A tale of two memes: The Triangle backstories of a pair of recent viral video sensations | Arts Feature | Indy Week
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A tale of two memes: The Triangle backstories of a pair of recent viral video sensations 

Raleigh's Joseph Headen helped start the popular Vine meme "bruh."

Photo courtesy of Headgraphix

Raleigh's Joseph Headen helped start the popular Vine meme "bruh."

If you have access to Vine, the app for creating and sharing short video clips, then you probably know what bruh means.

You've seen one Vine after another (#BruhMovement) where people fall down or pass out to the sound of a guy saying that one word in mock awe. And you've probably seen the clip that started it all, a one-second reaction shot of a man fainting in a courtroom after receiving a lengthy prison sentence, with a voiceover of someone saying bruh. The video was viewed more than 460,000 times in the first five months, according to website Know Your Meme.

Countless bruh memes have been created since. The word has been heard on ESPN and New York morning-radio show The Breakfast Club. And the guy whose voice appears in the original clip lives in Raleigh.

"I made a reaction video to another Vine, using my voice with another video on top of it," says Joseph "Headgraphix" Headen, 24, at a Raleigh watering hole. "Someone else took the audio [of me saying bruh] and put it with the court scene video, and it kind of just went from there overnight."

Headen came up with bruh as a way to sum up an unbelievable thing. "It's a common word, so I didn't really start the word. Like, if someone spilled your drink, you'd be like, bruh—like, really?" Thanks to bruh, Headgraphix is "Vine-famous," popular on the young social-media platform. His page has more than 76,000 followers, with his six-second clips reaching more than 63 million loops.

But, as a graphic designer and video director by trade, he doesn't spend his days just shooting videos on his phone. A Living Arts College graduate with a degree in advertising design, the LaGrange-born Headen has spent the past few years as a hip-hop Milton Glaser. Rappers often come to him for album cover art, illustrations, ad work, even music videos that need helming. It began in 2010 when a local rapper named Steez Urkel (now known as Napoleon LV) was looking for art for a project. "I did an illustration for him, and everybody kept hitting me up," Headen remembers. Now he's done art for local rappers such as King Mez and Drique London.

Being the self-promoter he is, Headen joined Vine in May 2013 to get his name and face out there. His videos can be both clever and goofy. One much-looped Vine has him edited onto the stage at this year's MTV Video Music Awards, dancing with red plastic cup in hand as Sam Smith sings "Stay with Me."

"I wanted to make sure I incorporated my skill level with the Vine videos," he says. "A lot of my Vines are edits that I make personally. It's a viral-marketing plan [to promote my graphic design and video direction], not just me making silly videos."

The bruh clip was a happy fluke, but Headen immediately made sure everyone knew it was his. "This is a very marketable audio clip," he says. "So I went ahead and trademarked it and all that stuff." Mere days after it took off last May, Headen created a bruh ringtone. Eventually, he and another partner came up with the idea of manufacturing novelty bruh push-buttons, along the lines of the Staples Easy button, that you press to hear the ubiquitous word. "It was just something that's random," Headen says, "but I'm building so much stuff off of it."

There is now the bruh app, which includes a virtual version of the button and a game where you see how many bruhs you can press out in 15 seconds. The free app has been downloaded about 2 million times across Apple and Google Play platforms. "Initially, Apple wouldn't let us do the button just by itself," Headen says. "So we had to add another function to it."

Although Headen is an increasingly visible player in the Vine community, he's not out to do corporate-sponsored videos, unlike other popular Viners. He's using Vine to create a business, not promote others.

"I wouldn't actually partake in nothing like that," he says. "I'd rather have my own stuff going on instead of working for another company to promote their business through Vine. I'm here to promote myself, get work and brand my name."

As he makes his name (and a few bucks) on the wide, wild world of social media, Headen is out to stretch his 15 minutes of fame, six seconds at a time.

Last month, the Internet went batty over an 11-minute clip called Too Many Cooks. It originally aired for a week straight on Adult Swim, Cartoon Network's irreverent late-night alter-ego, at 4 a.m.

Billed in the TV listings as an infomercial, the clip is actually a takeoff on goofy opening-credits sequences from '80s and '90s family sitcoms, as an incessant cavalcade of cast members make stereotypically corny poses for the camera. But because this is Adult Swim, home to such twisted programming as The Heart, She Holler, Childrens Hospital, The Eric André Show and whatever strange shit Tim and Eric come up with, things eventually get weird.

The sitcom opening credits turn into those of a cop show, then a workplace comedy, then a nighttime soap, even a G.I. Joe-style cartoon. Throughout, a machete-wielding murderer keeps lurking in the background until he finally begins hacking people. And let's not forget about the cat puppet that ends up bruised, spurting blood and crawling on the floor.

This endlessly watchable bit of WTF has been viewed online more than 7 million times, between the official YouTube video and bootlegs. Major media outlets such as Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly immediately talked to the demented guy who came up with the late-night hallucination, and who was as surprised as anyone else by the reaction it got.

Writer/director Chris "Casper" Kelly is the creator and showrunner of Adult Swim live-action comedy Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell. Born in Burlington, North Carolina, Kelly studied film at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he fondly remembers his time in the library. "I shouldn't even say this, but I hardly went to any games, because I wasn't a huge sports fan," he says, calling from Atlanta, where he now lives. "But I would gladly spend days in that library watching movies."

What Kelly found there would become key influences in Cooks, including David Lynch films and Robert Altman's funky adaptation of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. "I love that movie," he says. "You know how the theme song will change, like when someone goes in the grocery store, it'll change to Muzak? That was part of the inspiration for Too Many Cooks. It'd be fun to shift genres and hear the music shift."

Late-20th-century sitcoms (some of which are referenced specifically, like the pan around the table from the opening credits of Roseanne) and filmmakers such as Lynch and Altman weren't Kelly's only inspirations. Cooks references avant-garde artist Dara Birnbaum's video piece "Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman," where Lynda Carter transforms into the super-heroine over and over. In Cooks, the scene is recreated with another actress, who spins through transformations as the maddeningly repetitive theme song momentarily stops.

"I saw part of that at a hotel in L.A., where they were just playing it on the wall, kind of for decoration," Kelly says. "It's a weird thing—that had to have been an influence, but I did it because the music drops out, and it's just an awkward motion. I'm just highlighting that it's a very awkward scene."

Kelly is one of the many UNC alumni doing offbeat and funny stuff on TV these days. Adam Reed, creator of the foul-mouthed animated spy comedy Archer, is also a UNC grad. The same goes for John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, who have worked with Mike Judge on King of the Hill and the new HBO show Silicon Valley.

For Kelly, who just started filming the second season of Pretty Face, growing up and studying in North Carolina shaped his TV career—especially when it comes to conceiving silly, nostalgic, downright insane stuff like "Too Many Cooks." Watching TV shows set in North Carolina also played an inspiring role.

"The power of The Andy Griffith Show runs deep," he says. "I remember discovering that show as a kid and how it was supposed to be in North Carolina but was actually shot in a place called L.A. It made a TV career seem more possible—that if someone who comes from the same state as me can do it, then maybe I can too."

This article appeared in print with the headline "A tale of two memes."

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