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The Real People Behind Some of the Most Popular Memes Online Revealed

The Real People Behind Some of the Most Popular Memes Online Revealed February 23, 2021Leave a comment

If you’re a social media user, you probably see dozens of memes a day in the form of photos, videos and gifs, but have you ever thought twice about the people who are actually in those frequently used reaction images?

Many people have had their lives completely changed when they woke up one day and realized that hundreds or thousands of people were sharing a photo of them! And some of their lives and journeys to meme history might just surprise you.

Kombucha Girl

TikTok / Twitter

The short form video of this woman trying the drink Kombucha for the first time went viral in August of 2019, and it lost Brittany Broski her job! At the time, Broski was working at a bank, but was fired because of the popularity of the video. Since then she has become one of TikTok’s biggest stars and she won a Break the Internet award for TikToker of the Year in 2019.

Success Kid

Flickr / Facebook

The success kid meme started in 2007 after mother Laney Griner posted a photo of her son Sam on Flickr. The photo was originally captioned “I hate sandcastles,” but the internet soon turned the photo into a triumphant reaction image. Sam is now 13 years old and in 2015, the family used their internet popularity to create a GoFundMe to help pay for Sam’s father’s medical care and a kidney transplant.

Good Luck Charlie

Disney / Instagram

This reaction photo is a screenshot of the Disney Channel series “Good Luck Charlie,” in which actress Mia Talerico played Charlie, the youngest daughter in a growing family. Is it common for series starring young children to cast a set of twins to play one character, but Mia Talerico was the only actress to play the role. She is currently twelve years old and she continues acting regularly.

Blinking White Guy

Twitter

This reaction gif came into being during a livestream on the gaming site Giant Bomb. Drew Scanlon, who is in the meme, reacted to one of his teammates while playing the game Starbound. When his teammate Jeff said an out of the ordinary phrase, Scanlon blinked his eyes in disbelief. He used his popularity to bring awareness to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society charity.

Explaining Something to My Mom

Twitter

This meme, which is often paired with an image of a woman looking up with a blank face comes from a video originally posted by Twitter user @quenblackwell in 2018. The video of herself screaming was captioned “sometimes you just have to let it out…scream if you have to.” She currently makes YouTube videos and has over 800,000 subscribers on the platform.

Grumpy Cat

Instagram

Grumpy Cat rose to popularity in 2012 when a photo of the cat, who was actually named Tardar Sauce, was posted on Reddit by the brother of her owner. The cat made many media appearances on TV and online before starring in her own film, “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever,” which featured Aubrey Plaza as the voice of Grumpy Cat. Sadly, Grumpy Cat passed away in 2019.

Side-Eyeing Chloe

YouTube / Instagram

This photo got its origin in a YouTube video entitled “Lily’s Disneyland Surprise… AGAIN.” The video captured two sisters, Lily and Chloe, reacting to hearing that they will be going to Disneyland. While Lily was so excited that she burst into tears, Chloe had a less enthused look on her face, which became this meme. The young girl is now 10 years old and she continues posting on social media.

“You Guys Are Getting Paid?”

Warner Bros. Pictures / Instagram

This meme is actually a screenshot from the 2013 film “We’re the Millers” which starred Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis as criminals who pose as a married couple. Actor Will Poulter played Kenny, who was hired to pose as the couple’s child. Poulter is an actor who has appeared in “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Revenant” and “Midsommar.”

Woman Yelling at Cat

Instagram

The meme of a woman yelling across a table at a cat eating a salad is internet perfection. The two images were put together and gained popularity online in June of 2019 before people figured out who was in the photo. The woman is “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” cast member Taylor Armstrong, who is standing next to Kyle Richards during an argument on the show.

Smudge the Cat

Instagram

And the cat from the meme is named Smudge the cat, who rose to popularity after a photo taken by his owner gained over 50,000 likes on Tumblr in 2018. The photo was posted with the caption “he no like vegetals,” and to this day, Smudge doesn’t really enjoy green foods. Smudge currently has over 1 million followers on Instagram and lives with his owner and a black cat named Valiant.

Doge

Instagram

Long before the creation of the cryptocurrency Dogecoin, this photo of a Shiba Inu took the internet by storm in 2013. The photo was originally posted in 2010 in a blog post by the owner of the dog, whose name is Kabosu. The image grew in popularity after it was posted on Reddit, which is where Kabosu got the nickname “doge” and comic sans words were added around her photos. Kabosu is now 15 years old and has a popular Instagram account.

Turn Up The Volume

Twitter / Instagram

This image of social media personality Jay Versace crying while pumping his fist and wearing headphones is shared by people everyday who want to let everyone know that the music their currently listening to is utter perfection. Jay is currently a musician himself who shares his new creations on Spotify. But what was he listening to when he took the photo? None other than Chance the Rapper.

