The Real People Behind These Iconic Internet Memes

These days, the internet is obsessed with memes! People love to see priceless facial expressions and add their own twist and joke about what the person (or animal) in the picture is thinking. The popularity of memes started because of how relatable they are, and people love feeling understood and that their feelings are being validated. When you’re not alone, you feel less crazy!

Futurama Fry / Harold Hiding the Pain / Disaster Girl / Side-Eyeing Chloe.
Source: Reddit

But what many of us tend to forget is that these memes are pictures of real people in their real lives. Although they aren’t celebrities or anything, some of these meme faces became famous after going viral. I bet you never thought about the people behind these priceless facial expressions and how these iconic photos even happened. Well, we’ve got the scoop. These are the people behind your favorite meme faces, what they look like now, and how being a viral meme affected their lives. Spoiler alert: Not all of them are happy about their internet fame.

Success Kid: Sam Griner

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there is no way you don’t recognize the success kid. In 2007, Laney Griner posted a photo to Flickr of her son Sam trying to eat sand. The photo became a meme with the caption “I Hate Sandcastles,” suggesting the boy just destroyed another kid’s sandcastle.

11-month-old Sam holding firmly the sand in his fist / Teenager Sam.
Source: Facebook

But Laney Griner didn’t like the meme because she thought it made her son look like a bully. Besides, he loved sandcastles. But once the “success kid” meme was created, the proud mom embraced it. Ever since, the photo has been featured in ads, on T-shirts, Xbox screensavers, and much more.

Grumpy Cat: Tardar Sauce

In September 2012, Grumpy Cat was first noticed after her photos were uploaded to Reddit. The fur baby’s real name is Tardar Sauce and it went viral for that adorably angry face. The cat has become known for her permanently grumpy appearance, but there is actually a reason for it.

Grumpy Cat / Grumpy Cat.
Source: Reddit

Apparently, the cat’s permanently grouchy appearance is due to an underbite and feline dwarfism, so don’t worry, it doesn’t reflect her mood at all. Grumpy Cat has over 2.5 million Instagram followers. Sadly, in May 2019, the 7-year-old cat died. But she lived a happy life, despite her angry appearance.

Doge: Kabosu

This meme became popular in 2013. The dog’s owner posted a 2010 picture of the rescue adopted Shiba Inu, named Kabosi, on to her personal blog, and that was it. The Internet fell in love with that face, and honestly, who could blame them?

Kabosu is glaring sideways / Kabos dressed in a red Christmas sweater.
Source: Reddit

The picture was taken as the dog was sitting on a couch glaring sideways at the camera with his eyebrows raised. It’s definitely a perfect face for the meme scene. Kabosu is now 15 years old and has his own Instagram account! People just can’t get enough of his cuteness!

Disaster Girl: Zoe Roth

Back in 2004, David Roth, Zoe’s father, captured a shot of her watching firefighters controlling the blaze a couple of blocks away from their Mebane, California home, and I think it’s safe to say, the photo has become iconic. Dave entered the photo into a competition organized by a photography magazine back in 2007 and won it.

Young girl Zoe observes the firefighters / Young woman Zoe poses for a picture.
Source: Reddit

Once the picture was published in the magazine, that picture of Zoe has been edited onto various images and certainly took the internet by storm. “I’d love for the meme to help me get into or pay for college somehow,” 29-year-old Zoe told Refinery a few years back. “But I ultimately want people to know me for me.”

Side-Eyeing Chloe: Chloe

This one is another classic! In 2013, Chloe went viral after the YouTuber KAftC posted a video called “Lily’s Disneyland Surprise… AGAIN” featuring sisters Lily and Chloe reacting to their parents talking about their surprise Disneyland trip.

Toddler Chloe looks disturbed at the camera / Current Chloe smiles at the camera.
Source: Reddit

Lily was crying from happiness! But while Lily broke out in tears of joy, Chloe looked directly into the camera with this disturbed look on her face. She didn’t seem very amused or excited about going to Disney. Chloe grew up and if you want to see how much she’s changed, check out her Instagram, where she has 580 followers!

Blinking White Guy: Drew Scanlon

If you are an internet user, there is no way you don’t recognize this guy! This iconic starring man meme is of a guy named Drew Scanlon. It comes from a 2013 livestream shot. Drew was a video producer working at the popular gaming website, Giant Bomb.

