I became a meme: Confessions from viral social-media sensations

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They’re famous beyond their wildest memes.

Whether it’s a legs-crossed Bernie Sanders wearing crocheted mittens at the Inauguration or a proud baby who successfully devoured a fistful of sand during a family trip to the beach — anyone can become a meme megastar.

“A meme is a picture or video with crazy captions that people share widely because they think it’s funny and they can relate to it,” Zoe Roth, more popularly known as social media’s “Disaster Girl,” told The Post.

Roth, 21, accidentally became the face of evil at age 4 when a picture of her fiendishly grinning in front of burning house went viral. And no, her little hands didn’t start the fire, or so she says.

Roth, like countless other cyber-celebrities, unwittingly earned internet icon status the second her snapshot was comically edited into a visual representation of society’s general thoughts, feelings and experiences  — also known as a meme. Like a digital inside joke, memes are a way to convey instant relatability and poke fun.

Here, six meme mascots discuss the supertrendy highs and unlikeable lows of going viral.

The ultimate team player

In Netflix’s 2019 documentary “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,” about the disastrous almost-musical festival, event planner Andy King revealed he was asked by the now-jailed Billy McFarland to orally pleasure a customs agent to release cases of water. And, as he confessed in the doc, he “got to the office fully prepared” to do it. 

His desperation revelation was an instant online classic. For weeks after the film’s premiere, King didn’t know he was a meme — which he thought was pronounced “MEE-MEE” — until his niece called him up. The recognition continues: “It happens every day. The whispers start, ‘I think it’s him,’ and they pull up the meme on their phones,” King told The Post of his fans. 

King originally wanted the story removed from the movie, because he was told it would “ruin his career.” Now, it’s his selling point: “Who is the ultimate team player? Andy King,” he said, of his meme-y reputation. “Who will go the extra mile? Who will do anything to get the job done?” 

Save for the pandemic, King’s still planning zero-waste high-end events — he did one for Leonardo DiCaprio in the before times. We may see him on-screen again: King had a handful of offers for a TV show centered around his party-planning work. But he’s also made money as a motivational speaker, traveling the world to give talks about failure.

In February, he launched a podcast, “Take Two With Andy King.” “What do you do when you get handed a box of lemons?” King said. “You better make the best lemonade anybody’s ever had.” 

There’s no hiding

Antoine Dodson became a meme before memes were even a thing.

“When people would say ‘Oh my God, you’re a meme,’ I [didn’t know] what they were talking about,” Dodson, 34, told The Post. “I was like, ‘What’s a meme?’ ”

His rhythmic directive to “Hide your kids, hide your wife” during an impromptu news interview in 2010 opened the floodgates to a tsunami of hilariously captioned images, videos and chart-topping musical remixes. He was even able to use the earnings from the Auto-Tune hit, “Bed Intruder” by the Gregory Brothers, to buy a house.  

But Dodson’s shining moment of going-viral glory was birthed out of trauma. “It actually started with my sister when she got attacked,” said Dodson, an entertainer. 

Hours before skyrocketing into cyberspace superstardom, Dodson rushed to his sister Kelly’s rescue when a suspected rapist climbed through her bedroom window inside of an affordable housing community in Huntsville, Alabama. The next day he iconically recounted the harrowing incident for local news cameras. 

“I said, ‘Well, obviously, we got a rapist in Lincoln Park. So, hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband, because they’re raping everybody out here.’ ”

His singsong advice made it to the telecast. Then, it made it to YouTube. From there, it landed him in the annals of internet immortality. “It was so long ago. I cannot believe that people still acknowledged me to this day,” Dodson said, noting that millennials and Gen Zers are still hailing him as a “legend” on TikTok. 

But the best part about his journey through meme supremacy was meeting newscaster Katie Couric in New York. 

“I grew up with this woman on my TV every single day,” he said. “She knew exactly who I was, and she welcomed me with open arms.”

Side-eye girl 

In 2013, 2-year-old Chloe Clem’s parents surprised their daughters with a trip to Disneyland. Older sister Lily was thrilled. Chloe? Not so much. While Lily screamed in delight, Chloe mustered a distinct pout. A screenshot of her frown exploded online, with memers dubbing her “side-eye girl.” The video has more than 20 million views. 

Now 10, Clem said being a meme is all she knows. At around age 6, she started getting noticed out in public, which “freaked her out,” mom Katie said. “Once lots of people started to recognize me, I just started to get used to it,” the fourth-grader told The Post.

Clem delights in telling her school friends of her internet stardom. “I say, ‘Do you know I’m a meme?’ and they’re like, ‘What? No way, no, you’re lying.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not,’ ” she said. Once, Clem brought the “What do you Meme?” game card of her face in as proof. 

