Earlier this week Thought Catalog‘s Ryan O’Connell told us his top 5 favorite viral videos, and now he’s going viral himself. We sat down with him and his fellow Thought Catalog Editor Brandon Scott Gorrell for (an unfortunately fairly drunken) interview, in which we found out why he ended his first web series, why he started his new web series (watch above), straight guys sucking his dick, wanting to be a giant ebola virus and his forthcoming book, I’m Special And Other Lies 20-Somethings Tell Themselves…
Portable: Go. Tell me about Hot Or Not… Why is it gone?
Ryan O’Connell: I’ll start with how it started. I had just been writing a lot at Thought Catalog obviously and I kind of was interested in venturing out into other mediums and people had been telling me, you know, “You should do video”, and blah, blah, blah. And I dunno, I thought that it was really important because I think that as much as I write on that website I think it’s important for people to see how I talk and kind of see how closely it matches the way I write. I think the way I write and the way I talk is essentially the same. So, um, it was sort of like my debutant ball, was the first Hot Or Not — it was my debut into society!
P: It made us laugh out loud.
Ryan O’Connell: Oh, it made you laugh out loud? Oh yeah, I’m glad you did! I love comedy. As much emo stuff as I write I love making people laugh. That’s always been my first love. I mean I would never do stand up or anything but like, I like making jokes and I like writing jokes so… Hot Or Not was sort of this idea I stole from Brandon, actually. Brandon did this Hot Or Not thing, this list, and I was like, that’s such a good idea, I love that and that would be so good as a video I think, can I take it from you? And Brandon said yes.
P: How did that make you feel Brandon?
Brandon Scott Gorrell: The post that I wrote got like, 10 Facebook shares and 2 Tweets…
Ryan O’Connell: Yeah but so did my Hot Or Not as a video!
Brandon Scott Gorrell: Are you kidding me? That’s not true actually…
Ryan O’Connell: OK fine, fine, fine, fine, fine!
Brandon Scott Gorrell: Your first Hot Or Not got like 300 Facebook shares…
Ryan O’Connell: OK, OK, OK! Well, OK, so basically I thought it was really fun… I’d always be reading Tweets or reading other blogs and I think the things that we latch onto as a culture are completely ridiculous, we make memes of anything. Like Angelina Jolie’s right leg. So Hot Or Not to me was just sort of like commenting on the ridiculousness of American pop culture and just making a giant joke out of it. Like, being able to decide what’s hot or what’s not seems so arbitrary and meaningless. So I was like fuck it, why don’t I make Xanax not hot, or like, meth hot? You know, why don’t I just completely make Americans feel stupid for their interests? I don’t know maybe that’s too harsh, but I just wanted to show how ridiculous it all is and how much is doesn’t matter.
P: What was the reaction like? You said there were 300 Facebook shares…
Ryan O’Connell: The initial response was really good. The thing that I’m most proud of is that it had literally no negative feedback. Maybe like one comment out of 40 was negative, which for Thought Catalog is fucking… It’s a revolution.
Brandon Scott Gorrell: The first one got like upwards of, I think, 6,000 views on YouTube.
Ryan O’Connell: Yeah it did really well. And people were really positive about it and they really liked it.
Brandon Scott Gorrell: That was the case for all of [the episodes].
Ryan O’Connell: Then it took a decline. It’s only been going on for a month but it kind of took an immediate decline. It was like Madonna’s new album, it got like 359,000 copies the first week and it sort of like… dropped…
Brandon Scott Gorrell: People wanted to hear your voice and they wanted to see you…
Ryan O’Connell: Right, they were very curious so see me in the flesh. And then once they saw me they were like, “OK, I’ve had enough!”
P: Do you think that was because of the concept?
Ryan O’Connell: I think it’s the concept, because the concept Hot Or Not is limited, it appeals to such a small group of people. It’s not a viral idea. It will have devoted fans, like people who are big fans of my writing will respond to it, but as far as reaching out to an audience beyond my fan base, it’s hard. Because Hot Or Not, like I said, is specific. It’s very specific.
Brandon Scott Gorrell: It’s Thought Catalog specific. The Thought Catalog audience… If they’re looking at our website they’re going to be looking at this Hot Or Not thing. Nobody else can access that.
