Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Matthew Gasteier and F U Penguin: Giving All Bloggers Hope...

As someone who posts a weekly column dedicated to the adorable things my own dog does, one wouldn't think I'd be the kind of person to gravitate towards F U Penguin, just another snarky blog, but this time aimed at random and somewhat helpless animals. F U Penguin was started by Matthew Gasteier and really took eBlogger, Facebook, Twitter, and pop culture in general by storm by offering cleverly captioned photographs of meerkats, panda bears, and petting zoo goats. Oh yes, they are much more than just penguins, folks! Though penguins are what made them famous and what made up the majority of their posts in 2008. After today, though, F U Penguin won't just be for the perpetually bored at work anymore, as the site has released its first book, a compilation of the best and snarkiest commentary. And that therein, ladies and gent, explains my fascination with the brand. Because Gasteier is not just a flash in the pan any longer. Many blogs get notoriety for fourteen point five minutes but few get turned into more traditionally legitimate forms of media. And if Gasteier could do it, it gives me hope that my own "My Life, Made Possible By Pop Culture" might be picked up by a publisher soon, too!

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Matthew Gasteier is the creator of the popular blog, fupenguin.com, which is the basis for this book. He lives in Watertown, Massachusetts. Some of his best friends are penguins.

That is his official author bio from the Random House publicity pages. I recently had a chance to chat with Gasteier about the seemingly overnight success of his website, as well as this new release. Keep reading for the full transcript of that interview:

What inspired you to start the website? I’ve always kind of had a running joke with my wife about cute animals, like, as far as knowing what they’re up to. You’d see a bear on his back, kind of like “Oh stop it” and that kind of thing. And it came out as an idea for a blog in an incredibly stupid way that you might expect it to come: I was looking for a coat, and I saw a really nice coat on the Penguin Company website, and it was very expensive, so I sent an email to my wife saying “F*** you, penguin.” And then I immediately sent her another email with a picture of a penguin saying also [the same thing]. The idea kind of came to be immediately from there.

Were you expecting it to be something you just shared with your friends and your family, or were you hoping it would blow up and become something that people would be passing around? I think I expected to make a joke out of it for about ten minutes and then I started kind of keeping up with it. I’d post every day just because I had some time, and I thought it was funny, and that’s when I realized it started to feel like it was [something] so I started showing it to friends and stuff. But I never really imagined that it would grow to the point that it’s at now.

Is the blog still something you do all on your own or have you brought in some help, in kind of an “outsourcing the brand” sort of way? I definitely do it all on my own; I’m sort of a control freak when it comes to my sense of humor. I’m not saying that I’m that great or anything, but I definitely feel like when I see other people trying to do what I do—some of it is very funny, but I don’t feel like it’s ever exactly in the same voice as mine, so I feel like it would definitely [be noticed] if I added other people trying to do the same thing.

How did the book come about? Were you approached or did you say “Hey, I have X number of entries, let me see if I can turn it into something bigger and shop it around?” Once I started really doing it on a regular basis, I kind of had the idea in the back of my mind that after, like, six months of toiling in obscurity I could put together the best of my posts and send it to a publishing company or an agent or something, but I never really expected anything to come out of it. But about a week after I sent the blog link around to some of my friends…it was clear that it was becoming pretty successful. And then I got linked to from a couple of big places—like I got linked to from “The Very Short List”—that was in mid-December of last year, and within a week or two, it was clear that every publishing company subscribes to that email service because within a week or two I had five to ten offers from agents and publishing companies.

There have been quite a few other blogs recently that have been turned into books—very different from yours—but do you ever feel competition or pressure to get your numbers up? Do you ever feel pressure to become the #1 Time Waster At Work blog, for example? No, not at all. I mean, obviously I love some of those blogs, and I don’t love others of them. I think that’s as everybody does. But I never really felt competition with anybody. I had, like, a fake competition with Cute Overload in February, where we were both nominated for Best Pet Blog from the Blog’s Choice Awards. I just thought “how ridiculous that I was nominated for this” and I kind of started a campaign against [them] and against I Can Haz Cheesburger. I Can Haz Cheeseburger is basically, like, the McDonalds or Nike of internet blogs; they’re too big to even notice me. Cute Overload—as much as they’re dominant—is still run by a group of four or five people so they kind of went along with it, which was great of them to do. Some of the people—from both sides—in the comments section didn’t seem to understand the humor of the situation, but…I’m still just one guy…on blogspot. I don’t really expect to take over the world or anything. I’m just here to make people laugh.