Drew Scanlon’s ‘Blinking White Guy’ reaction / Drew Scanlon with his bike at a bike ride fundraiser event.
Source: Facebook

The team had weekly “Unprofessional Fridays” shows, and during one of them, Drew watched while editor-in-chief Jeff Gerstmann played a two-dimensional action-adventure game called Starbound. “I’ve been doing some farming,” Gerstmann said. “With me h*e.” Drew’s reaction resulted in this priceless expression and has become known as the “Blinking White Guy.”

Harold Hiding the Pain: András Arató

This guy is András Arató, a senior stock photography model with a facial expression that needed to be turned into a meme. It just looks like he is dealing with some suppressed pain. I mean, that smile and those eyes that look like they are about to burst into tears are all the ingredients for a hilarious meme.

Senior stock model holds a suppressing pain expression / Senior stock model’s portrait.
Source: Imgur

In September 2011, the meme was first born when the stock photo with DreamTime’s watermark was uploaded on the Facepunsh forum. András hosted a TedTalk in Kyiv, Ukraine, in September 2018 and discussed his life as a “meme hero.” He said the meme was the best thing that happened to him, and it opened up many doors of wonderful opportunities for him.

Roll Safe: Kayode Ewumi

Here is another classic! This photo actually comes from the 2016 BBC Three mini-documentary series “Hood Documentary.” The meme features the character played by actor Kayode Ewumi who is pointing to his head and smirking after saying that he finds a woman “because” because “she’s got good brains.”

Kayode Ewumi points to his head and smiles / Current portrait of Kayode Ewumi.
Source: Reddit

The meme has become extremely popular, and the captions on it vary as some people see it as a genuine expression while others think it might be an evil smile. Either way, this is a meme sure to make your day! Kayode Ewumi is now 27 years old.

Bad Luck Brian: Kyle Craven

After Ian Davies posted a yearbook photo of his friend Kyle Craven in January 2012 to Reddit, the picture instantly turned into a meme. Of course, it did. It’s literally pure gold for the meme culture we’re living in.

The yearbook photo of Kyle Craven / Current Kyle Craven poses holding his yearbook picture.
Source: Facebook

Apparently, before the picture was taken, Kyle rubbed his face with a sweater to make it red and put on that obnoxious smile to go with it. But it’s definitely the braces and sweater-vest that made it so much better. This meme is often used to describe unlucky or embarrassing events.

Ridiculously Photogenic Guy: Zeddie Smith

The “Ridiculously Photogenic Guy” meme is of a handsome man named Zeddie Smith running in the 2012 Cooper River Bridge Run. The photo captured a ton of online attention after a computer programmer named Will King posted it on Reddit.

Zeddie Smith running the Cooper River Bridge Run / Zeddie Smith holds his cat.
Source: Reddit

King took the picture, and users couldn’t get over how good-looking this man is. I mean, unless you’re in some kind of edited commercial, nobody looks good when they are running and sweating. Well, no one except Zeddie Smith, apparently. This guy is just as attractive and just as photogenic now.

Confused Nick Young: Nick Young

This face is literally perfect! NBA basketball player Nick Young was screenshotted from a 2014 episode of the YouTube web series “Thru the Lens.” In one scene, Nick makes this perplexed face when his mother proclaimed that he was a “clown” as a youngster.

Nick Young is dazed and perplexed / Nick Young takes a picture in the mirror.
Source: Reddit

There are many memes of people with puzzled faces, but this one has got to take the cake. The confusion mixed with the “I know what I did” smile really makes this meme stand out. No wonder it has become an internet classic.

Trying to Hold a Fart Next to a Cute Girl in Class: Michael McGee

I know you recognize this one! A Reddit user submitted this photo in 2014 with the title, “Trying to hold a fart next to a cute girl in class” to the /r/funny subreddit. The kid behind the famous picture is Michael McGee, who explained, “Well, the guy who took the picture has been a good friend of mine since I first moved out here to Texas, so he knew I was able to make a face any time I wanted.”

A kid’s expression trying to hold himself / Same kid takes a relaxed selfie.
Source: Reddit

“So, he wanted to make a funny Twitter caption and told me to make the face. He posted it, and like two or three months after he posted it, it took off,” he added. Well, we are certainly happy he shared this photo with the internet world.

Good Luck Charlie: Mia Talerico

This meme is another popular one that continues to trend. If you haven’t seen it as a meme, you probably saw it as a GIF. But although this picture is famous, unless you were A Disney Channel fan ten years ago, you might not know where it comes from.

A surprised young infant Mia Talerico / Current Mia Talerico smiles at the camera.
Source: Imgur

It’s actually a screenshot from the hit Disney Channel show, Good Luck Charlie. The adorable Mia Talerico played little sister Charlie, and fans couldn’t get enough of her darling face and those cute facial expressions. She is now a teenager, and you can find her on Instagram with more than 1.4 million followers.