First World Problems

Instagram

This meme became known as “First World Problems” after internet users used it to share their meager annoyances in life. But the identity of the woman behind the photo is surprising. The crying woman is award-winning Italian actress Silvia Bottini, who created a web series about the creation of memes and how they can affect the lives of people who inadvertently go viral. 

Looking Up and Down

YouTube / Instagram

The viral video of this girl looking up and down at the camera is intensely relatable, but the girl behind it is anything but! Kayla Nicole Jones is an influencer with over 6 million followers on Instagram and over 5 million subscribers on YouTube. Jones is currently 19 years old and she just gave birth to a baby boy named Messiah.

Trying to Stay Calm Next to a Cute Girl

Twitter

This photo was originally posted to a Reddit page and while some people were worried for the boy in the photo’s health, the friend who took and posted the photo wasn’t! The boy’s name is Mike McGee, and he said, “[My friend] wanted to make a funny Twitter caption and told me to make the face. He posted it and like two or three months after he posted it, it took off!”

Roll Safe

YouTube / BBC

This clever meme was made from a screenshot of the documentary series “Hood Documentary” and it depicts actor Kayode Ewumi playing a character called Roll Safe grinning and pointing to his temple. Ewumi is still proud of his work on “Hood Documentary” and he currently works on a show on the BBC network in England entitled “Enterprise.” 

Harold Hiding the Pain

Reddit / Instagram

This meme was born from a stock image that was taken of a man named András Arató. His facial expression lead to the name “Harold Hiding the Pain,” but Arató is very happy about the success of the meme. In September of 2018, Arató hosted a TedTalk in Kyiv, Ukraine where he described himself as a meme hero.

Big Ed Crying 

TLC / Cameo

The relationship of “Big Ed” and Rosemarie on the TLC reality series “90 Day Fiancé” captured the attention of many social media users in 2020 and they soon created many memes of the 4 foot 11 inches tall Ed. The couple split up shortly after the reality show was filmed and Big Ed is now available to record videos for fans on the Cameo app.

Gavin

Vine / Instagram

Gavin rose to fame on the short-form video platform Vine, and his worried expression stole the hearts of thousands of people. Gavin himself is the nephew of popular Vine creator Nick Mastodon and his likeness grew very popular in a place that they didn’t expect: China. In 2019, Gavin appeared on a Chinese television show and showed off his Mandarin speaking skills. In China, Gavin’s memes are known as “fake smile boy.”

Spanish Laughing Guy

YouTube / Ratones Coloraos

Spanish comedian and actor Juan Joya Borja is better known by his nickname “El Risitas,” which means “The Giggles,” and it’s easy to see why! When a YouTube video of him went viral, this photo went viral right along with it. Although the video was originally shown on television in 2007, it wasn’t until 2014 that it gained widespread popularity online.

Disappointed Guy

We Heart It

This meme got popular for perfectly expressing a feeling of anticipation that ends up being a total let down in reality. The image was first posted in 2012 on the website We Heart It, and since then it has been used online countless times. The photo is thought to be a man by the name of Tinashe Ngundu.

Ridiculously Photogenic Guy

Reddit / Instagram

This meme captured handsome runner Zeddie Smith during the 2012 Cooper River Bridge Run. While the photo was being taken, Smith was smiling at his girlfriend, who was standing just behind the camera man. After the photo went viral, Smith appeared on a few morning talk shows with the photographer of the photo, who were both surprised at its instant popularity.

McKayla is Not Impressed

Instagram

When McKayla Maroney won the silver medal for gymnastics during the 2012 London Olympic Games, she wasn’t impressed. During her first vault, she performed a nearly flawless routine but she fell once during her second vault, which is what cost her the gold. Today, Maroney is retired from competitive gymnastics and she is currently a musician, having released two singles in 2020.

Bad Luck Brian

Reddit

Bad Luck Brian was an internet meme that rose to popularity in 2012, but the man in the photo actually thinks that he has incredible luck. Kyle Craven, the guy in the photo, said that his high school principle at the time told him that he had to retake his yearbook photo. The image was later licensed by companies including McDonald’s, Hot Topic and Spotify.  

Disaster Girl

Instagram

When father Dave Roth took this photo of his daughter Zoe watching some firefighters across the street from their home in North Carolina, he knew that he had captured something special. In 2007, he won a competition run by a photography magazine with the photo. Zoe doesn’t dislike the photo but she has said that “I ultimately want people to know me for me.”

Scumbag Steve

Twitter

The image of “Scumbag Steve” was first used as an album cover by rap group Beantown Mafia in 2011 and few people know that the photo was actually taken by the mother of the man in the photo. That man is Blake Boston, who was just 16 in the photo, is now a father of two.

