hile the majority of memes are easy to track down who or what is depicted in them, every now and then, one remains a mystery for years or even decades. Among the recent discovery of 10 Guy’s identity, a man by the name of Ted Dorfeuille reached out to us to set the record straight on the iconic “Disappointed Black Guy” meme, whose true identity has been a mystery since 2011 when it first emerged.
We sat down with Dorfeuille to dig into the origins of his meme, which he actually created on Tumblr — though he never expected it to become anything more than a simple joke between friends. Nevertheless, Disappointed Black Guy has remained relevant and seen use since that initial post, so here’s the never-before-seen truth behind one of the 2010s most widespread formats as we approach the 10-year anniversary of its inception.
Q: Hey, Ted, thanks for sitting down with us. Kick things off with a quick intro about who you are and what you’re known for online.
A: So my name is Ted. I'm a software developer by day and I'm pictured in a meme known as “Disappointed Black Guy.”
Q: Can you explain what the “Disappointed Black Guy” meme is? How is it used for those unfamiliar with it?
A: The Disappointed Black Guy meme is usually a four-panel meme where a guy is initially happy about something, only to be surprised or let down and disappointed.
Q: So before jumping into the meme’s backstory, would you mind telling us a bit about your background? How’d you get into illustrating and drawing early on?
A: I was born and raised in Miami Florida, and we moved to North Georgia after hurricane Katrina where I did middle and high school. In my free time, I make digital art that I started after some of my artistic band friends inspired me to get more into my hobby.
Q: What about some of your early internet history and experiences with meme culture? What sites or communities were you a part of back in the day that were fundamental to you?
A: I think my internet history starts with Myspace and Facebook, but I didn’t really start getting into memes until I made a Tumblr account. I posted some of my art there but most of it was the usual Tumblr nonsense. That's where I really started getting into memeing online and like shitposting and stuff like that. I don't really use my Tumblr anymore, but right now I'm mainly on Instagram and Twitter.
Q: Alright, let’s dive into the meme now. So before your images were used in the Disappointed Black Guy format, can you tell us how, when and where those photos were originally taken? What’s the story behind them?
A: I actually took those of myself with the intent of posting them online for a joke that eventually became the meme. They were taken on December 28th, 2011. At the time, I was only 15 years old. I probably had around 30 followers on Tumblr, which isn't a lot, so when I posted stuff and I got like two notes, I was pretty happy with the outcome of the post, so I wasn't really big before the “event.”
Q: You first posted those images in a meme around December 2011 on your Tumblr page. What inspired you to create this particular meme, and did you think anything of it at the time or expect it to go viral?
A: So around that time I got an anonymous message about a tier list post I made for a game I was playing at the time. When I got the message, I thought it would be from a friend but it wasn’t, and it was actually very racist. The next day I made a parody of the ordeal to joke with my friends. I sent myself a message with just a slur and I took pictures of it, and then I kinda composed it into what was the first version of the Disappointed Black Guy meme. I wasn’t expecting much but a popular blogger saw it and shared it.
Q: With similar formats already in existence such as “Reaction Guys,” did those precursor reaction memes have any impact on inspiring your meme?
A: I don’t think I had any other memes on my mind but maybe subconsciously I did. The four-panel nature of the meme came from how Tumblr sorts four images in a gallery. So that's how that came to be. I was mostly trying to react to how I felt about getting a message online.
Q: After that initial post of yours, the format didn’t immediately take off or see a ton of use until the following year, slowly picking up steam over the mid-2010s until it was seemingly everywhere. Do you remember when or where you first saw your likeness being used in other people’s memes? How’d you react to your face going viral?
A: I think most of the spoofs I saw were contained on Tumblr within the first week, so I wasn't really too concerned about it 'cause I don't think most of my friends at high school had a Tumblr. I thought it was pretty cool at first, but I started getting worried once I began seeing it on Twitter and Facebook. I thought “Oh no, my mom’s on Facebook. She could see this! I don't even know how I'm gonna explain to her what happens if she sees me?” [laughs].