Overly Attached Girlfriend: Laina Morris

In 2012, YouTuber Laina Morris uploaded a video, and this meme was born. In the video, Laina performs a parody version of the son Boyfriend by Justin Bieber, with personalized lyrics that were pretty hilarious. She posted the video after Bieber announced a sing-off contest when he was promoting his new perfume, “Girlfriend.”

Laina Morris video still / Current Laina Morris takes a picture of herself.
Source: Facebook

Unfortunately, Morris began dealing with serious privacy issues after becoming a meme. Strangers often discover her personal Facebook page and chat with her friends, and some even go as far as trying to obtain her college records. It got to be too much, and Morris announced that she was quitting YouTube in 2019.

Aliens Are to Blame for Everything: Giorgio Tsoukalos

The guy behind this recognizable face is a Swiss-born writer, ufologist, TV presenter, and producer, Giorgio Tsoukalos. He is famous for his appearances on the television show Ancient Aliens but is probably more recognized for this meme!

Giorgio Tsoukalos expresses himself with his hands / Giorgio Tsoukalos talks to the press.
Source: Reddit

Meme fame seems like a wonderful thing. You can become more famous than celebrities and aspiring stars, by one priceless face is captured on camera. Here is a fun fact about Giorgio Tsoukalos: he is a proponent of the pseudoarchaeological theory, which is basically that ancient alien-astronauts interacted with ancient humans. I think I believe that theory too.

Sweating Jordan Peele: Jordan Peele

This incredible photo never fails to put a smile on my face. With sweat dripping down his face and the concerned look on his face is the perfect combo for an awesome meme. The man behind that expression is Jordan Peele.

Jordan Peele’s face dripping sweat / Jordan Peele attends an event.
Source: Imgur

The meme made waves in September 2013, after the premiere of the third season of “Key and Peele” aired. In the episode that made this meme possible, the character that Jordan Peele plays sweats nervously after getting confronted by his girlfriends about his internet habits.

Ermahgerd: Maggie Goldenberger

Here is another classic that definitely reminds me of my awkward middle school dorky self. The meme was born on March 14th, 2012, when it was uploaded to social media with the caption, “Just a book owner’s smile…”

Youg girl Maggie’s exaggerated smile while holding three books / Current Maggie smiles to the camera.
Source: Reddit

The photo is of a girl named Maggie Goldenberger, taken when she was just about 11 years old. Maggie said the picture was taken in fourth or fifth grade when she was playing dress-up with some friends, and they got really into it. Something about this picture takes me back to a simpler time.

Scumbag Steve: Blake Boston

This photo originated as the cover of the rap group Beantown’s Mafia “My Gangsta” album and made its way to Reddit in January 2011. The guy in the photo is Blake Boston, AKA “Weezy B.” While talking to Know Your Meme, Blake explained that his mother took that picture.

Blake Boston is dressed in fur and a flipped to the side hat / Current Blake Boston embraces his girlfriend while posing.
Source: Facebook

“I have no regrets in my life… no matter what I do. I can completely f*ck up on something, and I still don’t regret it. Because at the end of the day, that makes me who I am, so I wouldn’t go back and erase anything if I were to go back in time,” Blake expressed in an interview with RoughDraft TV.

A Schoolboy in a Swamp: Igor Nazarov

In 2016, this 16-year-old Russian schoolboy went viral on the interwebs after getting his picture taken in the middle of a swamp behind a desk, wearing a suit. The reason the photo was taken was so that it could be submitted to the most unusual photo contest for a prize of $277.

A serious Teenage-Russian kid stands inside a swamp behind a desk / Igor Nazarov wears a severe look.
Source: Reddit

The Russian boy was named Igor Nazarov, and it’s unclear whether or not he won the contest. But does it really matter? I mean, maybe the photo was taken to win a contest, but something better came out of it. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather become a recognizable meme face than win an unusual photo contest.

Dramatic Dmitry: Vladimir Brest

The “Dramatic Dmitry” photos happen to be images from Russian musician Vladimir Brest’s album Paranoia, which came out back in April 2011. However, I don’t know if I would call that face dramatic. He looks pretty serious to me.

 Vladimir Brest watches the sand sliding through his hand / Vladimir Brest holds ice in his fist.
Source: Reddit

The musician opened up to Progorodsama in 2013: “I myself am generally positive. However, I want my songs to be attached to these memes. It is also bad that most of the pictures are obscene. All this is seen by children. I don’t want to be a person guilty of the degradation and corruption of a young generation.”

