Justin Whang interview Tales From the Internet

Justin Whang Demystifies The Origins Of His “Tales From The Internet” YouTube Series As We Recap His History With The Web


ysteries, conspiracies and all types of peculiar stories about the unknown have fascinated humans for as long as we’ve been around. The internet is rife with such content, and Justin Whang is one of the foremost creators in the space with his “Tales From the Internet” series on YouTube, which explores some of the most interesting legends from around the web. Although best known for being a YouTuber, Whang is also an avid Twitch streamer and has performed in several different metal bands over the years, currently performing as the guitarist for Jynx. We spoke with him to discuss the origins of his channel, how his “Tales From the Internet” series first began and what part of the web he thinks is the most important to preserve.

Q: Hey there, Justin. We appreciate you giving us the chance to interview you. Could you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been doing recently? Any newly discovered mysteries on the horizon?

A: I recently released an update video on The Most Mysterious Song on the Internet, and I do think we are getting close to a resolution on that story. There's also something that a viewer told me about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre that I'm looking into. And then there's the series on infomercials that I've been wanting to do, that I think I've been talking about for about a year. I promise it's coming eventually.

Q: Given the nature of your content, we assume you were pretty active on the internet from an early age. Can you explain some of your background, and how you gained a curiosity for the web and mysterious stories in general?

A: I got the internet I think around ‘96 or ‘97 and spent a lot of time on AOL Keywords WWF, where I got a TOS violation for antagonizing a host in my first five minutes online, and Antagonist, Inc. (ANT), which was my main destination for video game stuff.

(Whang in second grade.)

Q: Were there any online communities you were heavily involved with during your younger years? Could you tell us about some of the sites you used to frequent back in the day, such as YTMND?

A: At first, I think most of my time was spent around ANT. I'd actually like to make a video about it, but I'd have to work mostly off memory since AOL stuff isn't archived like regular websites. Probably the first website I came across that I checked constantly was X-Entertainment, which I think had a different name or branched off from another site before that I don't remember. It was such a nostalgia trip looking at all of the old toys, collectibles and video clips its writer, Matt (who runs Dinosaur Dracula now), would dig up. Crazy to think I was looking at websites for the sake of nostalgia back then, and now that was over 20 years ago.

(Whang at the cafeteria in Queens College.)

Q: Where does your interest in the early days of internet culture come from, and why do you tend to focus on that kind of content versus newer, trendier things? Would you say a specific goal of your content is to preserve some of these relics of internet culture?

A: I think a lot of the older topics I cover are just things I remember happening, and then I wonder what became of them after I stopped paying attention. I think I started “Tales From the Internet” with the “cum jar” and “dumb chain letter emails,” and I thought they would be fun to talk about. I don't think I go into it with a specific goal of preserving things, just more of a feeling that I want to make a video about whatever interests me at the moment. I think when it comes to more recent topics, it's mostly lost media that interests me.

Q: What about your own content creation, how’d you get into that, what were some of your earliest videos or other content, and where did you begin before YouTube?

A: Most of my time before then was spent in various bands, and there were a few years where I was mostly just on tour. I did have an interest in filmmaking, but that mostly amounted to unfinished screenplays. That is something I'd like to revisit at some point, though.

Q: So your YouTube channel was launched in May 2016, which initially featured “Let’s Play” style videos with retro games or obscure titles. How’d you get into gaming, and why did you decide to focus on these kinds of video games?

A: The first time I played anything, it was Ninja Gaiden for NES at my friend's house. At some point, he went on vacation to Malta with his dad, and I borrowed his NES and games. I was hooked, and then that year for Christmas, my mother got me my own NES. I think around the time I started my channel, I was mostly just in the mood to play that sort of thing, and I had a lot of fond memories of less popular games like The Addams Family for NES just because I happened to get them from yard sales and stuff as a kid.

Q: This earlier content also discusses a lot of meme and internet culture. Could you tell us more about your history with memes? What were a few of your main meme sources back then?

A: I remember a lot of these recurring mass inside jokes that would spread like Mahir, who I covered on the channel, and the I Liek Milk Guy, but at the time, we didn't really have a word for them. Then there was All Your Base, which made me more conscious of the fact that this sort of thing is a phenomenon that just happens periodically on the internet. The first time I remember it having a name, though, was when Fark would call them “cliches.” I feel like there was probably something before this, but I remember generating stuff with that HA HA guy from hetemeel.com, which was a big Fark thing.

Q: After some of those initial videos, you started diving into various internet mysteries where you investigated the origins and explained what happened to them. How’d you get into these kinds of videos at first? Were you always curious about mysteries in general?

