Sundance 2012 Interview: Chris Crocker of ‘Me @ the Zoo’

The 'Leave Britney Alone' Guy speaks out about the past, present and future of vlogging.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


Chris Crocker became a famous YouTube sensation as the “Leave Britney Alone” guy, crying in defense of her maligned performance at the Video Music Awards. A documentary on Crocker, Me @ The Zoo, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year. A clean cut Crocker came to Park City to discuss the film, which chronicles his rise on YouTube, his fall from favor and where both he and YouTube itself are today. We got to sit down with Crocker one on one to talk shop.


CraveOnline: Did “Leave Britney” Alone work because they have kind of left her alone lately?

Chris Crocker: Um, I don't know. I think after her dad took conservatorship and she’s back with her old managers and stuff, I don't think my video stopped people. I think she just wanted to get her life back on track.

I thought she looked great a little heavier. She was soft and lovely.

Oh yeah. As far as how she looked or whatever, I thought she looked good body wise. You could tell she was out of it in the face. That was my biggest concern.


Yes, the performance was troubling but I defended her body.

Like her eyes were just not even there. I was just saying if she had low self-esteem at the time and you’re on drugs and stuff, you hear things like that it affects you.


Everyone in the movie asks did you ever hear from Britney, so I’ll ask too.

Never heard from Britney, no.


And why should you?

It’s not that I would need to hear from Britney because I did it without wanting a thank you from her. I didn’t do it to hear from Britney. It’s more the fact that I had spoken to her manager at the time, Sam Lufti, when she was going through the dark period. And he was telling me, “Oh, I was disrespectful to Britney because I flashed the paparazzi.” Which again was my silly side and people always can’t figure out is he serious or is he sincere? Is he making fun? Being a comedian as well as a sincere person, there’s that clash of people never knowing when you’re serious. It’s not that I think I deserve to hear from Britney or she needs to thank me, it’s more so the fact that if someone were to stick up for me like that, I’d say, “Hey, thank you.” I mean, I’m not distraught or anything about her not thanking me.


Did you take it too far with the 9/11 video?

It’s hard to say because if I didn’t know me and I were to watch that, I’d be like, “This is a lunatic.” But I also from the very beginning of my videos loved to play with perceptions and stereotypes. Like going on Maury and saying, “Before I’m an American I’m a Britney fan.” Is it not obvious to people that that’s a joke or in jest? So I’ve kind of always left it up to people to decipher which is really me and being sincere and coming from a real place and what’s obviously a joke. To me, I don’t understand how people can take me so seriously when to me it’s so obvious. But if I have offended anyone, obviously I’m sorry because I know families were lost in 9/11. My mindset was just completely play with people’s perceptions of me. If they don’t get it’s a joke, I don't know, the joke is on them.


What has it been like to see the new generation of YouTubers come up?

I mean, you know, good for them. I don’t feel like it’s as organic as it used to be because now I feel like people’s intentions to make videos now are much more money-driven. Back in the day it was people just picking up a camera that wanted to express themselves. Whether just everyday vloggers that would talk about “Oh, I made this recipe today.” Or doing a backflip on camera. Now it’s people wanting to do makeup tutorials and be gurus. Good for them but it’s not the YouTube I signed up for when it was back in the day.


I can relate to “how do you compete with the new generation.”

Which I don’t want to compete but you know what I mean. It’s just a different world.


Is it a sign of the economic crisis that you’re down to 400,000 views on a good video?

No, they didn’t really get into it but YouTube’s made a lot of changes from when I was popular. Now even to find the most viewed list you have to navigate. There are people they have contracts with on the front page or their top partners, the same people, the same four people every single day. So it’s much harder for people that are just starting YouTube to be heard the way it was back in the day because you just post a video, most discussed, most viewed. Now you have to really search just to find that.


I see the new generation of bloggers when I was the first wave of journalists publishing online.

I’m sure you can relate to all the changes that take place. I don't know, I know there’s always going to be a new wave and there’s always going to be changes. To me I feel like the users that were there in the beginning getting the millions and millions and millions of views should be somewhat supported still by YouTube and stuff. I’m not saying we made it what it is but we do put the “You” in “YouTube.” As far as makeup tutorials being on the front page every day, I don’t feel like that’s the most insightful thing for teens. Sure, lots of people watch those but I would like to see more inspirational or introspective, like just vloggers. It’s like vloggers are extinct now.


Hopefully some of them are getting hired by legitimate companies to do journalism.

Right, it’s just that back in the day it was people picking up a web camera and expressing themselves. Now it’s people picking up a web camera and wanting a paycheck. I would rather have the old than the new.


What are your thoughts on Justin Timberlake’s plans for MySpace?

I’ve heard a little bit about it. I don't know. I know a lot of people are resistant to MySpace. A lot of people try to make a joke out of it. If they’ve got a good idea, I haven’t heard the new plan.


It’s odd that it fell so far out of favor in the first place.

Which is weird because I was so resistant towards even getting into Facebook, so it’s weird too. That’s the internet though. Here today, gone tomorrow.


What are your thoughts on SOPA?

Oh my goodness, I signed all the things on every website to call the senators and stuff. I just got an e-mail about that today. I think it’s horrible. If that happens, people like me definitely won’t be around. I don't know. I don't know all the specifics about what you’re not allowed to search and stuff like that. It just seems very almost anti-American, anti-freedom. I mean, if you can’t search for what you want to search for.


Is it also a distraction, because is piracy really the reason entertainment industries are losing sales?

Oh yeah. Piracy I think definitely affects. I mean, I won’t lie. I’ve illegally downloaded music before. I think everyone would be a liar if they said they haven’t.


But movies still open to $100s of millions.

Movies are a little different though because there’s nothing like the experience of going into a movie theater and watching it. Everyone loves that dark theater, laughing with people or whatever. That’s a different experience. As far as music and buying DVDs and stuff, I think it definitely affects it. I have music too on iTunes and my core audience will buy it and then I’ll search about my song and there’ll be like, “Here’s a free download thing.” So it does affect.


I think the way to combat piracy is to make something people want to own legitimately.

I mean, like I said, I won’t lie. There’s things that I won’t legitimately but I’ve illegally downloaded.