Q&A: Area 'clueless man' uses dog shampoo, earns viral infamy
The Line speaks to contributor Jon Kay, editor at Quillette, about his newfound Twitter fame, getting called "stupid" by Seth Rogen, and hair care
Jon Kay, a contributor to The Line and editor at Quillette, had a weird weekend. One minute he’s tweeting self-professed dad jokes about using dog shampoo; the next he’s being called stupid by famous Canadian-American actor and comedian Seth Rogen. Now he’s Internet famous, is featured in an article on Know Your Meme, and seems likely to be best known as Dog Shampoo Guy. He spoke with The Line’s Jen Gerson in this email exclusive.
Jen Gerson: Tell me about your weekend. How did you wind up going viral, and getting called stupid by Seth Rogen?
Jon Kay: It's the same old story. Woke up. Took a shower. Tweeted about my shampoo. Got 13-thousand likes, and a bunch of Hollywood celebrities calling me names. The usual same-old.
JG: Let's start with the shampoo. How long had you been unknowingly using dog shampoo? And can you describe the series of events that led to that category error?
JK: When families get dogs, they always imagine that it's "the family dog." But within a week or two, a more specific truth emerges. I was the one who was most skeptical of getting a dog. But it almost immediately became clear that this was my dog. It sleeps where I sleep, follows me around the disc-golf course, and sits there on the carpet as I record my podcasts or edit my Quillette essays, always with a supportive, attentive doggie facial expression, as if to say, "Dude, you're killing it!"
But that comes with responsibilities. And so it was always just assumed that when it came time for doggie baths, which are messy, they would be done by me, in my bathroom — in part because everyone else in my household is female, and it is very sexist-ly assumed that it's more acceptable to trash my (presumptively gross) bathroom than their pretty bathrooms, which (I'm guessing) look and smell like a L'Occitane En Provence boutique. So there's always all these doggie cleaning products close at hand around the shower faucet in my bathroom, so I can grab them easily with one hand while I use the other hand to keep the dog from running around the basement soaking wet like a maniac.
This is now just part of my muscle memory.
And I realized on Sunday that it has become programmed into my own shower routine, too. And upon closer inspection, I realized, I don't actually have any quote-unquote "human" shampoo in the room. To be honest with your readers, I really can't pinpoint the date when I stopped using soap marketed for human use. It might have been around November because I was so distracted by the U.S. election.
JG: So in your initial tweet, you seemed mildly put off by Arm & Hammer for using tiny type on "for pets." Be honest now: what percentage of this tweet was self-deprecation, and what percentage of it was a gripe at Arm & Hammer?
JK: It was zero percent directed at Arm & Hammer, whose product design, in this case, is really the very model of clarity. I mean, there's a picture of a dog on the thing. And herein lies the crux of my joke, which it seems like most people got.
Consistent with my occasional performance-art bumbling Twitter persona, I present myself as a Mr. Bean-type bozo who not only uses dog shampoo on his own hair, but then complains about the experience to the manufacturer. The gag requires the photo — which is why I included it. And then, to complete the shtick, I added a second tweet a few minutes later, which faux-defended my original faux-accusation, ticking off other designs on shampoo bottles I'd used in the past.
And, of course, included in the list en passante is what is plainly a description of dishwashing liquid — which even I am not clueless enough to use in the shower (but only, I think, because of the distinctive tapering of a typical dishwasher-soap bottle—I'm guessing it would work perfectly fine as shampoo, and I would not be above using it in a pinch).
I actually thought that this follow-up gag was the funnier of the two dad jokes, because it was embedded in a list of more straightforward and plausible shampoo bottle designs (like waterfalls and flowers, and the Ivory Spring dude from the old commercials), and so it made the reader think for half a second. Also, I should mention that I am perfectly aware that these aren't exactly award-winning jokes — and that they're made all the worse when they're explained.
But I like to keep my social media feeds light on the weekend, and a lot of my followers seem to enjoy my self-deprecating content about fast food and lifestyle foibles. It's the kind of tweet that usually gets a few dozen likes and comments, mostly from people who know me in real life. And it's also my way of keeping in touch with friends during a time when we can't see each other in person.
JG: See, I got that it was a joke. But then I also a) don't take Twitter seriously and b) lean heavily on self-deprecating humour. Which is going to lead me to a really obnoxious question, and I hope you don't think I'm an asshole for asking it: Are you a little on the ASD spectrum? I ask this because many people I know and love are. And the shampoo thing is the kind of category error that I can see my husband making (hell, he'd finish the bottle, too. No point wasting pennies). And the dry, self-deprecating humour is something I see a lot in people who seem to be wired this way.