A: I wouldn't say I'm interested in mysteries specifically, although there definitely is some kind of excitement in finding stuff that was hidden away, like how I used to play around with Game Genie codes once I realized they would sometimes reveal content that was tucked away. But in the videos, it's mostly incidental. It'll be a kind of thing where a topic interests me, and then a more mysterious component reveals itself as I look into it. The obvious exceptions being the ones where I'm specifically looking for lost media.

Q: You’re currently best known for your “Tales From the Internet” series, for those who don’t know, can you explain what the series is, as well as how you came up with the idea originally?

A: “Tales From the Internet” is a series where I look at various online shenanigans that happened over the years. Sometimes it takes on a kind of “where are they now?” element, sometimes it's investigating a mystery, or sometimes it's just like “look at this dumb shit.” Originally, I envisioned it as more of a reaction video series, but it progressed towards more of a documentary type thing.

Q: So moving on to more recent content, what’s your process like for settling on a topic, researching it and ultimately making the video? What draws you to a specific mystery of the web?

A: I have a big note file on video topics. Some of them have been on there for years, but ultimately it comes down to me being in the mood to cover a certain topic. Every once in a while, a viewer sends a suggestion that gets me interested, and I wind up ignoring the list completely.


Q: Unsolved mysteries and conspiracies have always been a major topic of conversation, even before the internet. Given your experience with them, why do you think they’re so popular? What is it about the unknown that piques the curiosity of so many people?

A: I think humans are wired to want to discover things, but at the same time, the continents have been all mapped out and the technology isn't there for us to all go out into space or the deep ocean. So, we've gotta find some other way to scratch that itch, and digging up things that have been lost in plain sight scratches that itch.

Q: Of all the episodes you’ve done in the series, is there one in particular that you’re most proud of?

A: It's hard for me to tell. I had a lot of fun with the Trumpet Fight episode, but I've had a number of viewers say that the Scientology episode is the best. That one definitely had a bit more of a dramatic feel than the others for sure.

Q: What’s one of the greatest mysteries that you’d really like to tackle in the future?

A: I don't know that there's a specific mystery that I've put off covering. I have wanted to do a Zyzz video for a long time, but I'm really worried about doing that topic justice, and the last few times I got started, I wasn't satisfied.

Q: What about “The Most Mysterious Song On The Internet?” Do you think the mystery will ever be solved?

A: For those who don't know, The Most Mysterious Song on the Internet was a post-punk song that aired on German radio sometime in the early ‘80s. Nobody knows who made it or what it's called, and there's been an active online search for it since about 2007. I think part of the interest is fueled by the fact that it's just a good song, and at the same time has a familiar sound to it. I do think that it will eventually turn up, and I have a feeling that when it does, we'll all feel dumb for not having thought of the killer lead sooner.

Q: So given your relatively rapid rise in success over the past couple of years, how did you react to seeing some success when you noticed your channel really start to take off, and what do you think is the secret behind your content?

A: It was a big surprise when it took off. It definitely wasn't something I ever expected to happen, and at first, I thought it would just be a video or two that would pop off and that would be the end. I had a lot of different kinds of videos early on -- let's plays, fast food reviews, learning foreign languages, etc. The “Tales From the Internet” ones were my favorite, but also the least popular by far, probably because there was nothing current for them to latch onto algorithmically. I kept making them because I liked them, and I noticed that although they weren't popular at first, they would accrue views over a longer-term than any of the other types of videos. I think my first one to really blow up was the Taylor Swift 4chan video, and then people started digging through the backlogs, which YouTube's algorithm loves. Suddenly, it was recommending me everywhere. It's evergreen and completely bingeable, so someone who newly discovers my channel has hours upon hours of stuff they can watch as opposed to if I had stuck to trending topics.

Q: As far as YouTube itself being your platform, how’d you settle on ultimately focusing there, and what are some of your favorite or least favorite aspects of working on it?

A: YouTube was just where I settled because it was the first one to really take off. Ultimately, I like it because it's the place where I can make the stuff I wanna make and have it actually reach an audience. As far as things I dislike, I do think there's a move towards cleaner, more sterile content on the platform. They put the hand on the scale to help late-night hosts and people like that, and that's not a conspiracy theory, there's clear data that supports it. YouTube wants to be TV, but people like YouTube because it's not TV. I hope they realize that sooner than later. But at the same time, I can't be that mad because there's no way a guy like me would have even had a chance before YouTube.

Q: What are your thoughts on the YouTube community itself? Do you enjoy collaborating with any other creators there, or are there any you’ve had rivalries with in the past? It seems like the ecosystem can be both supportive and combative at the same time.