Hipster Barista: Dustin Mattson

This classic meme became an internet sensation in 2011 when someone posted it on a website called Quickmeme with the caption, “I got this tattoo for my love of coffee; I got this one because it’s ironic.” Dustin Mattison had strong things to say about his viral photo.

Dustin Mattson poses arm closed / A recent portrait of Dustin Mattson.
Source: Reddit

During an interview with, Dustin said: “I do find it discouraging and disappointing that there was so much exposure brought to an attempt at making a joke of a culinary industry and the professional barista. To me, it’s very telling on how we laud farm-to-table food, craft beer, cocktail mixology, but it’s OK to have no respect for the specialty coffee world and the people who are committed to it.”

Expanding Brain

In 2017, various posters on Tumblr and 4Chan started bragging about how big the size of their brain is, and it quickly became a meme. Photos of brains of all different sizes are captioned with “smart” sounding worlds until it gets to the fully enlightened stage.

Home repair brain / Hiring someone brain / Watching to learn brain / Using the brain.
Source: Imgflip

Some creative people have a way of writing the perfect thing for each sized brain before getting to the punch line in the enlightened brain. One of the first memes of the “expanding brain” came from the who-whom-whomst profession of words that apparently make you sound smarter.

Young Thug Staring at the Computer

In 2018, a picture was leaked of rappers Young Thug and Lil Durk looking at a computer screen while working on some music at the studio. It seems like a regular day for a music artist, right? Not for the internet users who thought this was absolutely hilarious.

Young Thug and Lil Durk are looking concentrated.
Source: Pinterest

Many people began to find it humous yet fabricated. Explanations about why these two were concentrating so intensely vary: from the rappers plotting an elaborate heist to playing old-school computer games. To me, they appear to look more confused than concentrated but nevertheless, very funny!

Change My Mind

Conservative podcaster and YouTuber Steven Crowder has a segment on his YouTube channel called “Change my Mind” where he sits behind a desk, expresses his opinion, and wants people to challenge him in an open discussion to have real conversations about the hottest political topics.

Steven Crowder, a conservative podcaster, sits at a desk.
Source: Tumblr

In one episode, he sat down with a sign saying, “Male privilege is a myth: Change my mind.” It was almost too easy for internet users to start making their own “change my mind” memes, changing the first half of the phrase with an opinion they feel strongly about.

Drake the Artist

Throughout his long and impressive career, Drake has been the subject of various different memes. His 2015 smash hit Hotline Bling was one the biggest songs of the year, and when the music video came out, people couldn’t get enough of it.

Two stills from Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ video.
Source: Reddit

The video featured Drake dancing in a brightly lit cube structure, and for internet users, it was meme gold. A ton of hilarious captions were paired with Drake’s expressions, and more continue to pop up. The internet has literally memed everything from his Twitter posts to his school portraits, and we can’t get enough of it.

Butterfly Fly Away (or Pigeon)

In 2011, the “is this a pigeon?” meme first rose to popularity after a Tumblr posted a photo from a Japanese animated show of an android mistaking a butterfly for a pigeon. Most of the memes that are derived from this photo express modern confusion or paranoia.

A Japanese animated guy stares at a butterfly.
Source: Reddit

I mean, it kind of makes sense with the butterfly/pigeon flying away. There is a dark yet comforting feel about this one. Japanese anime has its own bizarre or perhaps dark humor. People are talking about how sad their lives are quite commonly in the meme world because it’s relatable. Everyone gets sad.

Real Name Google Searches

In 2018, the “Real name Google searches” meme gained much popularity using the generic google template and edit made-up names for famous celebrities – particularly the ones who don’t use their real names anyways and go by stage names.

‘Ludacris real name’ is written on a google search toolbar.
Source: Facebook

According to Know Your Meme, the first time this hit the internet, it showed the rapper Lil Pump’s name as Lilliam Pumpernickel, and as you can imagine, it got only more ridiculous from there. It’s interesting to tap into people’s creativity and wonder how they even came up with some of these fake names.

Futurama Fry

One of the most famous memes on the web has got to be “Futurama Fry,” perhaps because it’s one of the most relatable. In 2011, the world fell in love with this picture, and it became meme central! Fry’s squinting eyes thinking about contradicting questions are often referred to as sarcasm or modern times.

Eyed-narrowed-thinking expression on a Futurama character.
Source: Reddit

To me, it looks more like evil eyes than thinking eyes, but I guess it could be both. Another is a popular photo with the same character holding money shouting, “shut up and take my money,” used for when someone finds the description of an internet product particularly enticing.