Q: Since you actually made the first meme, I imagine you were already familiar with internet culture, but how savvy were you with memes at the time?
A: I would like to think I was pretty savvy. I wasn't internet illiterate, but I wasn't making memes for the express purpose of trying to move memes. I was mostly re-blogging art I like, posting my own art, etc. But I knew about memes.
Q: So once it kinda solidified into the Disappointed Black Guy format and saw widespread use online, how did your friends or family respond to it? Were they happy, worried, etc.?
A: I think it was first noticed by my friends in all my classes at high school, and they would kinda poke me in class like, "Hey, Ted. I saw this picture online. Is this you?" And I would lie to them, "Of course not. That's crazy." But as soon my teacher started asking me, "Hey, I'm hearing things. Are you on the internet?" And then I couldn't explain it. I had to explain to my teachers about it, and then I think within the first month it got to my mom 'cause my aunt found it on Facebook and shared it with her. I don't think she was upset, but she was initially confused like, "Ted, why do all these people have your picture? Did you give them and why are they interested in your face?" So I had to explain to her the whole ordeal, and I don't think she fully got it, but it was mostly chill.
In college, most of the people who knew about the meme didn't follow me to college, but every once in a while, people would see the meme off Facebook and then they would see me on there and connect two. I would usually just say like, "Hey, no that's not me. How could that be me?"
Q: There’s an uncountable amount of these memes floating about the web now, but which ones do you find the “best” or most humorous?
A: Most recently I enjoyed a few memes about how 2021 is just 2020 “new game plus” or something, but if I had to pick a favorite theme overall, it would be the ones where I’m disappointed the “woman” is actually not a woman or the ones where there's like a set of boobs but they turn out to not be boobs. My friends know I’m gay, so I would probably have a very different reaction in real life [laughs]. So it's kind of ironic. They send me ones where it's like, "Oh, man, Ted's really disappointed about these boobs." Yeah, I am [laughs].
Q: Since the format has been consistently used online for almost a decade now, what is it about your meme that you think makes it have such longevity? Why does it continue to be used when others come and go in weeks now?
A: If I had to guess, I think it’s because the emotions are so simple and universal. Humans will probably be disappointed for as long as they exist and I think the fact that it's literally just my face and the emotion of happiness and disappointment makes it so that it just kinda like stays up.
Q: All these years later, do you think your meme is particularly funny or “good?” What’s your opinion on Disappointed Black Guy currently, and has this changed over time?
A: I would say I'm generally complacent about it. It doesn't really affect my day-to-day life, but I kind of get annoyed sometimes when my friends who I haven't seen in a while introduce me to other people as their “meme friend,” like I don't do anything else and don't exist outside of the internet. It's kinda hard to try and make a good first step when people think they already know you from this thing that doesn't really relate to you as a person at all. So, I'm mostly complacent about it, but when people kinda reduce me to just that, it’s kind of annoying. I had to delete my Facebook because people kept posting me under these memes like “This is my friend Ted.”
Q: Has the meme had any other major impacts on your career or personal life or is it more just a funny thing you don’t dwell on too much? Ever try to capitalize on it?
A: I didn't try any of that merchandising stuff, but I didn't think I could because I was actively telling people this wasn't me and no one really knew it was me. I think for a long time there was confusion about who this person was, so if there was merch somewhere, I didn't know about it. I think sometimes I would see card games about memes and I was like, "Oh, what if I see my face on one of these," it will be awkward just to have to tell the party, "No, that's not me." But yeah, I didn't try any of that stuff and I wasn't really sure how I could because it felt like once it was out on the internet, this JPEG belongs to everyone now. I can't really charge people when they share a JPEG, so I didn't really get into it.
Q: Looking back, do you wish that you tried to capitalize on it, or did you not really care about that kind of thing?
A: No, I think I turned out alright. I'm doing well without it and I don't wanna be a content creator, so I don't really see how tying this meme to myself is gonna be like, "Alright, well this is a good source of income," 'cause I write code during the day and memeing doesn't really help me. I don't really regret it.