A: With the kind of content I do, I don't usually talk about other creators except in passing. I've done a few collaborations, and have wanted to make more spots for cameos and things like that, but I don't really have much of a history getting involved in rivalries outside of cracking jokes about other people's drama on Twitter. I have a lot of friends who are in that whole world of YouTube drama, but when it comes down to it, I'm more of a fan than a participant.

(Whang performing with Jynx at Gramercy Theater in 2018.)

Q: What do you think of other YouTube creators that make similar content, such as Internet Historian and WavyWebSurf?

A: Wavy was one of my best friends on the platform when we were both around like 7,000 subs, so it's been cool to see his channel grow along with mine. I usually recommend people watch him when they run out of my videos. Internet Historian is great, too, and I'm glad we finally got to collab on his new Sundance rejects video. We were talking about doing something together more than a year ago, and it finally came to fruition. The past year, I've seen a lot more channels pop up doing this sort of content, and I think that's a good thing because it seems like people want to watch more and more of these kinds of videos faster than we can make them.

Q: How'd you get into Twitch streaming, how does that content differ from your YouTube channel, and what games do you usually play?

A: The Twitch content is completely different from the YouTube stuff, although sometimes I do streams that I turn into Angelfire Adventures videos, where I look at old websites from the early 2000s. Sometimes with that, though, you just don't find anything that translates well into an edited video. But ultimately, I've come to realize that Twitch is more of a social experience than anything. It's not so much that you're presenting content to an audience as it is that you're hanging out with people. As for the games I usually stream, I do a lot of indie and retro stuff, and I'm gonna give Dead by Daylight another shot to see how the Pyramid Head DLC is.

Q: You’re also a musician and currently the guitarist for the metal band Jynx. Could you briefly describe some of your history as an artist, and how you got into being in a band? Does your creativity as a musician play a role in any of your other projects?

A: Being in a band was something I always wanted to do growing up. I went to school band starting in junior high, and originally I wanted to play drums to learn them so I could be in a metal band. I got selected for clarinet, though, and years later would wind up picking up guitar. I started out in a band called “Severed” in high school that would go through a lot of different phases and have a bit of a melodic death metal sound, gradually going into more of a metalcore direction. It lasted, I think, about 10 years. I was also in The World We Knew for a few years, and that was cool because I got to tour the U.S. and Canada several times. It was the first time I got to travel much at all. Then I was in a band called “PUi,” which I didn't get to tour with as much, but we played a lot of really big shows locally and eventually did a European tour. For me, I mostly enjoy the live energy of it, which sucks ass right now because there are no shows to be had.

Q: Outside your YouTube channel or Twitch, what are some other places you spend time online these days?

A: I spend entirely too much time on Twitter these days. I always hated Twitter, but then one day it just kind of clicked, and now I can't put it down. I've also been dipping my toes in TikTok, and it seems like I'm gravitating towards focusing more on guitar stuff there.

Q: You’re obviously pretty keen on memes and the culture as a whole, so what are some of your recent favorites? Do you make any memes yourself we can share?

A: It's hard to name recent favorites because memes are so short-lived these days. They get beaten into the ground within hours. I will say, though, that as I'm doing this interview, I'm laughing my ass off at some of these The Last of Us Part II choke / sex redraw memes.

Loss comic with all frames done in the style of the Abby choke edits The Last Of Us Part II

A: In general, though, I think the ones with the best longevity are the ones that have formats that can be expanded into all different kinds of directions, like I'll still see good Virgin vs. Chad memes get made. As for stuff I made, one of my favorites is the Papa John movie trailer that mashes it up with Joker. It's on my second channel, Whang Uncut.

Q: Are there any upcoming projects or mysteries you’re working on in the near future that we should know about? What’s on the horizon for you?

A: One that I've been working on is looking at popular mislabeled Napster files, like the “Legend of Zelda” song. And as I said earlier, I really want to get started on a series about old infomercials. I think moving forward, you can expect me to expand out into more different kinds of topics that interest me and have a similar style of storytelling as “Tales From the Internet” videos, but aren't necessarily confined to just internet stuff.

Q: Alright, last question. What’s the single most important piece of internet lore that you think needs to be preserved, and why?

A: Well, I don't know about a single piece of lore, but The Internet Archive has recently been under attack due to a lawsuit over their emergency library. The Internet Archive must be preserved at all costs.

Justin Whang is an American YouTuber, musician and streamer best known for his "Tales From the Internet" series. You can check out his content by visiting his YouTube channel and his Twitch channel, or follow him on Twitter and Instagram for more.

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