Meet the seven students capturing U of O student life in memes
As I was getting ready for the interview I had set up with the students that run the @uottawa.memes page on Instagram, what I was imagining was far from what happened.
We agreed on meeting at the Faculty of Social Sciences Building, but what I didn’t know was that the group had already rented out a conference room on the fifth floor and that they were awaiting my arrival.
When I finally found the interview room, I was greeted by David, their “security guard.” He handed me a crumpled contract, with the letters “NDA” (non-disclosure agreement) written in a magenta coloured pencil, and asked me to sign it, without giving me any further information.
When I entered the conference room, I was even more surprised by who was waiting for me there. Five guys, sitting at the far end of the table, staring at me.
You’d think five people is a lot — but apparently there are at least two other students involved in the project: Fran and Harry.
“What was that about?” I said jokingly and pointed at the security guard. And then the adventure began.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is the best interview I will ever conduct in my entire lifetime. But this is the best interview I will ever conduct in my entire lifetime.
Here’s how it went.
The Fulcrum has agreed to identify the students who run the meme page by first names only. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
The Fulcrum: How did it all start? What was your motivation behind starting the page?
Sam: I got really bored in a sociology class in first year. Then I just followed everyone that I knew that goes to the University of Ottawa from my personal following. I knew most of these guys through the course of that year, and we all just collectively came together.
The Fulcrum: So there was no other motivation behind making that page other than boredom?
Sam: The motivation was not paying attention in class.
Simon: Kind of one of our core values. Boredom and don’t pay attention in class.
The Fulcrum: You started at zero followers and after a while you started gaining popularity, right?
Hunter: After the first day, we went up really fast. We made it to about 200 followers after the first day and within a week we broke 1,000 followers. It was pretty crazy, especially being in first year because you’re going to the caf, and then you hear behind you ‘Hey, you guys check out @uottawa.memes yet?’ Have you ever seen Hannah Montana? It really felt like that.
The Fulcrum: Do you work with other people or do you curate everything by yourself? How do you manage the account?
Sam: It used to be a lot more structured but now we post whenever we make something. We used to do one or two posts a day but now it’s whenever we think posts are good.
Sean: It was a lot easier in first year because there was so much more content, like you’re at the school, you’re in residence.
Hunter: We also used to have a bank of memes that we could go to, like ‘Oh, we don’t have a post for today. Which ones can we put out there?’
Nik: We have a group chat, there are a couple of other people besides who’s here but it’s mostly close friends.
The Fulcrum: Do your family and friends know that you run a meme account, or do you try to keep it private?
Sam: Our closer friends knew and then it spread. A decent amount of people know it’s us at this point but a lot of people outside of this sphere of people that we know don’t know as well.
Sean: My brother told my mom.
Hunter: I told my parents.
Simon: My parents know, but I don’t think they understand.
Nik: My dad would be weirdly disappointed.
Simon: My dad loves it. He follows it.
Sean: My parents think it’s something for my program.
The Fulcrum: How has life changed for you since @uottawa.memes got famous?
Nik: To be fair, I’m on my phone a lot more.
Sean: I’m a lot more in demand this year than I used to be, definitely.
Simon: It definitely changed our experience of university.
Sean: I think in a positive way as well. So far nothing bad has happened.
Hunter: Other than being threatened to be kicked out of residence last year.
The Fulcrum: Can you explain that? What happened exactly?
Hunter: Ok. It happened in first year. Do you know the page Canadian Party Life (CPL)? So the idea is, you do something stupid when you’re drunk, you send it to them and they repost it. Before it really took off, we were doing the same thing here at the U of O. And what we were informed by residence is that posting pictures of people breaking the rules of the residence agreements is not allowed. So they told us if we didn’t cease all operations, they’d kick us out.
Sam: They brought Nik into a meeting. They read our names on the list to them and had some other shit. We got in trouble for other things and as a result, they figured it out.
Hunter: We started a cover band and threw a concert inside residence…
Sam: I had a party in my room in first year that we advertised on the page, I lived in 90U. When we advertised the party through the stories, I got a bunch of emails, I got in trouble with Residence Life, it was just a constant fight between us. And at the end of the year, they basically were just, ‘OK, stop doing this or else we’re going to kick out of residence.’ Yeah, so we stopped for a little bit then.
Hunter: We stopped for one month and on the last day we realized ‘Hey, they can’t kick us out anymore. They can’t kick us out of school.’
Sean: I feel the school is going to read you saying that and be like ‘we can kick you out of school, watch out.’
The Fulcrum: What is the wildest thing that has happened surrounding your page?
Simon: I mean, a positive crazy thing, I guess, rather than the negative one was the sponsorship too, right? With Black Fly, the alcohol.
Sam: We got sponsored by them, yet to hear back again. But we did at one point get sponsored by them and they just shipped us a bunch of alcohol to throw a big party. That was cool. My life has definitely become more interesting.
Simon: More friends now.
The Fulcrum: Did you face any challenges in the early days of the account? What about now?
Sam: I don’t think so. The early days were really smooth sailing. It was just me, Simon, and Nik. We were searching for approval. It was like doing our thing, making each other laugh. And then other people enjoyed it too. We were just doing whatever we wanted, and it caught on.
Simon: I feel the challenges we’re facing are not at the start but more now because obviously, all of us have moved out of residence, and so much of our humour was based on making fun of residence and stuff like that, so I think it’s harder now. So I think the struggle, there’s not really one, but if there is one that you would even consider a struggle, it would be now because it’s harder to find content, harder to understand what’s going on and all that kind of stuff. Still not exactly a challenge, more of just a small road bump.
