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Posted at 2:50 PM ET, 01/ 7/2011

Talking with James Van Der Beek about Internet memes, Dawson Leery hatred and more

By Jen Chaney

James Van Der Beek, Van Der Meme-ing. (Courtesy of James Van Der Memes)

James Van Der Beek pretty much took over Funny or Die's Web site this week, as part of the Internet extravaganza dubbed "Van Der Week."

From the riff on his Crying Face meme -- which spawned the Web site James Van Der Memes (see one example above) -- to the video in which he simultaneously reprises his "Dawson's Creek" character and acts as a sort of twisted Cupid, the new dad has made one thing clear: He definitely has a sense of humor about himself.

Van Der Beek took a brief break from Van Der Week to chat about how all this viral video madness came about. In the process, he learned about the Taylor Swift/Jake Gyllenhaal breakup, and I learned that, at least according to Van Der Beek, Israeli guys really hate Dawson Leery.

The Q&A follows; also, keep in mind that Van Der Beek is taking over Funny or Die's Twitter feed today at 3 p.m. PST/6 p.m. ET. You know, just in case you have follow-up questions.

Jen Chaney: How did you find out about the crying Dawson meme that was going around?

James Van Der Beek: I found out about it when I started my Twitter account.

JC: When was that?

JVDB: A year ago, I want to say? I would go on and people would tweet me things like "Van Der James at this best." And I'd be like, oh, what's this? Is this going to be, you know, some heroic shot of me from "Varsity Blues"? Or some cool, dark shot from "Rules of Attraction"? And it would inevitably be the crying shot. And the first time I saw it, I just laughed.

It's really funny. Out of six years of work -- I think we made a hundred and twenty-something episodes -- that's the one thing [starts laughing], the little tiny slice people were utilizing. A little while after that, I saw the five-second gif. I thought, I mean, it obviously looks ridiculous. And I just laughed.

Over the course of the last year, people would tweet me this thing. And I'd fall for it every time. I'd click on it and it would be that picture or that gif. I just thought it was funny.

JC: It's interesting that you responded that way. A lot of actors might have been annoyed. Initially, did you have any feelings of that nature at all?

JVDB: You know, it's funny. If it was somebody else, if it was another actor, I would probably feel almost bad for them. You know, out of compassion. Oh man, that poor actor. They took a moment from what was obviously a tough shoot because they're crying, knowing what it takes to go through all that. But for some reason, I felt this odd disconnect from it. So when I saw it, my immediate reaction was, I just thought it was funny. I guess because I didn't have to feel sorry for the person. Because it was me and I knew how I took it.

I've always found the Internet so fascinating. It's its own beast. There's nothing you can really do to control anything, and it just makes of things what it will. You know, it's democracy in the wildest sense, I guess. The fact that this little five-second slice has gained some sort of -- not immortality, but a second life -- is very funny to me.

JC: So who came up with the idea for Van Der Memes?

JVDB: That was Funny or Die, the woman who directed that episode.

JC: Did you reach out to them or did they get in touch with you?

JVDB: It was kind of mutual, actually. I really loved what they were doing, I would go on there and see what they were doing and laugh. And I thought, I want to get in on this. I want to play. So I mentioned it to somebody and we arranged a meeting and then I went in and talked to them and said, hey, anything you guys want to do. Because I hosted "Saturday Night Live" back in the day and that was a blast, so I had a little bit of an idea how it would work. And I just said, hey, I'm willing to poke fun at any and everything that I've ever done. Whatever ideas you guys have, I'll just go for it full-out.

It's funny, she brought up the gifs thing almost tentatively --

JC: Because she wasn't sure if she might offend you?

JVDB: Yeah, exactly. "I don't know if you know this, but there's a gif of you going around the Internet?" I was like, "Oh yeah, Crying Dawson. Crying Face." And she's like yeah, I was thinking maybe we can do something with that. And I was like, "Perfect."

JC: Is the Van Der Memes site going to be updated with new expressions or will it just stand as it is?

JVDB: I'm taking over [Funny or Die's] Twitter feed on Friday. ... They asked me to come in, they said they were getting many requests for more memes. So we'll see what sort of ridiculousness we can come up with.

JC: I was thinking, you have theLilo Eye Roll. There's a great opportunity to do a Swift/Gyllenhaal Breakup Shock Look.

JVDB: A what?

JC: A Taylor Swift/Jake Gyllenhaal Breakup Shock Look.

JVDB: Oh wow. I didn't even know they were dating.