Q: Can you tell us more about why you wanted to distance yourself from it all these years?
A: I would usually just lie about it in public because kinda like what happened in high school, people really boil you down to just your meme. They refer to you as their “meme person” or “meme friend,” and they don't really know other stuff about you. Sometimes it got really annoying when I would go to a party and one of my friends would introduce me as this meme person. Then like everybody at the party is only talking to me about this one thing, no one's talking to me about anything else, so it got kind of annoying. I was like, “I wanna talk about other stuff, like I do other things, I draw.
Q: Do you ever encounter fans or anyone who recognizes you from the meme out in public? How do those interactions typically go?
A: It used to happen a lot back in high school to college, but I think nowadays it doesn't happen so much because I've grown out facial hair and have glasses, so people don't do it as much. It's kind of like a Clark Kent thing. It's like, "Oh, Teddy. This kinda looks like you." And I’d be like, "That's obviously not me. That would make no sense." And they'll be like, "Okay,” [laughs]. I think it's kind of funny 'cause the same people are like, "Oh, I would totally recognize if Superman was Clark Kent," but then they really wouldn't because I do it all the time [laughs].
Q: So aside from your own meme format, can you tell us any recent memes or trends you particularly enjoy at the moment?
A: I usually enjoy wholesome memes on Twitter or /r/wholesomememes on Reddit. All around feel-good content.
Q: What about from all of meme history? Got an all-time favorite?
A: I think my favorite memes are Hotep Kufi memes. They're like the memes where a character just has an African pattern hat or like it's photoshopped on their head and their eyes are glowing. I think those are really funny 'cause there are just so many. Every time I see a new Twitter thread filled with them, there's a new anime character with the kufi hat photoshopped on their heads, so those are just ridiculous and funny.
Q: You’re still an illustrator after all these years, so what types of projects or creative endeavors do you have going on?
A: I’m actually a full-time developer, so most of my art projects are relatively small. I'm still doing digital art as a hobby though, and I post most of my art to my Instagram. I'm currently working on my 3D-modeling skills for a small demo I’m working on. I'm trying to get into game dev a little bit because I'm trying to use my software development skills that I get during work and put that towards my art.
Q: Alright, so because we’re coming up on its 10-year anniversary at the end of the year, how do you reflect overall on the experience of becoming a meme? Is it something you enjoy, loathe or don’t really think of all that much?
A: So I think over the life of it, there were a lot of good jokes, but it mostly doesn't affect me too much, so I'm mostly complacent about it. Recently, my friends started bothering me again about it because a few months ago, there was a post that claimed the Disappointed Black Guy was a Brazilian actor called Lazaro Ramos. My friends started getting blown up by Brazilians because they were like, "This is actually not this person," and then Lazaro himself was like, "Guys, this is actually not me," and he has to do it all the time. I thought it was funny [laughs]. Lazaro's like, "I've been doing this since 2012, guys, please understand that this is not me." I was like, "Oh man, I feel bad." So I figured I'd just say this is me and Lazaro will finally get some peace [laughs].
Challenge the gringos to say O Paí Ó (with an accent from Bahia!)
Let me explain: I went to trending topics today in the morning, because the internet is giving me credit for a meme.
Except I'm not the one in it!!
Listen to my bilingual explanation to understand!! @nippymokono pic.twitter.com/hqsz6HLniN
— Lázaro Ramos (@olazaroramos) February 13, 2021
Q: Thanks for joining us, Ted. Any closing statements or words to end on?
A: Thanks for having me. I'm mostly on Instagram and Twitter right now @tediferous. It's the same handle for both, but I post most of my digital art to Instagram, and I kinda just post random stuff to Twitter sometimes, my art too, but more random.
Watch our interview with Ted below for the video version of our discussion on the "Disappointed Black Guy" meme.
Ted Dorfeuille is a developer and artist who both created and is depicted in the Disappointed Black Guy meme, which first appeared online in 2011. To check out his artwork, you can follow him on Instagram and Twitter for more.