Friday, April 13, 2012

Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh to speak at UNCC

How I prepared for my interview with Ben Huh: Surfed his websites, clicked through lots of photos – of tattoos gone wrong, unintentionally amusing Facebook statuses and, of course, cats with funny captions.

Why I’m writing about funny cat captions: They’re what America is reading.

Huh, 34, is chief executive of Cheezburger, a company with more than 60 humor websites, including and

On Tuesday, he’ll speak at UNC Charlotte, where he’ll explain how, as a bright-eyed journalism graduate, he turned down a Washington Post internship and went on to become an Internet entrepreneur whose sites attract 500 million page views a month.

Huh didn’t hatch the idea of funny-captioned animal photos, but in 2007, he bought the website.

The rest is Internet history. Today, his Seattle-based company, with nearly 100 employees, keeps expanding. If you’ve seen a funny-captioned cat photo (“Johnson, clear my schedule. There’s yarn on the floor”), you’ve probably encountered his brand.

All content is user-generated. People submit captioned photos or add captions to others’ photos. Only the best show up on the site. Cheezburger gets 20,000 submissions a day. Getting on a homepage might be harder than getting into Harvard.

As you can imagine, many old-school writers equate Cheezburger’s success with civilization’s decline.

Granted, the cuteness of some content will make you gag. But other photos are pretty funny. The best submissions, Huh told me, come from users savvy about language and culture. Writing humor, after all, isn’t easy.

Huh also assures me that Cheezburger isn’t plotting to replace literature or journalism or correct spelling. His mission is a lot simpler: To make the world laugh for five minutes a day.
Because everybody needs a laugh. Even Huh, who told me he spends time on most afternoons.

“That’s my little piece of heaven,” he says. “It brings a sense of peace and calm at the end of the day.”

Huh's free talk will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, in McKnight Hall of UNC Charlotte’s Cone University Center.