JC: Well, then you can do two. You can do a reaction to their dating and a reaction to their split.

JVDB: They were dating? And now they broke up?

JC: See, I'm imagining what the look on your face is right now but I want to know what it really looks like.

JVDB: [Laughs] I'm open to any and all suggestions. I think the way it works is they shout out something ridiculous and I come up with a face. That's how it worked last time.

JC: I also saw the [Bleep] for Hire video. Was that also their idea?

JVDB: That came out of, we were just talking about pop culture or whatever, and there's this odd phenomenon, guys that I meet now in their late 20s and early 30s who I'll get to know. Usually after a couple of beers they'll confess to me, "Dude, you're a cool guy. Now that I know you, I really like you. But I gotta say. I gotta admit. Before I knew you, I [bleeping] hated you, man, because my girlfriend loved you."

So that's kind of where the [Bleep] for Hire video came from.

(Warning: Language in video is NSFW):

JC: So that was real-life experience there?

JVDB: I've had a number of people say that to me, actually. Especially my Israeli friends. I think every single Israeli friend that I have has said that to me at one point.

JC: Why is that?

JVDB: ["Dawson's Creek"] was really big in Israel. It was very popular. I think the character was so sensitive and so just, kind of, the opposite of the way all these guys were, that I think it just drove them crazy.

JC: There have been a lot of memes based on celebrities, and often the celebrities don't know they exist. Now we're at a point where celebrities create the viral video or memes themselves. Among the people you know in the business, are you hearing more dialogue about trying to do that sort of thing?

JVDB: You know, I don't know. Like I said, you can't really control it. It has to be organic and it has to be funny. To try and do it for any sort of financial gain or any sort of image control or spin, I think it's a futile effort. This is all just about making fun of myself and having a laugh along with everybody else. Running towards it.

I'm sure people may try or have tried to use it that way. But Internet users are very fickle. They see right through it.

Like if my publicist came and said, hey, I've got a great idea. We're going to change your image and we're going to do some memes, I don't know if that would work.

JC: Do you have a favorite meme that was inspired by another actor?

JVDB: No. But now that you mention it, maybe I'll have to try my hand at a Sad Keanu.

JC: What's the next project for you -- what are you working on now?

JVDB: Well, I just had a baby, so I took a little bit of time off. I did an episode of a show on TNT called "Franklin & Bash." I'm also developing and writing something I'm very excited about. The ink on the deal isn't quite dry so I don't want to jinx anything, but it's an idea I'm developing with two amazing writers I've worked with before.

JC: For TV?

JVDB: TV. A TV concept. Subconsciously, I think I was just kind of burned out before but now I'm open to seeing what the next act is going to look like.

JC: Your daughter was born pretty recently.

JVDB: She's a little more than 3 months old.

JC: How's being a dad?

JVDB: God, it's really tough to describe it without sounding cliche. It's one of those -- I'm always at a loss for words. It's the coolest thing I've ever done, without a doubt. It instantly changes your life, your perspective, what's important and your entire priority list. And it does it from the inside out.

JC: One last question, and then I'll let you go. I assume you're familiar with the Funny or Die videos that Will Ferrell did with Pearl.

JVDB: Yeah, I've seen those.

JC: You daughter Olivia is a little young now. But when she's a little older, would you ever consider doing something on the Internet with her, or do you want to keep her away from all that?

JVDB: I would love to keep her away from all that but at the same time, I don't know that I'd be able to resist. The responsible dad part of me says I will keep her as far away from that as possible, but -- [laughs] -- I just released a video today where I'm endorsing a line of DILF khakis, so I have no high ground to stand on at this point.

JC: So was that the last of the videos for the week?

JVDB: Believe it or not -- this was their idea -- there's a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of these videos. Which will be released Friday. It's "Lost in La Mancha"-style. And that will bring Van Der Week to a close, I believe.

JC: Is this going to be an annual occasion? Because once you proclaim something Van Der Week, it seems like you have to do it again.

JVDB: I would love to do it again. I had a blast.

JC: This could be your Festivus.

JVDB: The first week of January! From here on out, I declare -- oh, God. Why not?

By Jen Chaney  | January 7, 2011; 2:50 PM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Viral Video  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Beastie Boy Adam Yauch is cancer free
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Please tell me I'm not the only one who laughed that, um, "glassbowl" was carefully bleeped in the interview when referring to the "for Hire" video, but the video clip itself is clearly labeled with the unexpurgated version.

Posted by: WesternShore | January 7, 2011 8:07 PM | Report abuse

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