I’ve previously blogged about my penchant for “fart-ups”—seemingly good ideas that I will think about for a while or maybe even spend a little time working on—before abandoning them to my personal black hole of unfinished projects and long forgotten to-do lists.
Sometimes, however, these fart-ups will hold my attention long enough to actually come to fruition and maybe even flourish for a while. The most recent fart-up that I have nurtured to success is my Chicago Cubs Memes account on Instagram. As a lapsed Cubs blogger with lofty ambitions of writing heart-felt reactions to every Cubs game and plot twist in the team’s annual quest to defy history, I realized two things. 1) No one on the vast Internets seemed to be devoting themselves single-mindedly to creating Cubs-related memes. 2) It was a lot faster to consistently share my thoughts about the Cubs by posting a meme than by crafting a 1,000-word blog post.
Thus, @CubMemes was born near the beginning of the 2015 Cubs season. As it turned out, a decent number of Instagramming Cubs fans were actually interested in the hot-and-hopefully-humorous takes that I had to offer. The account’s following grew tremendously over the past two years with basically no promotional effort on my part. It now sits authoritatively among other popular Cubs Instagram accounts with more than 7,000 followers and lots of interaction on my posts.
Not too shabby, right?
Well, the success of this fart-up made me hungry for more. I had been listening to the soundtrack of Hamilton regularly for nearly a year, and on one of my listens, I had the thought of rewriting the title song as a parody about the Cubs. I even had a phrase that could work: Replace “Alexander Hamilton” with “The Team at Clark and Addison.”
I floated this idea to my incredibly creative brothers, thinking that there was no way that we would ever actually find the time and energy to make it happen.
As the success of the 2016 Cubs leaned inevitably toward another playoff appearance, it occurred to me that this song was basically a musical form of a Cubs meme—and I had a devoted audience of Cubs meme fans at my disposal. I raised the idea with my brothers again, and we started a Google Document to remotely collaborate on lyrics. We wrote down phrases and people/events that we wanted to include from Cubs lore and tried to think of rhymes that matched Lin Manuel Miranda’s complex rhyme schemes in the original.
A couple weeks later (while I had put the project on the back burner), my brothers Chris and Ben messaged me that they had completed the first draft of the lyrics. This was actually happening!
Turns out the first draft was almost perfect. They recorded a demo version with a Hamilton karaoke track, and I got to work editing Cubs highlights and other appropriate Cubbie clips that fit contextually with the lyrics.
Last Friday evening, we all got together at my parents’ house to record the final version. We tweaked a few lyrics and then spent a couple hours recording the song verse-by-verse. The whole thing was a ton of fun, and a chance to hang out with my brothers in a way that just doesn’t happen that often anymore. Fortunately, my brother Ben can legitimately carry a tune and the rest of us managed to sound not terrible picking up the pieces around him. Considering we’re a bunch of nerds, I think we even handily pulled off the rap verses.
I spent the next morning finishing up my edit and laying in the final audio tracks. With my sister-in-law and niece in town for the weekend, I quickly uploaded it and posted it on my Cub Memes and personal social media accounts before we headed off to check out Open House Chicago. (which you should definitely check out next year!)
While we galavanted around downtown Chicago checking out the Aon Center, going on the stage at Millennium Park and strolling the deck of the Chicago Yacht Club’s anchored boat, the Internet worked its magic to make our Hamilton homage begin its viral rise to the top.
By the time we got home in the evening, it had more than 2,000 views. By the time the Cubs game was over, it had 3,600 views. By Sunday morning, we’d topped 10,000 views. The video continued to be shared by individuals on Twitter, and friends were telling me that /their/ friends—who didn’t know me—were also sharing it on Facebook with abandon.
My wife and I have talked about how there is a void to be filled in social media that could be called “Inside Joke Twitter.” When you sign up for an account, you would put in all of your potential interests, favorite movies, books, music, sports teams, etc. You could then choose different concentric circles of these interests and make posts about them. In this case, our video would fit perfectly into the Cubs/Hamilton crossover. While memes function this way to some extent, there are lots of memes that I only understand as a meme and not because I’ve seen the meme’s source material. This would be for deeper humorous dives among passionate fans of two seemingly disparate topics. Anyway, that’s another fart-up for another time.
Needless to say, many people who find themselves within the concentric circle of Hamilton and Cubs fandom discovered our video and were sharing it with each other. Twitter searches and Facebook posts frequently involved the poster alerting other friends to the video’s existence so they could enjoy it as well. That’s pretty much the definition of viral.
I don’t want to toot our horn, but in an age when comments sections are the bane of a digital content creator’s existence and ego, our video didn’t get any negative comments until a random “That was horrible” YouTube comment two days after it was posted—and it’s really only received one or two negative comments since then. My faith in humanity is being restored for the time being.
On Sunday evening, I received a tweet from a reporter at WGN Morning News who dabbles in quirky online stories saying that he would like to show some of it on Monday’s broadcast. I agreed, and the segment aired at 4:45, 5:45 and 7:15. It was pretty cool having our video appear on a news telecast that we had all watched growing up (and which still features the same newscasters for the most part). Unfortunately, by the time my Mom tuned in later in the morning, the main newscasters were incredibly disparaging of the video (which is kind of their schtick—to be cynical about everything), so I guess it wasn’t universally revered after all.
On Monday morning, I received an email from Chicagoist—a local Chicago news website—asking to do an interview with me. I called back the reporter and the blog post appeared in the afternoon. I figured this would breathe fresh life into the video’s circulation and I was right. The Chicagoist story led to several other news and sports website stories, many of which borrowed heavily from the interview I did with the Chicagoist reporter. It’s interesting to see how many news sites get their content from other news sites and just provide a quick attribution at the end. Takes a lot of legwork out of reporting…
By Monday evening, the video had received 20,000 views—officially viral in my book—and then NBC Chicago did a post on their website. This provided yet another boost, and the video has increased by more than 10,000 views each day, currently sitting above 50,000.
Last night, Sports Illustrated ran a story on their website, so I think we’ve pretty much peaked in terms of media coverage. Here’s a list of links to all the media mentions for posterity:
As I said in the Chicagoist interview, I was hoping that this would eventually attract the attention of Hamilton composer Lin Manuel Miranda on Twitter, but that has yet to happen. Tonight is both the official opening night of Hamilton in Chicago and Game 3 of the NLCS.Also, it turns out that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s father tweeted the video! There’s no time like the present for Lin to tweet it out himself.
— Luis A. Miranda, Jr. (@Vegalteno) October 19, 2016
Beyond achieving online virality, getting decent media coverage and engaging in a quest for a famous Twitter mention, this project was mostly just fun to do because I never expected us to actually do it and because I got to do it with my brothers. We’ve talked off and on for years about how we should try to get our creative juices flowing in unison and use our talents to produce something fun like this. While none of us are quitting our day jobs to become YouTube celebrities just yet, it is pretty awesome to realize that we made more than 50,000 people smile through this seemingly frivolous endeavor. We live in an amazing time when something like this can be created, shared and enjoyed by so many people so easily.
And don’t get me started on the joy of watching the Cubs move ever closer on their journey to the World Series. To steal a line from Hamilton—how lucky we are to be alive right now.
Go, Cubs, Go! (and thanks to everyone who watched and shared our video)