s a humble taxidermist working his craft in California circa 2011, Chuck Testa was a man who paid little attention to the ways of the internet. Only getting his first cellphone around the dawn of his legendary meme, Testa had no perception of the lasting impact his name, business and occupation would have on people around the world when he was approached to produce a commercial as part of a new IFC television series. In just a short month after being uploaded to YouTube, Testa's commercial would rapidly become one of the most prevalent memes of the early 2010s -- known as the online phenomenon “Nope! Chuck Testa.” Since the meme’s heyday, Testa has continued to fondly reflect on the numerous opportunities his internet celebrity status afforded him, and he never passes up an opportunity to take a moment to give back to his fans. We caught up with him to learn more about his backstory, how the original commercial was created, and what the future holds for Chuck Testa in the years to come.
(Chuck posing in his shop with some of his fan art.)
Q: Welcome, Chuck. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with such a legend. Can you kick us off with a quick summary of your background? Where’d you grow up, and what was your childhood like?
A: Thank you for having me. Growing up in Southern California, Los Angeles in particular, I went to school in Culver City. I had a great childhood with tons of free-ranging activities and some of my best memories involved sneaking on the MGM Studios sets and exploring the grounds and buildings. My friends and I rode motorcycles, and I played bass in a few high school bands and really enjoyed life back then. My guidance counselor said I would be lucky to be a janitor, as dyslexia made me a horrible student. But luckily, things turned out differently.
(Chuck at his favorite restaurant in Hollywood, California, where he's eaten since he was 5.)
Q: So how did you first become interested in taxidermy and get started on that as a full-time career? When did you start your business?
A: I’ve had a strange obsession with taxidermy that started when I used to walk to my mom’s work with her when I was about 5. There was a taxidermy shop on Sunset Boulevard and I couldn’t pass it by without staring in wonder. I’m sure they supplied the studios with animals, as well as sportsmen, but I thought the lifelike animals were amazing. I also spent many years visiting any museum I could access and just fell in love with the dioramas, in particular. In regards to starting taxidermy myself, I bought a do-it-yourself kit out of a magazine when I was 19. The “bird kit” just caught my eye, and I decided to give it a try. It was extremely difficult for me (dyslexia again), but when I finally completed my first specimen, my mom hung it on the wall of their beach house. They thought I was crazy for my obsessive interest, but that was nothing new really.
Q: In August 2011, you launched your YouTube channel and posted the video “Official Ojal Valley Taxidermy TV Commercial” that later became a meme. Can you tell us more about the creation of the commercial, what it was like working with Rhett & Link for IFC’s Commercial Kings, and how you guys came up with the iconic line, “Nope! Chuck Testa?”
A: As to the video, it’s a mystery who contacted me from IFC, the channel Rhett & Link were on for the show Commercial Kings, and it was a show that only lasted for the pilot season. But as far as the catchphrase, “Nope! Chuck Testa,” Rhett & Link came up with that, and despite constant coaching from them that I say it a certain way, it was hopeless. I couldn’t repeat it as they wanted it and my funny deep tone was my attempt at repeating it properly. The rest is history. I really enjoyed working with these creative geniuses.
Q: Then in early 2012, you made an appearance in another Rhett & Link video as the “Dope Zebra,” where you emerged at the end to reveal yourself. How did you keep the relationship with them going after the initial commercial, and what was the experience like?
A: It’s hard to remember all the projects I worked on, but I remember filming the “Dope Zebra” video at Rhett’s house and loved meeting both Rhett’s and Link’s families. Their wives and children were fantastic, and I even dressed as Santa for their kids one year. That was a time in their careers where they operated out of their houses with one camera guy only. I was asked to do a few episodes of “Good Mythical Morning” and filmed a show in March of this year at their studio in Burbank. They have come a long way from where they started, to be sure. Even though projects are fewer and further between, any time I work with them, it feels like meeting real friends each and every time.
Q: As you know, this commercial eventually went on to become a huge meme known as “Nope! Chuck Testa.” Do you remember a specific moment when you first saw one of these memes or who showed it to you? What was your initial reaction?
A: I remember the night the video went viral as I began to receive phone calls from some friends. I had only recently gotten a cellphone, wasn’t on social media and didn’t know what a meme was. We found out that the video had been put up on Reddit, and as the video began to spread, absolute chaos began. People began dropping by my house, my shop phone rang off the hook, and my life as I knew it was completely disrupted. We eventually monetized the video on YouTube after many other people profited from it with T-shirts and other merchandise, and it launched me into the 21st century against my will.
Q: During the meme’s heyday, did you ever feel upset by the humorous nature of the jokes using your face, or were you always supportive of the internet’s adoption of your commercial?
A: I was never upset by the variety of jokes and plays on my likeness, and found the majority
of the responses funny. I never mind laughing at myself and found the internet was generally accepting at that point in time. I really had a great time with most of it. It also shined a bright light on the art of taxidermy, and I have seen a real surge of interest in this disciple of art, perhaps in part due to the viral video.
Q: What about your close friends and family? Did they enjoy seeing your image being used in such a fashion, or were they upset by it?
