If I told you there was a guy who got famous by being incredibly unlucky, I bet you wouldn’t picture a man who’d grown up partying in LA with a steady income on the side, as well as a loving wife, a beautiful kid and a nice home just outside Cleveland.
Meet Kyle Craven; the guy who considers himself lucky to be the Bad Luck Brian meme.
What all started as a bit of a high school wind up for a notorious class clown – known for riding a unicycle at pep rallies and performing MMMBop at a talent show – resurfaced years later and spawned a series of shit posts (literally) which changed his life.
Craven is now in his late twenties. He’s a dad and a husband, and long since rid of his braces – but he’s still got the same sense of humour which captured the imagination of The Internet in 2012.
Cast your mind back; it was the year Overly Attached Girlfriend, Success Kid, ERMAGERD Girl and Grumpy Cat hit Reddit. It was a time when any random image could change the landscape of online communication; the year when memes were made.
The image which changed Craven’s life, however, had been lost to the sands of time since he was in seventh grade.
Recalling the conception of Bad Luck Brian, Craven told UNILAD he ‘just had the picture taken back in high school’ for a Year Book; a classic opportunity for high school japes.
So, why the face, Craven? Without a hint of a laugh, he replied:
I got a stupid outfit from Village Discount Outlet thrift store, and I went in, rubbed my eyes and, you know, took the picture. It came out beautifully, I thought.
The principal disagreed, not liking the puffed out jaw, goofy smile and plaid vest, and invited a young Craven to retake the picture the following day.
The first portrait never ended up in the Year Book and the original copy is lost. But Kyle did post it to Facebook where it remained his profile picture for ‘three or four years and it did nothing’.
Now, the picture will live on forever in popular meme culture.
As with most high school high-jinx, its spread is largely down to a school friend, namely Ian Davies, who lives in LA, and posted it on Reddit years later with the caption: ‘Takes driving test . . . gets first DUI.’
Kyle was 22, just about to graduate from university and start a job at his dad’s construction company. As Kyle recalls, he was alerted to his ‘overnight’ infamy at 4am, thanks to an unanswered phone call and courtesy voicemail from Ian.
In the morning, Kyle remembered, he woke up to this message: ‘Hey man, not a big deal but I made you internet famous.’
Apparently Kyle took the NBD part literally, logged into Reddit, saw his face plastered across message boards relating to incontinence and – in his words – ‘was like oh it’s hilarious’ and ‘didn’t think much of it’ after that point.
Kyle said the post peaked about three months later, adding:
It died down a little bit but then it really took off about a month later. I started to think it was a big deal two or three months later when I was on the front page of Reddit every other day.
People who I didn’t know were posting it on Facebook, and my friends were tagging me in it like ‘hey, I saw your picture’.
A lot of people initially see the photograph and, depending on your persuasion, you mock the assumed misfortune or pity the guy who Craven created for a laugh.
That’s the beauty of the Bad Luck Brian meme; you can really separate the mean from the men, the creative from the callous. Luckily, Kyle says he’s in on the joke.
For those people who don’t know, it was a joke when I took to the picture. They go ‘oh poor kid, it looks like an awful photo and everyone’s making fun of him’.
Well, yeah, I took it as joke, I thought it was hilarious and I found it hilarious that people felt bad for me when I’m the one laughing about it.
It’s easier for him to see the funny side, he reasons, because he as happy for the photo – and the character of his own creation – to be put out there onto the World Wide Web.
Since going viral, Kyle has met a lot of other fellow memes, and says not everyone can ‘just pick and choose’ which pictures get the treatment, unlike him.
He tells UNILAD other memes he’s spoken to – like ‘sheltered college freshman’ or some of the stock image meme girls – have suffered financially and emotionally due to the ‘stigma’.
Contrarily, Kyle has actually benefited from being Brian for one day in the seventh grade.
He had offers from local bars owners to drink for free and promote their place which was ‘fine’, but incomparable to the licensing money which can be earned on a picture recognisable to most people with good Wi-Fi connection and unlimited data.
Early on, he says, he figured out how to capitalise on the image, and now calls it his ‘big money maker’.
He’s also got his own website where he sells merch and his alter ego has appeared in commercials for the Super Bowl, McDonalds, Volkswagen and RealPlayer, as well as advertisements in Germany, Chile, Poland and Puerto Rico.
Kyle negotiates all the deals himself and says all the emails are ‘very manageable’. He once estimated he’s earned at least $20,000 from Bad Luck Brian. It’s not enough to live off or rely on, he tells UNILAD, but there are other perks.
Kyle calls Bad luck Brian his ‘weekend getaway’ from real life. He often attends conventions like VidCon, dressed in a sweater vest and selling t-shirts with his alter ego’s face emblazoned across them, grinning.
He recalled the events fondly:
Being internet famous and going to these shows is kinda like my weekend thing.
It’s not like you could make a career out of it – and I was never trying to make a career out of it.
I call it my weekend getaway.
— Bad Luck Brian (@solidbadluck) December 2, 2013
Kyle said the real perks are back home, though, adding:
Really the biggest benefit was basically the bragging rights off something that took two seconds. It’s like being good at playing chess – half the people care, half of them don’t. Some people get it some don’t.
You know, my friends think it’s cool but if you were to tell someone else they’d say, ‘Oh you’re something on the internet… Cool, big whoop’.
All the while he gets to live a normal life because, according to his experience, ‘no one’ recognises him because ‘it’s been 10 years’ and he ‘obviously’ doesn’t look the same.
… apart from Seth Rogan, apparently.
The Hollywood actor did recognise Craven after he revealed his identity during a Reddit AMA when they bumped into one another in a bar in New Orleans.
It’s just one of the ‘crazy’ things which have happened to Kyle since he invented Brian.
He started playing with YouTube vlogging, which went well, so he was invited to ‘all these crazy parties out there’ in LA, adding ‘it was fun’ and ‘a blast’.
He says he wouldn’t trade being Brian for anything, adding:
I’ve been married for five years and a daughter who’s three months so I don’t get to go out often now. I gotta put that stuff behind me.
Still, the best part of being Brian?
Easy, Kyle says: The people he meets at expos who tell him his meme helped them to laugh and smile during hard times when we so often retreat to the safety of an online realm of escapism.
While his days of playing prankster might be a little left behind, Brian will live on. And, in the meme-time, it sounds like Kyle is pretty lucky at this stage in his life.
Wife and child and happy home aside, he said he’s had relatively good luck in his life, having once won an XBox 360 and a PSP within two weeks… Some memes have it all, hey?
For more stories from behind the memes, follow UNILAD’s series of interviews with the people who star in your favourite viral content; ‘That’s Meme’.
If you have a story you want to tell, share it with to UNILAD via [email protected]
A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.