Nik: It cannot matter enough inherently for there to be challenges. The second that something’s hard, we laugh it off.
Hunter: I really like how people just tell us everything that happens. Do you remember the bullet hole and the 90U window? Anytime anything small happens someone will send it to us. We kind of know what’s happening all the time now because of maintaining the page. And say we also don’t really have any long-term goals; we’re not shooting for any amount of people to follow us or anything like that. We’re just doing it for the sake of doing it.
Sean: Yeah, no goals, no risk of failure.
The Fulcrum: Is there ever any competition between other Ottawa meme pages?
Sam: The Carleton one we’ve poked fun at a couple of times but none of them have a big enough following or presence. I feel like all of them sprung up after we started.
Nik: It’s not funny trying to fight with people who are funny. I want to fight people who actually care, people who actually get upset because then it’s fun.
The Fulcrum: Your first post is dated Dec. 3, 2018. Was that when you created the account?
Sam: As far as I remember, yes.
The Fulcrum: Wasn’t that during exam season?
Sam: Yeah, but it’s so boring when finals happen. I don’t want to be doing finals. So I found something else to do.
The Fulcrum: What can you say about the trends of memes? How do you think of your memes?
Sam: A lot of the stuff we find is just from other people’s meme templates or bigger things from Instagram or other places around the internet.
Sean: It’s also a lot of trial and error, because that template comes in and then there are six different pictures with six different options.
Sam: There are two ways of making a joke. Either you have the idea of like “I want to poke fun at this” and you look for a template that works well for it or you see a template that’s just too good to pass up on and think of something that could go with it. Sometimes it comes together and they’re just perfect at the same time.
Hunter: And you get a meme past a thousand likes and you can smile.
Simon: Our most liked meme is the one about the U.S. students getting drafted. So it’s whatever is popular at the time. Jokes like Panda Game stuff are always going to do well, because everyone knows about it.
The Fulcrum: Do students or followers submit ideas sometimes?
Sean: The ones that are up to quality do get posted. In all fairness, that’s the whole reason I joined, because I was sick and tired of sending in memes.
Nik: Some of them are so funny, like the Naruto one. Not to be cocky, but our DMs are full.
Sam: How many are we at this point? We have seven, maybe eight people signed into the account who check it very regularly. Anytime I open my phone and go to the page and check the DMs, there’s usually one or two new requests.
The Fulcrum: Do you feel like memes control pop culture?
Sean: It’s 2020. Yes.
Sam: I feel it’s back and forth. Pop culture dictates memes but memes dictate pop culture too. It’s a two-way street. They both feed into each other.
Sean: I feel like now it’s an easier way to make light of a situation that may not be funny. And it’s easier to talk about it. There’s a meme about it, I guess.
Sam: You look at the Superbowl. That peanut ad was entirely designed because “Oh, people are definitely going to make memes about this.”
Hunter: For Bird Box, they paid people to do it. I’m still convinced Shakira did the tongue thing just so people would make memes and keep the NFL relevant.
Sam: It’s definitely a giant part of pop culture at this point where it’s relevant to look at.
The Fulcrum: Do you feel like memes have turned into a form of news, or a way young people can now start talking about politics? Say their opinion in some way?
Sam: I would definitely say that they are a medium of news for sure. I’ve seen stuff happen and I’d find out about something because of something that someone posted, but I’ll go look at something else because it’s not credible.
Sean: I feel like making news about politics and stuff just leads to more memes that are less and less credible.
The Fulcrum: What is something you want the world to know about you, outside of your meme page like who you are?
Nik: Everybody’s like ‘You make fun of things, you must be very angry and not fulfilled.’ This is just a joke. We’re all happy, nice people. Nobody’s trying to hurt anybody. It’s just for fun.
Sean: I personally agree with that and if I had to say something for people to know is that I’m not actually an asshole. Please don’t think I speak in memes, I’m a communication major.
Simon: None of our stuff is meant to be taken too seriously.
Hunter: I’d say every joke has a butt to it, at least the way our jokes are made. Either it’s like, ‘Oh, this joke’s poking fun at U.S. students or this joke’s poking fun at engineers.’ I think because of how social media works our posts do better if someone shares it. The posts that do the best are something that someone would be like, ‘Hey, I know someone from the U.S.,’ and then they send it to them. Right? And then it just ups our insight or makes it show up on more people’s pages.
Sean: I was looking at the insights and we have followers in Toronto, Peterborough.
Sam: Some of our things are general enough that people outside of the U of O will understand and people will send it to group chats with their friends from home. People will follow even before coming here. We were getting a lot of DMs throughout the summer and before just asking questions about school like what it’s like here. There was a surprising number of people who based everything that they wanted to know about the U of O on us. Our DMs aren’t generally a helpful place but when people messaged us asking about the school we tended to give relevant information.
The Fulcrum: I saw that you posted something on your IG story asking your followers for ideas of things you should say during the interview. How did that turn out?
Hunter: Someone sent the Fulcrum with a bee emoji replacing the F. That was my personal favourite.
Sean: Somebody wanted us to state on the record that Carleton was stinky.
Simon: ‘Money and hoes,’ to quote.
Nik: Somebody just sent a picture of Caitlyn Jenner holding a pistol. So I guess that’s on record.
Sean: Just the word Scientology.