(There’s a new audio edition of “Social Media Is Bullshit” in the works. For that reason, I am making the text of the revised audio edition available both here, and later, in an e-book. I have one request, if you like what you read below, I hope you will consider clicking here and buying me a coffee to support the cause.)
My first website nearly got me killed. I was building it using a Bondi blue G3 iMac that my Dad brought home from work. At the time, I didn’t know HTML, or that I could have just used GeoCities. The best I could do was use Microsoft Word and save things as a .html file. I got as far as creating a single page with a black background, bright red text, and an animated GIF of a spinning globe on it. Cutting edge stuff for the Fall of 1998, my sophomore year in high school.
During a meeting of the Computer Club, I showed my friend, Boris, the website I was working on. Knowing I wanted to share my humor with the world, Boris told me the Web could help me do that. I had every reason to believe him. Boris bragged for weeks about the web traffic his tribute to The Simpsons was getting. Upon seeing my animated GIF and terrible color scheme, Boris declared my current efforts to be a failure. He then volunteered to build me a “more respectable website.” We called the new website, “The Island” because of my obsession at the time with the New York Islanders, a team that embodies mediocrity. My goal with this new website was to document the stupid things that came out of my mouth, which I kept in a notebook. A practice I continue to this day and recommend you follow. Not just for jokes, but for anything that’s important to you. If you don’t write it down, you’ll forget it. Boris didn’t find any of my material funny though, so he suggested we brainstorm what else we could publish.
I came to his house not long after, and we got to talking about how much we hated life at Monroe-Woodbury Senior High School. As you might have guessed based on my choice of later turning to stand up comedy, I was picked on relentlessly. So was Boris. Boris, because he was ahead of his time. In 2018, seemingly everyone has a smartphone and a laptop. But back in 1998, that was the kind of thing you’d get beat up for.
And me? Well, when you run for class president and lose every year, the whole school thinks you’re a loser, and you’ve got the numbers to prove it.
So to help blow off some steam from the constant beatdowns, locker shoving, and being called a “fag” by members of the football team every day, Boris suggested we fight back. And we do so with a website where we mock our school and everyone in it, ourselves included. The best way to think of this website would be that it was meant to be The Onion. Or, a version of The Onion that focused entirely on a high school in upstate New York. That’s … That’s actually not a bad idea for a comedy site today, but let’s focus on what was going on back in 1998.
Boris said he would do the coding for the website, and I would write and produce all the content. Most of which consisted of audio files, early versions of podcasts basically, with each episode featuring a parody about something, or someone, we didn’t like at the school. I frequently complained about the color of the buses, for some reason. Twenty years later, I still have no idea why.
We had a bunch of other things on The Island too, but the highlight was “The Top 50 Assholes Who Go To Monroe-Woodbury Senior High School”. The top fifty was a list I built and maintained by going through old yearbooks and identifying people who had picked on Boris and me.
The idea was that we would then rank those people based on how big of an asshole they were over the course of that particular week. It should be noted here that even back then, I was afraid of getting sued for something I wrote. So everyone on the list had their name’s slightly altered. One kid I hated, Paul Shackman, became P Shack Maaaaaaaan. A character who talked like the George Carlin Hippie Dippie Weatherman character and was frequently angered by others who often confused his home with an outhouse. And before you go feeling bad for Paul, I want to share that one day, about fifteen years later, his car was next to mine in traffic on Route 32. That’s the road right next door to our old middle school. Paul saw me, rolled down his window, and spit on my car. It was both horrifying and impressive, and just thinking about it today makes me laugh. What a dick.
Anway, there’s a reason I’m telling you all this in the first place. And this is it. At first, The Island only received a few unique hits a day. This was by design. Boris and I didn’t want anyone to see it until the Summer so we could fill out The Island with content. You should never launch anything that doesn’t have a substantial amount of material on it, something that sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how often people ignore the obvious. A point we’ll come back to many times throughout this book.
But like most funny things, Boris couldn’t wait to share the website with his friend Brian. We often share things because it says something about us. In this case, the site was hilarious, and Boris wanted people to think he was funny by sharing it. And so, Brian passed the link on to some of his friends through AOL Instant Messenger for that same reason. And you can guess what happened next.
Word soon got around, and suddenly we were hit with ridiculous amounts of traffic. So much so that the website was cited in the local paper and on a popular morning show on 92.7fm’s WRRV.
The Island had gone viral.
The server for “The Island” soon crashed under the weight of all the traffic coming in. It wasn’t just people in our local area checking out the site. We were getting traffic from all over the world, thanks in part to Boris linking The Island on the front page of his popular Simpsons website.
After switching servers, The Island came back. We were shocked to find that most people loved it. So much so that the audio files I did were recorded onto cassette tapes and passed around school like an early Metallica bootleg. Something I was told that continued on long after I had graduated.
The Island and the Internet had brought me the attention I was looking for, and the best part about it was that it didn’t cost Boris and me a dime. That made it attractive, and something I wanted to explore further to get the most out of.