The word “reality” has become a dirty word in the television industry, as shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” have made their stars famous for drunkenness and temper tantrums. Bravo is perhaps one of the biggest culprits, bringing the botoxed, catty “Real Housewives” to the American public. But that’s why “LOLwork,” its newest show that premiered Wednesday night, is a breath of fresh air to a beleaguered genre.
In the office of the Cheezburger Network, the company behind ICanHasCheezburger.com, a cat meme site known for the LOLcat (if you’ve ever seen a cat meme captioned with misspelled words, it’s probably their creation), you won’t find any of reality TV’s typical drama.
The cast is a thoroughly amusing mix of the quirky to the OCD, from Will, the content supervisor who is forever defending the cats that they feature without dropping his serious expression, to Paul, one of the contributors at Cheezburger, who considers himself a comedian and declares it his work-time mission to undermine Will. Thoroughly endearing, the cast makes the viewer feel like they’re watching a sitcom in the vein of “30 Rock” or “The Office”—quick-witted, fun, and lighthearted.
Emily Huh, the editor in chief of ICanHasCheezburger.com and the wife of the CEO of the Cheezburger Network, explains what makes Cheezburger—and cats—so great.
Q. How did the website develop? Just from a love of cats?
A. It actually started when a couple we know. A girlfriend sent her boyfriend the picture of the happy cat and he loved it so much that he created the site. We got in touch with them and decided to take on the project … We were really interested in this world of cats and humor. It was really weird, but we really loved it.
Q. In the show, it’s often said that it’s not good enough to just show pictures of cats. What goes into making a great meme or video?
A. Number one: It has to refer to something people can connect to, whether it pop culture or whatever … Number two: You have to come up with something out of the ordinary, something that they haven’t seen before. A quality picture helps: a great expression, something so random and humanlike.
Q. The first debate showed on the first episode centers on whether it’s PC to make a meme of a dead cat. Are those the typical kinds of conversations that happen at Cheezburger?
A. To clarify, it was a sleeping cat that looked like a dead cat. It devolves into a philosophical debate, but for us, they’re legitimate work questions. Even today, there was a photo of a cat with its legs spread apart, and we were asking if it was appropriate. We do take our jobs very carefully. They do matter, because users have concerns and will write in and ask, ‘Is this cat OK?’ We don’t want to showcase photos where the animal looks injured. We want people to focus on the humor.
Q. It looks like the office dynamic is a bit irregular. Is it hard to be serious when you’re dealing with memes all day?
A. It is. There are times when we have conversations and I can’t believe I’m having this conversation at work. We want to make sure that we’re putting out the best … We don’t want to put out something that isn’t funny or that crosses the line.
Q. Between all of the Cheezburger sites, you get over 350 million page views a month. Who are those viewers?
A. We have a whole range of viewers: People who love animals, the stereotypical cat ladies as well, of course, but we see a lot of cat MEN. You can see from the show that Will [content supervisor at Cheezburger] is a diehard cat man. There are a lot of college and high school students who spent their lives on the Internet looking at these types of websites.
Q. On that note, our readers are part of that demographic of college students who spend a lot of time online instead of doing homework. What advice would you give them to make those interests into a career?
A. If you create your own blog or site, you have to be consistent. Make sure that you’re doing it every day, otherwise you won’t get a consistent user base … I would also say not to be afraid of making mistakes. We make a lot of mistakes. Through our mistakes we’ve learned to do something different with our business and branch out to create new websites or projects.
Q. From watching the show, the company weirdly resembles NBC’s “The Office.” Would you say that Ben [CEO of Cheezburger Network] is the Michael Scott?
A. [Laughing] I would say that Ben is nothing like Michael Scott. He doesn’t slack off, and takes his work very seriously. Will might have a little of the Dwight-ness—he’s very intense, but he also has a fun side. And he’s a lot better dresser than Dwight. We all have a little bit of Angela in us, because she’s a crazy cat lady, and everyone [at Cheezburger] has a bit of a cat lady in them.
Q. I’m a dog person. What would you say to convince me to convert to cats?
A. Cats are eventually going to take over the world. I would suggest getting on their good side now. They will be your masters someday, so I would be nice to them. They’re so intelligent, and are pretty evil and cunning. If anyone’s going to do it, it’ll be a cat.
Q. On an unrelated note, I saw that your dream come true would be to meet Audrey Hepburn at a café. What would be the first thing you would say?
A. I feel bad that I chose someone that is no longer living. Are you a ghost? My first thought would be, ‘How are you here?’ For me, why I wanted to meet her is because she’s really interesting from her politics to her charity .... I’d want pick her brain on a lot of things.