he internet has always had something of an obsession with cats. Just in the last couple of years alone, we’ve seen cats rise to prominence in viral memes like CatJam, Big Floppa and more. One of the most well-known feline internet stars to take over the web in recent years is none other than Smudge the Cat, who rose to fame online for appearing in a photograph seated in front of a salad plate. When Smudge later became the massive meme “Woman Yelling at a Cat” in late 2019, his place among the halls of internet feline legends was forever cemented, and the rest is history. We recently caught up with Smudge's owner, Miranda Stillabower, and learned how he became an internet star and major meme to retrace Smudge’s rise from humble rescue cat to one of the biggest memes of the 2010s.
Q: Welcome, Miranda, and thanks for joining us. Let’s start off with a little introduction to let everyone know who you and Smudge are and what you’re known for online.
A: Hi! I’m Miranda Stillabower, owner of Smudge, known as the cat from the Woman Yelling At Cat meme. I live in Ottawa Canada and currently, I make clay sculptures and jewelry that I sell online through an Etsy store called PipSqueak, as well as managing Smudge’s social media accounts and merch store. I basically work for Smudge now too, so yeah [laughs].
Q: How would you explain what the Woman Yelling At Cat meme is? How is it used for those unfamiliar with it?
A: The Woman Yelling At Cat meme is a combination of two images. One has two women from the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills pointing and yelling at a cat sitting at the table behind a plate of salad. It is used primarily to show two different opinions. One where a person is angrily expressing their side while the other person is confused or doesn’t care about their opinion.
Q: Tell us more about Smudge’s name, any significance it has, and how you came up with it.
A: So Smudge's name actually came from when we first got him. He had a grey patch on his head so we named him Smudge. But now since he's older, it actually disappeared, so he's left with basically an ironic name at this point
Q: How old is Smudge now, and can you tell us more about what kind of cat he is? Any funny quirks or interesting things people may not know about him such as how he enjoys spending his days?
A: Smudge is around 7 or 8 years old. Since we adopted him as an adult, we don’t know much about him other than he is a domestic short hair white cat, but he does have his own quirks as well. Smudge is not a normal cat. He loves to drink from the tap and will jump in the tub to get a drink. Also, he loves to have his tail gently pulled. His favorite pastime is to fetch a ball of tinfoil.
Q: So before we discuss the meme and online fame behind him, can you give us the full backstory of how Smudge came into your life?
A: When I first got him, I was working a cat rescue and we had already adopted two adult cats. I wanted a kitten and found an ad on Facebook for a free small white kitten. I immediately answered the ad and went to pick it up the same day. When we arrived, the kitten was actually a full-grown adult cat. I was set on a kitten, so I almost declined to take him, but he was sitting in a rusty cage in the back of a truck. I didn’t want to leave him there, so I took him with the intention of rehoming him but we both got very attached to each other literally on the ride home so he stayed.
Q: So diving into the famous “Cat At Dinner Table” photo, can you tell us the story of how this image came to be and what was going on with Smudge in the scene?
A: Smudge was already used to sitting at the dinner table with us prior to that photo. Usually, we left a chair open for him otherwise he would beg for a chair or paw at your legs. It was easier to just give him a chair and he would sit there. In the picture, we had finished eating dinner and he jumped up to where someone had previously been sitting. I was scratching his head and he was making that strange face, which is why we were taking pictures of him.
Q: Then in June 2018, that image was shared to Tumblr for the first time where it began picking up traction over the course of the next year before going viral in 2019. Could you elaborate more on that first post, why you did it, and sort of what you expected the outcome to be?
A: I posted it online on Tumblr because I thought it was a funny picture, and I added “I no like vegetals” to mimic some of the earlier cat memes I had seen. I was mainly posting for myself, and I didn’t have many followers other than friends and family. I forgot the picture was there actually and at some point, it became viral on Tumblr for a short period.
Q: After that, the image was briefly used in other meme formats before Woman Yelling At Cat, so do you recall ever seeing some of these earlier versions and how you reacted?
A: He kinda became a meme on his own in July 2018, and I would get pinged on Tumblr whenever someone interacted with the picture. It was all very new and we thought it was hilarious. We were surprised to see our cat being shared so often.
Q: So then in May 2019, the first Woman Yelling At Cat meme was posted online and rapidly began circulating the internet becoming a widespread format. Do you remember when you first stumbled upon one of these? What was your initial reaction to seeing Smudge become such a massive phenomenon?
A: When I originally saw the Woman Yelling at Cat meme, I was like, "Okay, this is gonna be a lot bigger than I had originally thought." It started on Twitter and people were already pinging me when they saw Smudge in something. I am pretty sure we saw that meme right away, but we were a bit in shock at how popular it got from that point. I was just super excited to see him being used in other formats and basically having his meme life continue on.
Q: Around that timeframe, how familiar were you with memes and internet culture? Was this a relatively new experience with it or were you already knowledgeable about internet culture?