A: My family had a great time with it initially as my daughter was the “bear in the bed” girl, and my son was the “antelope driving the car” guy, so they felt a part of the phenomenon. However, the five minutes of fame were stretching into 15, and as it continued on, irritation began. I live in a small town and was recognized everywhere I went and was asked for autographs, which my family thought was funny. The group who was not so amused were my customers, as they found they could not get through to me on my business phone and worried that my newfound celebrity [status] would slow down their mounts. It did, unfortunately.
Q: There was also some discussion early about the pin on your hat being linked to the Nazi SS Death’s Head symbol. What did you make of this when it came to light, and can you elaborate on the story behind it for those who don’t know?
A: As a living historical reenactor, I was part of a group that acts out WW2 scenarios as a hobby. I always wear hats, and the producer liked my hat and told me to wear it. I had no idea it would cause such an uproar and had to write an explanation on my Facebook page explaining the fact I was not, in fact, a Nazi sympathizer. It really caused quite a commotion though, and I had to explain myself more times than I can count.
(Chuck taking a break during a WW2 reenactment.)
Q: In more recent years, you launched a TV show on CarbonTV. Can you tell us more about that, what it was, and if the meme’s success played a role in it?
A: The show that CarbonTV launched was a reality show called “Mounted with Chuck Testa and Friends.” It was created to showcase characters and taxidermy, featuring my shop (Ojai Valley Taxidermy) and my coworkers. As I work with a crazy cast of characters, it was a fun idea, however, it didn’t translate well as an ongoing effort, and as CarbonTV was transforming as a company, it died on the vine.
Q: Since your image became such a huge sensation, how often did people recognize you out in public back then? What are those interactions like, and do fans still approach you to this day about the meme?
A: When the meme went viral, I was recognized wherever I went and it didn’t bother me at all. It was fun to see people whisper and watch them notice me and see them smile when they dared to approach and realize I was happy about it. Unlike a real celebrity, the people who approached me were always kind and respectful. I no longer have people recognize me, but I still have an online presence. Individuals call and write and ask for video shoutouts, as well as autographs.
Q: What about interactions with other viral internet stars? Have you ever met any similar meme celebrities over the years, or are you friends with any of them?
A: In 2012, I was invited to VidCon in Anaheim, California, and met a whole slew of memes. For example, the Kids React (The Fine Bros.) and songify guys (The Gregory Brothers) who did a song and video of me. I met Grumpy Cat, Keyboard Cat, Double Rainbow Guy, as well as Antoine [Dodson] -- the bandana guy (Bed Intruder). I met Mac Lethal as well that year. I was invited to be in a music video last year with Yung Gravy for his song “Whip It Like A Tesla.” I was also invited to ROFLCon in Massachusetts at MIT and met so many memes I can’t even remember them all.
Q: Lots of people we’ve interviewed in the past either seem to really embrace or really loathe the association with their meme. Why do you think you more so enjoyed your meme whereas others tried to distance themselves from it?
A: I think my meme allowed me so many positive experiences it would be impossible to be anything but grateful. This experience absolutely changed my life for the better.
Q: Given the fame of the Nope! Chuck Testa meme, how much of an impact has it had on your personal life and career? Were you able to capitalize on the internet fame at all over the years?
A: I have had many opportunities for pilots for TV and internet shows, had a Keystone Light commercial and was invited to New York to promote that product. I did a sock commercial, as well as a headset one. I had the BBC head of production come to my shop to discuss a show recently, and I continue to receive monthly checks from Google for the video.
Q: So we know that at the time of the meme’s height, you weren’t really familiar with that type of internet culture, but all these years later, what do you think of the meme in general? Do you find them to be funny, or do you not really understand the majority of them still?
A: As I alluded to earlier, I feel the memes of the past were much kinder and more fun than the internet of today. I feel memes have become more cutting, and I miss the hopefulness of the original days. It felt like we were a group of pioneers that discovered a new place. I don’t really notice any funny memes anymore with any staying power.
Q: Are there any other memes you enjoy outside of your own these days? What do you think of memes as a whole now that you’re a bit more knowledgeable about them?
A: I don’t use the internet as a social medium anymore and am back to business as a full-time taxidermist. I also do comedy at a comedy club and now enjoy mentoring and teaching new taxidermists.
Q: Ok, so before we conclude things, would you mind filling us in on what you’ve been up to lately? Got any projects we should know about? What does the future hold for the legendary Chuck Testa?
A: As I mentioned above, I teach, mentor and work my ass off in my taxidermy studio. I foster and rescue dogs and have six, which takes a lot of my time. I love doing videos and any sizzle that comes my way, as the viral video opened my eyes to the fun of entertainment.
Q: Alright, all said and done, would you go back in time to 2011 when you made the commercial and do anything differently, or do you fully embrace how everything transpired over the last decade since then?
A: I think my absolute ignorance of the computer world (don’t forget I had only recently gotten a cellphone when the video went viral) made all my experiences so incredibly special. Someone that was my age and knowing nothing was such an odds-beating experience I wouldn’t have changed anything at all. Just writing this response made me realize I have left out half of the things that happened, as there were so many amazing experiences. I was incredibly blessed that a random meme opened my life up to travel and experiences I never would have imagined. I have met people from around the world and maintain many of those contacts. What a ride this has been, to be sure.
(Chuck with Rhett & Link on "Good Mythical Morning.")