Ben Huh never wanted to be a comedian.
“I certainly don’t find myself that funny,” he said in an interview with The Michigan Daily.
And yet, because of Huh, millions of people around the world LOL at their computer screens every day.
Huh, who came to the Ann Arbor Public Library last week to talk about his company, is the CEO of the Cheezburger Network, which includes more than two dozen popular Internet humor blogs, including I Can Has Cheezburger? and FAIL Blog. But the key to the company’s success is that neither Huh nor his staff members actually supply the humor. That’s the users’ job.
“For us, the cost of creating content is virtually negligible because our users do it,” Huh said. “We provide the tools and the framework, things like that. That’s what’s made the business viable.”
Of course, there was little evidence that such a business would really work when Huh left a well-paying management job in 2007 to launch a career in Internet humor. But the widespread popularity of captioned photos online — as well as the extremely low cost of generating content — has helped the Cheezburger Network thrive.
Users can upload already captioned photos or add captions to other users’ photos. It’s Huh’s job to make sure this content reaches the computer screens of the millions of people who visit the blogs.
“We really focus on building a community of people who love what they do,” he said. “(We) use their creativity to continue to produce interesting stuff.”
It was in fact e-mails from users that inspired the Cheezburger Network to adopt the mission of making the Internet laugh for five minutes a day.
“They would e-mail us and say, ‘You know, you’re the highlight of my work day,’ ” Huh said. “They’re looking for kind of an escape from their everyday work. You may love your job, but still you need a break every once in awhile.”
For fans of the Cheezburger Network, that break is all about the cats. I Can Has Cheezburger, one of Huh’s most visited blogs, depicts cats in various pictures surrounded by funny captions.
According to Huh, it’s no accident that cats became the gold standard of online photo captioning.
“They show more emotion in their facial expressions (and) their body language than dogs do,” he said. “With cats you kind of live in their world, so they ignore this camera sometimes and you get to catch a lot of really fun stuff that they do.”
Putting funny captions on pictures of cats goes back quite a long time. Huh mentioned that he once came across a black-and-white postcard from 1905 featuring a dressed-up kitten with the words MOMMY WHERE’S MY DINNER in all caps.
“A decade after popular photography came into being, somebody was putting all-caps captions on cat pictures,” Huh said.
Today, funny cat pictures are still injecting much-needed laughter into the stressful lives of working people. For Huh, that’s the thrill of running his company.
“It’s not (like) selling insurance to people,” he said. “There’s something fundamentally good about what we do.”
And of course, Huh loves to laugh at lolcats. He even has a favorite.
“This kitten, it’s got ear hair coming out of its ears,” he said. “It’s in a wine glass and it’s, like, chilling … and it says ‘send me with the compliments to the ladies.’ It’s such a cool cat.”