The Memeforum Interview: Vernanator6497
The Mind Behind The Viral Wendy Williams Edits Sits Down With Memeforum For A Chat
For the Inaugural Memeforum Interview, I spoke with Vernanator aka Vern Hass aka kate’s bush. Many around the web know him for his viral edits of The Wendy Williams Show that turned into an entire cinematic universe or a tweet pointing out bad editing in Doctor Strange: The Multiverse of Madness that lead to the film being banned in China. He is one of our generations best and brightest, especially on the Meme forefront. We talked about his artistic process and his optimistic view of the future of the internet.
Memeforum: How would you describe your creative process for creating the Wendy Williams videos?
Vern Hass: Whenever Wendy was on the air, I would always notice moments of radio silence. Pauses that lingered a little too long, blinks that looked like Morse code. It was almost like she was broadcasting two frequencies at once. Was a corporate overlord holding her hostage? Was there a red dot to the back of her neck? An audience member telepathically trying to expel her to another astral plane? I ran these trains of thought off the rails and tried to become a translator of sorts.
It started with extended sight/sound gags; simple scenarios like silent walking, staring, scuffling. But the crazier the images I found her in, the crazier the content became. I don’t want to say I have synesthesia (I don’t even possess an 18th of the brain power that Charli XCX has) but I do often see an image and hear a song. Due to this, I inevitably expanded beyond isolated farts and footsteps into more cinematic territory, taking all the Wendy threads in my head and trying to spool them into semi-coherent stories with soundtracks.
I’d collect an array of seperate images and characters and would set deadlines that forced me to snowball the content together. From there, I tried chopping up the pacing with a mix of plot and gags. There was always a rhythm to it; almost an internal metronome to the way I edit and bounce sounds off eachother. Usually when I am about to finish or struggling with some kind of writer’s block, new information will help to tie it all together and finish the job. Something will happen in the news or on Twitter and I will know that’s my missing puzzle piece. Or I’ll explore an alley from an old edit or read a fan theory in the comments and just run with it. Even if it wasn’t what I was going for, the kernels within those ideas can still help me form the ending.
MF: Do you consider them art
VH: I would say some have more artful elements than others but I don’t want to make any bold claims. To me it's kinda like the art museum trip in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The scene is essentially a heartfelt sendup of something that would be in an art film but because it mimics the aesthetic so passionately it ultimately transcends any satire and becomes something new. But my shit’s also capital G goofy so I don’t fully know. I’d say it's far from MOMA but more than just a meme. Not to say that memes can’t be art but it’s not only a meme in that LOL ROFLCOPTER XD way. It’s a mix of the sacred and the profane which has always been my ideal. It’s shart. Shit and art together.
MF:Do you feel any obligation to make a Wendy video when she does something?
VH: Whenever I see an opportunity present itself or a pressure from someone to hone in on a Wendy moment, I always want to turn it on its head. I’m not above rehashing certain trademarks but I also don’t want to always do what’s expected of me. “In New York I Wendy Rock” is one of my most popular edits, but in my opinion one of my weaker efforts. At that point I felt like I was beating a dead horse, at least in terms of structure and jokes. I felt limited to my own formula and knew at my core that I, in the immortal words of Kate Bush, wanted to let the weirdness in. I wanted to raise eyebrows, but with more than just silence and gross out gags. So I started swinging for the fences, maybe too much at times. Hell, in my latest and longest edit, Wendy, or at least the Wendy variant that everyone’s familiar with, has pretty limited screen time. I took a chapter out of the Twin Peaks: The Return book for that one.
MF: Who would you say are your biggest influences
VH: Your Movie Sucks is one of my biggest influences. Everything from Adam’s editing style to how I think about film. I think he’s one of the smartest film critics on Youtube. Eric Andre is a huge influence too, especially when he does shit on his show like following up a jizz joke with a Tarkovsky reference. Much Dank, Vic Burger, even though I didn’t realize it right away. I probably saw accounts that were a copy of a copy of Vic Burger before I realized he was the real deal. Musicless Music videos is also one of the biggest, especially for the form of the early Wendy videos. In terms of directors, John Waters is up there. A smorgasbord of others like Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi, Kryzysztof Kieslowski, Jonathan Demme, Tsai Ming-Liang and Chantal Akerman. David Lynch might be Mount Olympus (his influence very much remaining subconscious for me). Something about his blending of histrionic horror with Benny Hill humor. I also have an internal logic in my work that is clear as day to me but can inspire many a head-scratch from others–feel like David is on a similar wavelength. He’s probably the most common comparison I get (even though I’m astronomically lower than him in quality). If you did a WordCounter for all of my comments the most common adjective would probably be Lynchian.
MF: Are there any people you have been compared to or people you sought out after posting who you now cite as influences?