Everything Is Fine

This photo was taken out of a 2013 comic web strip called “on fire.” It’s just an image of a human-like dog enjoying a nice cup of coffee while his house is burning down. Sadly, this becomes more and more relatable every day. It’s usually captioned with troubling or hard-to-grasp news.

Human-like dog stares at the coffee mug while the room bursts into flames.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Another way this meme is used is in an “I don’t even care anymore” type of way, which is also extremely relatable. I mean, the house is literally burning down, and he’s not even trying to escape. He just has this blank look on his face pretending nothing is happening.

FBI Agent Spying on Us

Jokes about “big brother watching” have been around forever, but the internet was more paranoid than ever in 2018, thanks to the web-fueled idea of FBI agents watching ordinary people through their webcams. There is no evidence to support this claim, but there is also nothing proving they aren’t watching.

A laptop and a WhatsApp conversation with the FBI.
Source: Twitter/@joshwillhall

It’s a fun thing to joke about, and many people believe there is truth to it. But that’s what memes are for! To lighten up situations. These ones aren’t always critical either. Most of them show agents being protective or friendly with other subjects.

Kermit, the Frog

Kermit the Frog stole America’s heart on the Muppet Show since the 1950’s – way before the internet meme phenomenon began. The green puppet isn’t just an iconic character, but Kermit has become a famous meme too!

Kermit enjoys drinking his tea.
Source: Reddit

One of the most famous memes features Kermit sipping his tea, and it is usually coupled with a passive-aggressive text, followed by “but that’s none of my business.” The familiar face of a nostalgic character makes the aggressively calm comment a little more lighthearted.

Hooded Kermit

Speaking of the famous puppet, here is another one! The hooded “evil twin” Kermit is one of my favorite memes on the internet! Other than the relatable aspect where everyone has those two voices in their head, I just love the creativity of the captions that go along with it.

Kermit talks to a hooded version of himself.
Source: Imgur

This is my personal favorite! As a criminology major, I always tell myself not to talk about serial killers, but I can’t help myself; it just happens naturally. So, for me, this is definitely the most relatable meme I have seen. Although, I did read somewhere that people who are fascinated by serial killers are 75% more interesting to talk to. I’m not sure how accurate it is, but I’m just going with it.

Angry Patrick

Here is another iconic character who has become a classic meme. Who doesn’t love SpongeBob’s best friend, Patrick Star? This meme has also been referred to as “evil Patrick” or “savage Patrick” and is a still shot from a 1999 episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Patrick wears a wicked smile on his face.
Source: Reddit

Patrick just has this menacing look on his face and an evil smile, so it just had to be turned into a meme. And in 2018, it was. When the photo made its way to Twitter, people had a field day attaching an explanation of bad behavior or motives to the Patrick meme.

By Age 35…

After a MarketWatch article came out in 2018 that implies the unrealistic number of savings people should have in their 30s, millennials everywhere couldn’t help but make fun of it. And how do you make fun of something in modern times? Turn it into a meme, duh.

Patrick Star from SpongeBob is looking scared in a table full of avocado toasts.
Source: Imgur

Social media users reacted to the article by posting all the other things you should ideally have by age 35; some were hilariously true, and others are ridiculous, but almost all of them are funny. This avocado toast one is sadly true yet hilarious. What can we do? This is an avocado toast generation.

Don’t Say It

Like many other famous memes, the reason the “Don’t say it” meme is so popular is because of how relatable it is. It details the conversations people have with themselves in their brain, from the awkward topic of conversations to resisting responding to someone with “that’s what she said.”

Fourteen times repeated the phrase ‘Don’t say it.’
Source: Pinterest

This meme initially showed up in 2010 but resurfaced in 2017, where it depicted the inner struggle between whether or not to start a conversation with a taxi driver. We’ve all been there. I usually stay quiet unless the driver initiates it.

Elon Musk

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has been the subject of several memes over the years, especially since 2018 when he made a Twitter request for “dank memes.” As a genius who can convince anyone in the simulation theory (which basically means that we are all video game characters and this isn’t the real reality), you wouldn’t really expect him to smoke weed.

Elon Musk smokes a Habano during a podcast interview.
Source: Reddit

However, when he was on Joe Rogan’s podcast, the billionaire smoked a joint with him, and the internet couldn’t get enough of it. I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that he is smoking a joint that’s funny or his face while he is smoking it. Either way, I’m a huge Elon Musk fan, and I’m glad someone made this a meme.