Sweating Jordan Peele

Instagram

This reaction image is a screenshot from the sketch comedy series “Key and Peele” which is often used to display feelings of nervousness. For those who don’t know, after years as a comedic actor, Jordan Peele switched gears to directing and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his film “Get Out” in 2017.

Ermahgerd Girl

Reddit

This meme first emerged online in 2012 after being posted to Reddit with the caption “Just a book owners smile…” The girl in the photo, Maggie Goldenberger was just 11 years old when the photo was taken during a dress-up session with some friends. Today, Goldenberger is a nurse in Phoenix, Arizona and she still can’t believe that she’s a meme. She told Vanity Fair in 2015, “I just can’t believe this is my 15 minutes of fame— I was hoping it would come in another form. But I guess you have to take what you can get.”

Hipster Barista

Instagram

This meme of a tattooed man in glasses went viral for being the epitome of a hipster barista in a small coffee shop. The photo went viral after someone uploaded it to the site Quickmeme with the caption “I got this tattoo for my love of coffee, I got this one because it’s ironic.” The man behind the photo is named Dustin Mattson, and he found the meme to be “discouraging and disappointing” because “there was so much exposure brought to an attempt at making a joke of a culinary industry and the professional barista.”

Overly-Attached Girlfriend

YouTube

This meme came from a YouTube video posted by Laina Morris in which she did a creepy parody of the Justin Bieber song “Boyfriend.” After the photo went viral, Morris became a YouTuber and grew her channel to over 1 million subscribers. In 2019, 28 year old Morris announced that she would be quitting YouTube to focus on her mental health.

Ancient Aliens Guy

A&E Television Networks

This meme has been used to express the feelings of people with far-fetched theories for years, and the guy in the photos has some far-fetched theories himself! This wild-haired man is Giorgio Tsoukalos, a writer and ufologist who shared his pseudoarchaeological theories on the popular History channel show “Ancient Aliens.”

Angry Man Watching Cricket

Twitter

During the 2019 Cricket World Cup, a man by the name of Mohammad Akhtar looked totally upset by Pakistan’s match against Australia and people online really related to him. The next day, Akhtar tweeted his approval of the meme, writing, “Loving the meme guys. Next match is crucial.” He later appeared in a Coca-Cola commercial doing his famous pose.

Girl Doing a Spit Take

CBS / Instagram

This frequently used reaction gif pops up on social media every day, but not many people know where it came from. The gif was taken from a scene from the 15th season of “Big Brother,” a reality show where normal people live in a house together and attempt to win a cash prize. The woman in the gif is Elissa Slater, who gained some notoriety on the show because her sister had formerly been a contestant in season 12 of the series.

You Know I Had To Do It To Em

Twitter / Instagram

When Twitter user @LuckyLuciano17k posted a photo of himself standing on the sidewalk near his home in Florida with the caption “you know I had to do it to em,” it didn’t have much of a response. But two years after it was posted in 2016 the photo started to be used as a meme. Nowadays, Luciano doesn’t use Twitter, but he still posts photos flexing his outfits on Instagram.

Sad Kid in Thought

Twitter

If you’ve seen this meme before, you might be surprised to learn that the guy in the photo isn’t a kid at all! It’s a photograph of Nigerian actor Osita Iheme, who was born in 1982. In 2007, Iheme received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the African Movie Academy Awards, and he is considered on of Nigeria’s most famous actors. 

Laughing Leonardo DiCaprio

Know Your Meme / Instagram

This meme was taken from a screenshot of the Quentin Tarantino film “Django Unchained” in which DiCaprio stars as a plantation owner in 1858. The meme of the actor laughing and holding a drink gained popularity on Tumblr in 2017 and it has been used as a reaction image since then.

Yao Ming Laughing 

Yao Family Wines / Instagram

This image grew in widespread popularity after it was converted to cartoon form, but the original image is still pretty popular too. It’s a photograph of Yao Ming taken during a post-game press conference in May of 2009. 

Confused Math Lady

Wikimedia Commons

This meme perfectly expresses a feeling of confusion, which is exactly what the character that Brazilian actress Renata Sorrah portrayed was feeling in the telenovela “Senhora do Destino.” Sorrah played Nazaré Tedesco on the series, but the math equations floating around her weren’t part of the original image.

Confused Nick Young

YouTube / Instagram

Nick Young is an NBA player and when YouTuber Cassy Athena uploaded a video of Young with the popular reaction face surrounded by question marks, it quickly went viral. He was reacting to a moment where his mother said that Young was “a clown” in his younger years.

Crying Jordan

Instagram

You might be surprised to find out that Michael Jordan, former professional basketball player, was crying tears of joy in this image. It was taken during his 2009 Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech. He cried many times throughout the night while recalling the greatest moments of his career.