VH: A family friend back in Philly had some interesting words that struck me a few years ago. I always get nervous when older folks stumble upon my work because they either love it or just stare blankly at it. Nothing in between. It’s actually that way for most people in general. But this friend said he saw Charlie Chaplin in it which took me by surprise but also made sense. He was really insistent and outlined his comparisons to the silent era and silent humor. I said I appreciated the compliment but never had Chaplin in mind to which he said the subconscious works in mysterious ways. And he was more than right.
MF: Do you have any idea of how they will perform when you post them?
VH: I have no idea. I view my Youtube Channel as One for Them, One for Me but even with that it’s a tossup. Wendy Endgame did surprisingly well for one that I thought was mostly for me. However, I’m aware that if I make one that’s too Bonkersville it may flop. Conversely, if I hop on a trend or keep them shorter (something like Mariah Carey’s intro to the Wendyverse or a Euphoria meme) I definitely have a greater chance of being caught in the algorithm’s current. But Youtube is one tough cookie. On TikTok, you know within the first two days if something has legs. The metrics are pretty consistent. Youtube is more hit or miss. It’s a long game. Something can be up for two weeks and then suddenly there’s a spike and it gets a bunch of views.
MF: How would you describe your internet fame?
VH: The Nichest of Niches. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been recognized and they’re mostly all at Akbar which is crawling with Twitter crazed art gays so it’s to be expected. Someone also recognized me at the New York Film Festival which was shocking because I don’t attach my image to my work. I mean if you’re a fan and wanted to see what I looked like you could, but I’m not putting myself out there. I kinda like the anonymity. I feel like it's also in the grand tradition of Youtubers, years of shitposting behind a small icon and then maybe a face reveal somewhere down the road. But for the time being, I like the mystique of being mostly under the radar. Although I associate mystique with grace which I do not have at all.
MF: Is it weird to have people on the level Hari Nef and beyong know who you are because of your work but not necessarily your name or face?
VH: It’s weird but it’s nice. A few months ago Bowen Yang followed my Vernonator insta. I recenlty saw him at Akbar and there was no reaction when we made fleeting eye contact. I’m not a starfucker so of course I didn’t say anything or go up to him. But I thought it was kinda neat to know that someone that big can like my work but I still get to have my anonymity. It makes me feel like the Wizard of Oz in a way. Where I get to be the man behind the curtain but still pull my strings and put on a show.
MF: With the anonymity, do you ever get jealous of the influencers, with their free trips to Coachella and the like?
VH: Not in the corporate shill way. Like the thought of saying “this Jeanne Dielman meme was brought to you by audible.com” makes me want to take a toaster bath. But also a bag is a bag. Again, One for me, One for them.
In other terms of influencer culture, I’d say I’m very attracted to the concept of collabs. I hate being uncouth or overstepping but there are certainly people I would love to work with. Hari Nef offered a hand to possibly collab down the road in one of her interviews and that really brought me joy. She’s a legend, she’s an icon, and she is the moment. I’ve also been Magdalena Bay and Ethel Cain pilled for the last few months so would love to even have a centimeter of creative crossover with them. Alex G would also be a dream collab, especially after seeing his work in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (a meme-conscious film that’s been on my mind lately and shares some thematic parallels with my content).
MF: Can you talk about what the experience of getting Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness banned in China was like? Like legally are you allowed to talk about it?
VH: I can legally talk about that. All I did was post the original clip that caused people to look closer. I’m sure the person who actually found the newspaper is being drawn and quartered by MCU Central but I didn’t do that and I don’t feel bad about it.
MF: Has anyone from your videos ever reached out negatively? Has anyone with any power asked you to stop?
VH: None of the subjects of my edits have responded negatively, at least yet. Some insane stans of the subjects have flagged my work as harassment on Tiktok but I usually get it all back on appeal. The only thing that bothers me is when people repost without credit or crop out my watermarks. Usually the Vernantors will comment and most people respond well. Except for a certain shall we say Queer activist who just deleted the post entirely. You’d think if your whole shtick is uplifting queer artists you’d want to practice what you preach ya know?
MF: Do you ever feel the need to censor yourself or is twitter still fun for you?
VH: Twitter is still fun for me. Every time I close the app I always leave happier than when I opened it. I’m definitely more careful about what I post than I used to be. Not that what I used to post was offensive, it was just more out of pocket. I now hold my cards a bit closer to my chest, but I still love people who smack theirs on the table. I kinda get a rush from oomfs who just tweet with reckless abandon. Shit that makes you do a spit take.
MF: Do you censor yourself when you’ve just posted an edit or a wendy video?
VH: I definitely observe for a little bit after and try not to post as much just so I won’t block traffic to the video. Once it hits a certain point it’s going to do what it’s going to do. If it flops I’m free and I don’t have to care at all. You know what they say, if it’s under 5000 it’s fun but over 10,000 and the crazies come out. When shit blows up, I honestly just tap out at a certain point.