A: I was very familiar with memes just had not anticipated being one. Grumpy Cat was one of my favorite memes and my friends and I used to share memes back and forth. Just having it be so closely tied to us was crazy and definitely not an experience I'd had before or knew how to handle at the time. I created an Instagram for Smudge to share more pictures but “Smudge” was taken so I used Smudge_Lord as his Instagram name.
Q: What about your parents? Did they know anything about memes?
A: Me and my brother would obviously show them memes, but they didn't really understand memes until Smudge became part of them. They definitely weren't as immersed in the meme culture as we would have been, but they definitely are now.
Q: What did some of your friends or classmates think?
A: Any of my close friends already knew Smudge from coming over and stuff, so they were just amazed that they basically now know a celebrity. Anybody I told about it, even still to this day, some people need to take a moment and process what I just said and they're like, "Wait, really? You actually own Smudge?" [laughs].
Q: Now that it’s been a couple of years since the meme’s heyday, what do you think of Woman Yelling At Cat in general? Do you like it, dislike it or find it particularly funny?
A: I love the meme and I find it hilarious because Smudge is portrayed as this sassy gremlin type of personality which isn’t far off from this actual personality. There are still new memes with this format and other Smudge memes posted almost daily. I am also overwhelmed and honored by his popularity especially all the art, tattoos and people recreating the meme with their cats.
Q: Do you guys have any favorite versions of Smudge depicted in Woman Yelling At Cat memes from over the years that you think are the best or funniest?
A: There are so many funny Women Yelling At Cat memes it is hard to pick one. My favorite memes are still the first ones where it is just Smudge on his own at the table, but any of the Smudge memes are all hilarious to me. Just seeing Smudge being shared by anybody and them knowing him by name is amazing and hilarious on its own.
Q: For almost as long as we’ve been online, cats have been a viral subject of internet culture. Why do you think cats, in general, are such a frequent source of viral internet content, and what makes Smudge so beloved among this particular phenomenon?
A: I think cat memes are so popular because people can relate their own cats quite easily to every meme. Smudge kind of depicts how we all feel inside and maybe what we wish we could say but don’t.
Q: Smudge now has a pretty huge following online, so have you ever managed to successfully capitalize on his internet fame? What sorts of licensing deals, promos or events have you been a part of due to the memes?
A: Not long after his Instagram was created, people were asking for merchandise. We put up a Shopify store and worked with some local Ottawa suppliers to make some shirts and hats available. We have been approached a few times for different things, and I was excited when we were approached to have Smudge shirts sold at Hot Topic. I’m also working with a company that makes very cool neon signs. From the beginning, we also supported a local cat rescue called “Furry Tales Cat Rescue” and try to help friends and family out with some of their efforts.
All my cats have been rescues or came from a rescue, so we just wanted to make sure to give back to the rescues for doing the work that they do. Furry Tales is the one that we support, they actually go and pick up cats that are on the list to be euthanized and older cats that are really hard to find homes for, they'll keep them until they pass away. If they don't get adopted, they'll keep those cats no matter what, so we wanted to make sure to support not just a charity, but a really good one.
Q: Aside from Smudge’s many memes, are there any current formats or trends you like at the moment? Do you have an all-time favorite meme?
A: Currently I really like TikTok in general and the way that people are creating memes into videos. I've seen a lot of Smudge ones too, people will recreate the Smudge meme with the Duet feature on TikTok, and that's been pretty cool to see. All the cat content on there as well is pretty inspiring to watch for some ideas for Smudge. My all-time favorite meme is any cat meme ever created [laughs].
Q: Before we go, we’re curious what Smudge thinks about his massive online fame and following. Can you ask him and translate for us what he’d like to say to all his fans out there?
A: So if Smudge could talk, he'd like to say thank you to all of his fans, followers and supporters, especially for all the virtual “taters” they've sent to him, I'm sure he wishes they were real taters, but he appreciates all the support that he's gotten from everyone so far.
Q: One last thing. It's been really important for us to reach out to all these different pet owners who have given us these meme culture contributions, especially before they get older. So, how do you want Smudge to be remembered down the road years from now?
A: I'd like him to be remembered just how everyone sees him online now, like the sassy gremlin that he is because that truly is his personality, but he's still very lovable [laughs]. I know he doesn't like to be held, but once he does pick you for pets, he loves to be pet and purrs like crazy, so he does have a soft side as well [laughs].
Q: Thanks again. Please give Smudge some pets for us. Any finals words to close us out?
A: This whole experience with Smudge becoming an internet meme has been very humbling, maybe not for Smudge [laughs], but definitely for us. So just in general, thank you to everyone and all of his supporters out there. Stay away from vegetals and watch out for Karens.
Watch our interview with Miranda and Smudge below for the video version of our discussion.
Miranda Stillabower is the owner of Smudge the Cat who became an internet star after appearing in the Woman Yelling at a Cat meme in late 2019. You can follow Smudge on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, or check out his website and Miranda's Etsy shop for merch.