker; Beaver - FU Penguin; Bottom - zebra-ass - FU Penguin)