MF: Where did you grow up on the internet
VH: In elementary school it was mostly MSN video, Apple Trailers and Early Youtube. Youtube is the throughline of my life on the internet. Soon, I started scavenging the gutters of Wikipedia and learning everything I could about pop culture and film. And Wiki soon expanded into Reddit. Reddit was a high school obsession for sure. When I was there I was on r/movies or r/youtubehaiku. Which takes me back to Youtube. I was big into Youtube Poops. Accounts like cs188 and DaThings1 did irreversible damage to my middle school brain. I’d always liked spoonerisms/puns/sentence splicing and thought I was speaking a language nobody understood but it turns out there were others that were fluent. Of course there were the unavoidable early Shane Dawson and Smosh skits. Anything that was funny and violent all at once. Then there was my Youtube film school, shit like IndyMogul, Cinemassacre, the brb30000, What the Flick, Freddie Wong, and Grace Randolph, my Movie Math mother.
I logged so many hours on Youtube and Wiki because I was pretty against social media until high school. It was a mixture of me being a pretentious film freak and also afraid of expressing my true identity online and engaging directly with queer culture. I’ve always been a chatty Cathy in real life, it just took me some time to follow suit digitally. I didn’t even come to Twitter until 2017.
MF: I look to you as someone who’s always on the cutting edge of the internet, especially stan culture in the film world? Who do you look to?
VH: Honestly it’s just about learning the Twitter lingo and following the right accounts. Once you find and interact with like-minded people the network just naturally expands. I especially love tuning into people who are lightning fast and succinct with their takes. Commenting on trailers or headlines with repurposed Twitterisms in a way that’s more insightful than any IndieWire article. Someone quote-tweeting “the rent was due” over a clip of a desperate performance from a once A-lister is all you need to know.
MF: Do you think the internet is an overall net positive or net negative for society?
VH: Net positive with caveats. I’m fairly optimistic about future generations especially. The whole access-leads-to-exposure-leads-to-knowledge-leads-to-freedom song and dance. I’m especially amazed by the advancements that have been made in media moshing and aesthetic literacy. It’s crazy that we’re come to a point where once hoity-toity terms from the film industry like “jump cuts” are now commonplace on Tiktok, and people will make viral posts pointing out others’ poor editing strokes. The bar is collectively raising and brains are being returned. Niche novelty songs from 1981 are now charting on Spotify, football bros in high school are painting their nails, and we’re starting to figure out what’s actually “cancellable” (if that’s even a real thing) or just one stan trying to get a rival stan suspended.
Along that line, there are going to be those malleable few who are exposed to and radicalized by the wrong algorithms and cause some harm but again I think we’re coming to the point where we realize the loudest voices don’t speak for every choir. I’m being general because it’s been covered before a million times by a million smarter people.
MF: What is your favorite app
VH: Twitter, Letterboxd, IG, Tiktok, BeReal. In that order. But BeReal is more flavor of the month like BeerBuddy. I also don’t really count Youtube as an app but if I did that might be No 2.
MF: What is your favorite meme
VH: Currently it’s the mirrored Donkey close-up from Shrek Forever After. At once the funniest and most devastating image I’ve ever seen. Can be used in any context. It’s kinda our modern answer to the Kuleshov effect if you think about it.
MF: What is your least favorite meme
VH: “This was my Multiverse of Madness/This was my Heartstopper”. And this is a link to Indeed.com.
Also any stale meme honestly. Many memes have longevity, but for me it's the ones from 6 months ago on Twitter that some 18 year old reposted on Tiktok which some 28 year old reposted as a reel on IG which some 58 year old reposted on Facebook. I also have a knee jerk reaction to desperate meme attempts i.e. JLo’s #LoveDontCostAThingChallenge or people posting a screencap of celebrity reaction at a televised event and captioning it “Me after 3 slices of pizza :p”.
MF: What is your favorite niche of TikTok right now
VH: Clock collector tok. Especially the digital grandfather clocks. Some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.
MF: What is one thing you would change about the internet
VH: Stans are limited to one tweet a day. And after are forced to go outside and touch grass.
MF: Is there something you’ve always wanted to say about your work or talk about in regards to your platform that up until now you haven’t gotten a chance to?
VH: I guess I’ve always been wondering what the future has in store. Like what is the natural conclusion of all of this? How do I evolve constructively? There’s nothing I fear more than creative stagnation so I always have a next step banging on the cellar door in my mind. Maybe Twitch or film crit or some shit. I can never shut the fuck up and have opinions on everything so maybe those ars fit for my sensabilities. Maybe if Wendy returns or one day finds out about me she’ll have me as a guest and I can finally enter my own universe. Or maybe she’ll just send a cease and desist.