When you were growing up did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did this just kind of “happen?” Yeah, I actually wrote another book that came out earlier this year. I was a music critic for about five years—on and off—and I wrote a book about a hip-hop album called “Illmatic.” It’s part of a series of books on classic albums, and I write for my actual job, too. I do film market research, which I mostly write reports for, but I was always interested in doing stuff with writing. I never really segued into comedy like this before. It was kind of just a random thing I thought was funny—and I’m sure you know, being a writer, struggling to get people to notice your stuff, it’s definitely really strange to spend your whole life trying to figure out an idea that will sell, and then you get some stupid idea like this for five seconds and have agents calling you to pitch them. It’s very strange.

Yeah but that’s kind of what we’re all hoping will happen, so it’s good to see that it actually has happened to someone. That’s true, yeah.

So what’s up next for you, other than the two books? I guess I’m kind of weighing my options, as nerdy—or actually, as douchey as that sounds. I mean, it’s a strange thing to happen to me, so… I’m going to keep doing the blog as long as I find it funny. Fortunately I haven’t run out of ideas yet for it, or at least I hope I haven’t. People seem to still be liking it, so that’s a good thing.

Yeah, one of the things that I love, too, is that so many other animals now are incorporated, and that can be endless. Yeah, I definitely could hit a wall with that. There’s definitely still more animals to go, and there are definitely lesser animals that I’m on the lookout for. It was a lot easier when you could just go “What else? Oh, okay, a giraffe.” Now I have to find the obscure, sub-species of an animal. But I try to keep it fresh and different—even the format, using links and stuff like that. I may cover video soon, too; you never know.

Are you hoping they turn it into a movie, or are you thinking the book was good enough? You know, I’m sure you said that as a joke—as you should have…

Well, you never know… I know. People have approached me about that, but I’m never doing it. I just think it’s douchey. People come up with all kinds of ridiculous reasons to make movies…but yeah, I will definitely not be doing that. And hopefully I won’t be convinced to make a sequel to the book because I think the book is strong enough. I would have a pretty hard time following it up with another collection of one hundred posts that are as funny. I wanted to make all of the posts long enough that the joke didn’t repeat itself or run out within the book, which I hope it didn’t, but I feel like if I did a second one, it might be too much. And you know, I made a book, so it’s not like I’m trying to stay “street” with my blog or anything, but you know, I don’t put any ads on the site…I’m trying to prevent it from becoming the ridiculousness that is the [quintessential] internet blog. The book is just something that I think—it’s just a different way to enjoy the material. There is definitely new stuff in it, and I feel like it’s different enough that people can get something new out of it.

Well, for purely selfish and personal reasons, I was very excited to see news about the blog being turned into a book because I’m a blogger and I’ve been trying to sell the idea as a book for a while now. Yeah, I mean, I had a very different blog a few years ago…It came out of my music career; it was like an eighty-minute mix of music for each year, dating back to, like, 1960. And so I put up a list of the music and then a critique of some of the songs and talked about the music for that year, and by the end of it, I got maybe three hundred hits in a day, and I thought that was incredible. But I put in so much work—it was like a year-long project—and then a month later, my snarky-ass commenting on penguins, and I’m selling book deals.

It all depends on what people are looking for at the time. You never know what they’re looking for in the different blog things. I just happened to combine cute animals and snarky-ness. People like it, I guess.

Definitely. I definitely have gotten emailed quite a few links from your site, and now it saves us that trouble. Now we can just keep the book [out] and pass it around, and it looks like we’re being literary. It’s a step in the right direction. And you can take it with you! You don’t need to worry about being near a computer all the time…No, it all seems kind of silly, but I’m very proud of it.

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