Ryan O’Connell: Someone that doesn’t know what Thought Catalog is isn’t going to accidentally stumble upon Hot Or Not and be like “Oh wow!” Anyway, Hot Or Not was great as a way to get my bearings on the video and figure out how to do it and Gaby [Dunn] is a really… we hired Gaby and she’s amazing at video editing. That was another thing, I needed someone who understood comedy and the timing of comedy because the video is all about the timing. It’s about making the joke and cutting to the next thing and making it funny. She got that. She has the pacing down, so she’s amazing to work with. And so now we killed Hot Or Not because I just got bored and it wasn’t doing that well. So now were doing more viral ideas. Think of a viral article that I would write now I’m going to just speak it, now I’m just going to make it into a viral video, like why not, right?
P: What’s it called?
Ryan O’Connell: Well there’s going to be no name because it’s going to be every Friday, a new idea.
Brandon Scott Gorrell: What’s the first one?
Ryan O’Connell: The first one is called “Things Straight Men Do That Confuse Me”. And one of them is sucking my dick. That’s confusing…
P: Is that from a story you’ve already written? I feel like I’ve heard this story before…
Ryan O’Connell: I mean you probably have! I’ve talked about straight guys sucking my dick before… But never in a video! So anyway… That’s that! Hot Or Not is basically dead and there’s going to be new life breathed into it and I think with these viral articles as videos I think it’s going to reach a much wider audience and actually potentially go viral on the Internet.
P: That’s your aim? To be viral?
Ryan O’Connell: Yeah. I want to be a giant ebola virus.
P: Are you ready to deal with criticism, if there is any?
Ryan O’Connell: Of course! I’ve been dealing with criticism from the moment I started writing on Thought Catalog. I mean, the thing about the videos is they get less criticism than my articles! So people genuinely like me talking more than they like my writing so… I dunno…
Brandon Scott Gorrell: It’s true. It’s absolutely true.
Ryan O’Connell: It’s absolutely true. My video is like a safe haven from the critics because they don’t knock it. They like it.
P: Is there anyone else at Thought Catalog that’s interested in moving into that format? Because I know Chelsea Fagan already does it on her Tumblr…
Brandon Scott Gorrell: I’ve had in mind Chelsea and Gaby, but nobody else is stepping up.
Ryan O’Connell: Brandon and Stephanie are shy girls, so they wont do it.
Brandon Scott Gorrell: No we wont do it. I want Gaby to do it and I want Chelsea to get into it too. They have not expressed interest in that but they’re employees and I hope that we can push them into that.
Ryan O’Connell: For me, I love doing videos, it’s a new medium that I can explore. Like I said, I feel really kind of tapped out writing wise and this is like a new thing for me to do to challenge me, and to bring new depth to Thought Catalog as a website. I think us going into video is a natural progression, and we’ll see how it goes… We’re in the very beginning. I’m excited. It’s very exciting, it’s like a new baby!
P: Speaking of babies, you’re going to write a book! Tell us about it…
Ryan O’Connell: It’s called “I’m Special And Other Lies 20-Somethings Tell Themselves”.
P: Let’s talk about how it’s not republished Thought Catalog articles and it’s all going to be totally new material…
Ryan O’Connell: Basically when I was approached with this idea about writing a book I wanted to make sure it wasn’t another blog to book. I wanted to make sure it was something with staying power so I made a point to make sure it had no republished content from Thought Catalog and it was all new personal essays. It’s funny because I write tons on Thought Catalog and sometimes I write about my personal life but mostly it’s like I am kind of guarded and I… you know… I’m kind of picky about what I chose to share, but this with book I kind of hope to talk about a lot more personal stuff that I haven’t shared on Thought Catalog. Oh God, it’s hard to talk about… I don’t know… It’s feel like I’ve written so much on Thought Catalog and there have been so many ideas that I wanted to explore further but because of the space constraints and time I wanted to go back to those ideas and kind of make them grow and flesh them out. This book is kind of my opportunity to that, to that those little seeds and water them until they’re full blooming plants.
P: Do you think there’s still space for that in our generation? Do you think people still want to go to that… fleshed out, long form place?
Ryan O’Connell: Yeah! You know it’s really tricky, when you ask 20-somethings to buy a book its really tricky, because a lot of people just go on the Internet. And a lot of them might think, “Oh I can just go on TC if I want to read Ryan’s writing,” that’s why I had to make… That’s why I absolutely don’t want anything to be published because I want this to all be new. I want this to show a different side of my writing to what’s available on Thought Catalog. So who knows, I hope they buy it. I trust that they’ll want to read it.
P: Is there going to be a Thought Catalog book?
Ryan O’Connell: I think so, maybe.
Brandon Scott Gorrell: We definitely have plans to do variations of that idea in the future.
Ryan O’Connell: The future. Capital F.
Brandon Scott Gorrell: That’s all that I can say about it. We’re definitely talking to people and making plans…