JK: I'm not sure if I'm on the spectrum. You'll have to ask my friends, with whom I play board games, talk a lot about trains, and list off prime numbers in a soul-dead monotone. But one thing I should note is that introverted, nerd-ball middle-aged male life, especially in a lockdown, can sometimes play out in a way that is indistinguishable from spectrummy behaviour.
That's because the normal social checks and balances provided by going to parties, and otherwise subjecting oneself to the aesthetic judgments of society at large, are removed. If I were going to parties, I might take better care to use human-oriented toiletries. But I'm not, so there's less incentive for me to use mental bandwidth to process questions like what kind of vertebrate my shampoo was designed to clean.
I want to keep this family friendly, so I will avoid provocative imagery. But when I am lathering up, I'm usually thinking about boardgame strategy, or how to edit some column that's sitting on my desk, or what time I have to drive my kid to some activity. I have the luxury of spending zero synapses on shampoo-oriented questions, aside from the background muscle memory associated with building up a lather.
JG: OK, so let's dig into the response to the column: Seth Rogen called you “stupid,” Keith Olbermann went on a half-caps-locked Twitter rant about the dressed-up, pretend-respectable lunatic right, and I see now that NBC has even devoted a story to this issue in which you are labelled a "clueless man" in the headline. I think you will be tempted to laugh this off as hilarious, because it is. However, I can't help but detect defensiveness in your responses. I believe you even accused Rogen of being "nasty." Are you honestly this glib?
Jonathan Kay @jonkay"but Jon, is has a pic of a dog!" doesn't mean anything. Lots of shampoos i used in the past have pictures of waterfalls, or people cleaning dishes, or gauzily drawn women frolicking in pastures, or dudes under waterfalls with chests provocatively projected outwards, or whatever
JK: I have to admit that when I first saw that Rogen was going after me, I was quite angry. He has 9 million followers! And he clearly didn't even read the thread, but just the first tweet, and decided that I was serious. What's worse, the guy is a comedian. So the internet concludes, not unreasonably, that the guy knows what's a joke and what isn't. On the other hand, I've also heard that he's kind of gone a little loopy on social media lately, so there's that.
But things change very quickly on Twitter, and for most of today, everyone's now mostly been bashing on Rogen (and Keith O) for being so nasty to a third-tier Canadian nobody like little old me. But this gives me very mixed emotions, as I don't like to see anybody being mobbed on social media, even my critics. So I may have to rush to Rogen's defense, as a matter of principle, before the day is out.
I haven't decided yet.
JG: Yeah, If Rogen didn't know who you were, then it was just a randomly mean thing to call someone stupid for admitting to using dog shampoo. And if he did have some sense of who you were, then he was simply being performative to the Quillette dude over a dad joke. Which gets to the matter of what it means to be mean on the Internet. Because you can be both mean and performative on the Internet, too. Hell, I'm certainly not innocent. Are you eating some karma via Seth Rogen right now, perhaps?
JK: There is no question that I can get my elbows up. I do think there's a small upside for everyone to be on the receiving end of this sort of thing every now and again if they're going to be combatants in the fray. If you're always dishing it out and never taking it, you can become desensitized to the effects that your words have. Seth Rogen has roughly 200 times more followers than I do. It's the geometric equivalent of me tweeting about someone who has 250 followers. So yeah, something to think about as I'm lathering up.
One thing I should say is that my case shows that there's a difference between (1) a bunch of people freaking out on a guy, and (2) actual cancel culture. I'm obviously not a victim of cancel culture because in a million years my boss would never cancel me about something like this. (She thinks it's hilarious and has been defending me in her trademark way on Twitter.)
People get angry and people go out and join angry mobs. It happens. What's really important isn't to completely stop that from happening, because you simply can't, but just to keep things in context if you're an employer or a publisher or an agent or whatnot. I'm in a privileged position because I'm a professional shit disturber and this is part of my brand. The people who I feel bad for are the ones who actually could lose their livelihood for this kind of thing, because a company gets nervous and actually fires somebody for a controversial social media post. Once that stops happening, everybody will relax and be able to joke about this kind of thing more. Like I said, I'm in the privileged position of being able to do so.
JG: Lastly, how did the shampoo work?
JK: Jen, when I'm looking for hair that's silky to the touch and irresistibly smooth, the only name in cross-species hair care I trust is Arm & Hammer.
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