Johnny Virgil: the birth of an internet hit

When upstate New York blogger Johnny Virgil discovered a 1977 JC Penney catalog in the attic of his wife’s grandfather’s home, he found a treasure trove of blog fodder. His entry, Strap in, shut up and hold on. We’re going back., was an instant hit with readers far and wide. As a guy who was an adult in 1977, I can tell you that the piece is a hilarious trip down memory lane. Go and enjoy it.

It was such a hit, however, that people copied the whole blog entry and began emailing it to friends, rather than just sending the link. And of course, it soon became “viral,” and it now looks like Virgil will live forever in that part of cyberspace known as the forwarded email. The problem, of course, is that nobody will know who really wrote it, so he doesn’t even get to enjoy his own 15 minutes of fame.

Ding dang it.

Still, Virgil is good natured about it (the guy’s an online comedian), and agreed to answer some questions via email:

Is Johnny Virgil your real name?

No, it’s a name I took from a CD by one of my favorite artists, Kevin Gilbert. The CD is called “The Shaming of the True” and it’s a rock opera of all things. Unfortunately Kevin is no longer with us. Most people don’t know his name, but he wrote most of Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday Night Music Club.

Let’s start with what’s happened since you first made that blog post. How does it feel to be famous, of sorts?

I don’t feel famous. Who said I’m famous? Sometimes I think, “If only I had a dollar from every person who read that post.” I still wouldn’t be famous, but at least I’d have a new roof on my house.

How many comments did you get and how have you edited them?

I think it has over 650 comments now. I didn’t edit them. I deleted one or two from people who were humor impaired and quite possibly had to wear an orange jumpsuit against their will at some point in their lives. But I usually leave them alone.

Are people still leaving comments?

Yeah, I still get one or two every once in a while.

When did it first start getting passed around via email?

I wrote it in the middle of October, and I think it started going around some time in November. Someone had apparently lifted it wholesale from my blog and neglected to actually mention where it came from.

On one hand, I was pissed off about it because people were stealing it left and right. On the other hand, I wanted to buy the person who started it all a beer, because all of a sudden I was getting 45,000 hits in one day on some post that I cooked off in about 30 minutes.

What kinds of lengths have you gone to in order to maintain your rights?

At first I was doing Google searches to find out where it was posted. Some people even had the balls to change it a little and claim it as their own. I had a few people argue with me about it. It was pretty eye opening. Other people posted it uncredited only because they had no idea where it had actually come from, and they didn’t know how to find out. So I traveled around the internet posting comments, posted links to the original and asked them to stop by for a visit. A few people actually went through the trouble of searching for the original author before posting it, and I appreciated that. Others changed the e‑mail forward to either include a link to my site or simply forwarded the URL. That’s when the hits really started coming in.

Why do you think this is so popular?

I’ve done some thinking about that. First off, I think it’s popular because the formula is easy to digest. Funny picture, funny commentary, rinse, repeat. I also think it’s popular because there’s a huge number of people who can relate to it. I was in high school in the late 70’s and I remember the clothes. I wore a bell-bottomed brown velour leisure suit that faded from light tan to dark brown. I had platform loafers and a big white comb in my back pocket. And it was totally normal and fine. I thought I looked great. Time is a funny thing. It’s always fun to laugh at the fads of the past.

What have you learned about the Web from this that you didn’t know before (if anything)?

I learned that some people are scum. No wait, I actually knew that before. I just never had so many of them piss me off at the same time! Seriously, I learned quite a bit about human nature. some people went out of their way to stick up for me and dress down the people who claimed it as their own work. Others were happy to credit the original source, and apologized for posting it. In retrospect, it’s kind of funny. It’s a stupid post on humor blog — it’s not War & Peace. I can’t imagine how a famous author feels when someone does the same thing to him. Or maybe I’m wrong and they just expect it to happen. I didn’t expect people to steal it, but then I didn’t expect the post to become so popular, either.

Do you think you’ll live on forever, because of this?

God, I hope not. I make Windsor chairs. I write fiction. In 200 years, I hope someone will be paying a fortune for one of my hand-made chairs at an auction somewhere because they appreciate the craftsmanship.

On the writing front, at some point I’d like to collect some of the blog posts I’ve written over the years and weave them together into some kind of book. I’ve never been published, and I hope to be.

If excerpts from a JC Penney’s catalog is the best I can do, then tell me now. I’ll save myself some time and just quit writing!

The Web has a way of “discovering” real talent, even though it can be disguised through the forwarded email channel. That it is now being passed around by friends is a testament to Johnny Virgil’s humor, and who knows where it will all lead.

I hope he keeps writing, because he’s a funny fellow.

Comments

  1. Great interview. I’m a fan and reader of Johnny’s work and it was interesting to read some backstory and behind the scenes stuff about his famous post.

  2. I admit, I received one of the forwarded emails of this post. It changed my life. I knew I had to find this guy, had to read more of what he wrote. I’d invite he and his wife for dinner if we lived closer. I know it sounds like stalking, but really, it’s not. I just collect funny people. And JV is hysterically funny. I anxiously await his posts and find people looking at me oddly when I read them when I’m in a public place.

  3. First saw the post a link to JV’s blog and have been a reader ever since. The guy’s a scream. Somebody needs to get him on Leno.

  4. OMG! I hope JV reads this and finds out that HAYLEY TOWNLEY COLLECTS FUNNY PEOPLE! I wonder where she keeps them?

    🙂
    Reiven

  5. P.S.

    To Otter- Jay Leno sucks. JV needs to be on Craig Ferguson, together they could rule the world!

  6. I’m “one of those” who got the email (uncredited) and HAD to find the author. Since then, I check JV’s blog as often (if not more) than I check my families’ blogs. He is simply a great writer with a way of making me laugh aloud at some of his thoughts or stories. Great interview — I learned a lot more “behind the scenes” stuff. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I, too, learned about JV through email (Hayley, the funny people collector, sent me the link to the JC Penney post). I now subscribe to his blog. I spend most of my time editing unfunny stuff written by not-so-talented writers, so reading JV’s hilarious, well-written posts makes my day.

    (BTW, Hayley keeps her funny people collection in a shed in her garden. She takes them out for parties.)

  8. I actually never got the infamous e‑mail, I googled searched “funny blogs” one mundane day at work which dumped me at humorblogs.com & while JV’s blog wasn’t on the top ::gasp::, I wasn’t sorry for clicking the link (the first 3 I tried were awful, I still don’t know why they were on top). I read the entire blog “cover to cover” in one week (there are a LOT of posts) & keep up with the new posts.

    My all time favorite posts: “Fantastic Google Searches That Somehow Lead People to My Site”

    I LOL in my cube EVERY time. Kudos Johnny!

    PS. To the previous posters, I think Chealsy Lately would be WAY better than Leno or Ferguson…Just sayin’.

  9. This guy is hysterical! Thanks for the introduction.

  10. This is so funny, thank you 🙂

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