Her face has been immortalized on an elevator at Google (“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, is that me?’ ”), and she’s even been to movie premieres. Now, the Phoenix, Arizona-based student is turning her sights to YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, where she and Lily are gaining strong followings. “On YouTube I like to open toys and do surprises, and do reviews, it’s super fun. And on TikTok, I do the dances,” she said.

Coming in hot

Years before Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl” movement set the digital sphere ablaze, 4-year-old Zoe Roth’s devilish smirk next to a burning bungalow kept high-speed heat-seekers entertained. 

“When I was 4 in 2005, my dad took a picture of me standing in front of a house fire,” Roth explained to The Post. 

“I was standing there looking evil, as if I started the fire,” she said, adding, “But oh my gosh, no, I didn’t.”

Roth and her family were innocently checking out a controlled burn — a fire that’s set intentionally for the purpose of land management — on the fateful day she became the poster child of pyromania. 

Her father Dave, an amateur photographer, used his new camera to snap a few shots of her and brother Tristan at the fiery scene. 

“My dad said, ‘OK, Zoe, it’s your turn,’ and I just smiled,” she recalled. “I looked evil in every picture from 2005. That’s just how I smiled.”

From there, her hellish leer made its way to the internet, where it will forever serve as the perfect depiction of any mischievous act or disastrous scene.  

“Being the ‘Disaster Girl’ meme since I was a kid has been pretty cool,” said Roth, now a graduating senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

“The best part was being flown to LA to be a part of National Geographic’s series on the history of the internet,” she added. 

“Its hard to believe that evil-faced little girl is me, and that I’m a part of history.”

‘Bad Luck Brian’ makes good 

His real name isn’t even Brian. 

For Kyle Craven, what started out as a goofy prank turned into an unshakable cyber-persona. 

“I was a kid who didn’t take school seriously,” Craven, 31, admitted to The Post. “I got in trouble a lot.”

Ahead of picture day in 2007, Craven, then a high school junior, purchased a cheesy plaid sweater vest from a local thrift store in Akron, Ohio.

And the rest is viral history. 

“Before I took the photo, I put [the vest on], rubbed my eyes and made this stupid grin,” recalled the married father of two, now a project manager for a family-owned construction company. “It was excellent.”  

But the school’s principal didn’t find Craven’s photo foolery funny. He was told his silly snapshot wouldn’t be published in the yearbook, and that he had to pose for retake pictures the next day. Craven complied. But not before uploading the prank pic to Facebook as his profile image. 

It wasn’t until 2012, during his fourth year in college, that his mug became globally synonymous with bad luck. 

“You had ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend’ and ‘Scumbag Steve,’ but at that time, there weren’t any memes that symbolized bad luck,” he said. “I think that’s why it caught on.”

Since then, Craven’s meme has afforded him a meeting with Snoop Dogg, a feature in a McDonald’s commercial and a spot on a wall in a museum in Switzerland. 

“If [becoming a meme] never happened, [my life still] would have been OK,” said Craven, who recently sold the rights to his “Bad Luck Brian” picture as crypto-art for $36,000. 

“But it definitely added a really cool aspect to my life.”

Cashing out 

Follow the money. That was the message of the improvised video Durrell “Relly B” Smylie shared on his Instagram in late 2020. Little did he know that his 35-second clip, solely meant to promote the car dealership he worked for at the time, would earn him a place in the social-media hall of fame. 

“Where the money resides, where the money resides. It’s a slogan that I have been saying for almost a year,” Smylie, 24, told The Post. 

He chanted that snappy catchphrase while climbing out of the trunk of a 2021 Honda Pilot EX-L on the dealership grounds in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The jingle, recited over a funky beat, detailed the financial perks of buying a car from him.

“It was a slow day, and my manager told me to make a [marketing] video,” Smylie said.  

“I made the video, I posted it on social media and it got a few laughs and a few likes,” he said of the post’s initial online reception. 

But once singer Saweetie came across the clip and shared it on her official Instagram profile in December, Smylie’s melodic meme became the mantra for the new year. 

“Megan Thee Stallion is always reposting it,” he said, noting that the singer belted out his trademark phrase while celebrating her first-ever Grammy award wins this month. 

The NFL tapped Smylie to appear in its Super Bowl LV TikTok Tailgate in February. He has also inked a partnership deal with Cash App, and has become a verified celebrity on Instagram. 

And while the benefits of having meme esteem are the stuff of dreams, he said the constant attention can be a nightmare. 

“People do not know how to respect personal space,” Smylie said, adding that he now has to travel with security in order to avoid overly aggressive fans. 

“But I love the meme and Insta-fame life. Wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

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