John Cheese is an internet comedy legend, notorious for writing in his macho, alcohol-fueled, varyingly psychotic persona. But now he’s grown up, sobered up, and is taking the net by storm as one of Cracked.com’s most revered columnists. The Leaky Wiki asks him questions, straight in his face.
JC: I think it's an odd term, to be honest. If someone gets famous for being on a TV show, we don't call him "TV famous." We don't introduce rock stars with, "Ladies and gentlemen... please welcome the musically famous Metallica!" But for some reason, we have to include that tag when describing someone who garnered their fame on the net.
I think it's because people associate a certain amount of glamor and money with famous people, and you just don't get that with internet celebrities, even if they're performing the same job. For instance, I think Cody Johnston and Daniel O'Brien have acting skills that are on par with or better than a lot of current movie actors today. But if they're being described in articles or interviews, they're "internet famous." More people read my article on growing up poor than the number of people who saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One in theaters. Yet people still have to use that tag of "internet famous" as if it's a footnote: "He's a famous writer -- well, actually, he's a famous internet writer." As if becoming famous on the internet is easy to do, compared to becoming famous by any other means.
It's thrown around so much that I know writers who get more traffic than columnists for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes ... but they still can't acknowledge the fact that they're "internet famous" because the term is embarrassing.
TLW: When did you first realize you wanted to be a comedy writer?
JC: I knew I wanted to write at least something back in high school, but it wasn't until around 1997 that I tried my hand at comedy. I had gotten a website through one of those free hosting services, and after about a year of typing words to no one, I started to get an audience. That felt incredible, and that's when I new I wanted to write comedy for a living. But it wasn't until 2010, that I knew I could write comedy for a living. That's when I started writing regularly for Cracked, and my traffic numbers went from thousands to millions.
TLW: What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
JC: In my column, I regularly mention having worked fifteen years at a truck wash (big semis). There was very little about that job that was good. If it rained, you didn't work. When you were busy, the physical aspect of having a couple thousand pounds of water pressure pushing against you for eight hours, just wiped you out. Because road treatment chemicals in the winter are so corrosive on vehicles, we were twice as busy in zero degree temperature as we were in the summer. And of all of the customer related jobs I've ever had, truckers are the biggest dickheads I've ever encountered. It was just constant stress, both physically and mentally.
But to top it off, the pay was horrible, and there was virtually no room for promotion. Every once in a while, they'd throw you a fifteen cent raise to keep you going, while demanding ten dollars worth of performance improvement. There were no benefits. No sick time. And if you did happen to get sick, they treated it as if you were starting a conspiracy to bring the company down. It also didn't help that the people I worked with weren't exactly socially upstanding. Three of my ex-coworkers are currently in prison for child molestation.
TLW: The rumor is you have a book in the works. Care to give us any spoilers?
JC: I'll do you one better: I'll give you an actual excerpt. This is from a chapter on depression (keep in mind, this is still in rough draft form):
"Think of your brain as a hard drive in a computer. One day you're trying out some new porn sites because you've seen every single video on your regular sites twice. You're in the middle of a particularly interesting cartoon about robots with missiles for dicks (thanks, Japan) when the computer decides to reboot. And just like that, you're looking at a black monitor.
You try to restart the system several dozen times to no avail. It's a boot sector virus, and it's just wiped out pretty much everything on your computer. Don't worry, it's fixable. But you can't use your hard drive to do it because that's the very thing that's broken. You need an outside source. A rescue CD. Note to apocalypse people: A CD was a disc that held information before we learned to transfer data with our minds.
The same is true with the brain and depression. The brain is the thing with the problem. There's a chemical imbalance there, coupled with some hit and miss psychological problems. It's a trail mix of physical and mental, but it all takes place in the very organ you're trying to correct -- and it is absolutely common for this to happen. It only makes sense that you cannot fix the broken tool by using the same broken tool. And therein lies the single biggest problem with depression: the part where you seek actual help."
TLW: You are the iron-fisted El President of your own country. What is your first decree?
JC: To immediately resign. I've been through some rough things in my life, and I've learned some pretty important lessons that I use to help other people through my articles. But make no mistake, I'm still a dumbass and have no business having authority over anyone. The most important way I could help out society is by never, ever inflicting my will upon them.
But before I left office, I would make pants illegal.
TLW: Where do you go for your internet comedy (other than the Leaky Wiki obviously)?
JC: I don't really frequent any particular site. This always takes people by surprise, but I actually don't like reading at all. It's like a chore to me, and I just don't get any enjoyment out of it. So when I do find some comedy that I really like, it's always in the form of a link that's been passed to me at random. Something that Dan O'Brien or David Wong found and passed along through IM. Or some oddball thing that caught my attention in the Cracked forums.
Other than that, I'll pick a show I haven't seen in a while and obsess about it for a month or two on Netflix before putting it back on the shelf. Mystery Science Theater 3000, or Kids in the Hall.
TLW: Where do you see yourself in five years time?
JC: If I'm doing exactly what I'm doing right now, I'd be perfectly happy. If I'm doing that while writing books, I'd be even happier. I've gotten the whole "internet fame" thing -- now I'm setting my sights on figuring out a way to make actual money at it. People always think that becoming famous equates to instant money, but the truth is that's not even close to the reality. It should be, but it isn't.
But whatever it is that I'm doing, I'll be doing it without pants. It'll be the law.