When I first came across Lord Birthday, it was as if the seas of Instagram had parted.
Here was a true gem, in amongst the vapid wasteland of teeth-whitening devices. The comics that filled the account were a mixture of ridiculous life advice, well-veiled satire, and the makings of a brain that obviously functioned in a different sphere. I always imagined the anonymous artist behind the account to be some hilarious stoner kid, who sat around with his friends giggling at his made-up words that even Roald Dahl himself would be proud of—homesquirts, juicicles, pumpernickel idealism, teak huddlebong, and chickenshorts, just to name a few.
It wasn’t until I dug a little deeper, that I found an interview just a month prior that Lord Birthday’s creator had done with NPR in which he, for the first time, reveals his true self. Lord Birthday’s real name is Chad, which he says to NPR is “a terrible name, it’s like a high school quarterback from the 80s.” He’s also a college professor in a business school, a father of four, an ex-Mormon, and what he describes as, “the extremely agreeable person with no opinions.”
The day Lord Birthday was born, Chad had seen a cartoon line drawing of a cat in a museum gift shop and felt compelled to start drawing on the train. He tells NPR, “It was an explosion of sentence fragments, names, bad drawings… ‘moldy panther, coach clam, pumpernickel idealism, Karen Bouffant.’” Lord Birthday had officially arrived, and thanks to the anonymity of the account he created to post his drawings (which currently sits at 167k followers), and possibly a sense of freedom from leaving the Church, he was able to let his alter ego flourish. I caught up with LB/Chad to ask him about the decision to finally merge his two selves, world-class sex captains, and earnest absurdity.
Can you tell me a bit more about the moment Lord Birthday was born, did you feel like it had been brewing for a while?
Yes, it does feel like something that had been simmering for awhile, but it didn’t really feel that way at the time. At the time it felt more like a sudden realization, like… you know when you’re trying to remember the name of an actor and it’s on the tip of your tongue and you can’t quite get there and then suddenly you’ve got it? Sort of like that.
The longer story is that at the time (this was around August of 2015) I’d been trying to write short fiction for a few years, but my writing just didn’t sound like anything. It was always just a bunch of grammatically correct sentences sort of hanging there, lifelessly, on the page. There was no voice in it. But then I discovered drawing and somehow things started clicking into place. I say “discovered” because I hadn’t really drawn much at all before that—only a little bit in high school, where I’d doodle during class.
Growing up I had never even remotely considered myself to be a visual artist of any type. But once I started trying to draw in earnest I could tell that something was happening, that I was entering some new territory that I needed to explore. I’m not sure how to describe it, but…yeah, it was like I developed some new awareness of how to move forward creatively. It’s still kind of a mysterious thing to me. I can’t really explain where it all came from (even though I can talk about the events surrounding it).
You said something in the NPR interview that really stuck with me, that “People have these selves within them that need an escape hatch.” Do you think that you’ve changed at all since embracing your LB self?
It’s a little hard for me to tell, but I don’t really think I’ve changed all that much. Wow, what a boring answer! Let me think more about that. Hmm. So, strangely, I actually do think I’ve changed, but in an unexpected way: although I had assumed before the NPR interview that Lord Birthday and Chad would be able to merge gracefully once I revealed my identity, I think I’ve actually realized that these two sides of me are forever distinct from one another. That people who know one, don’t necessarily know the other. That I am both of them and neither of them at the same time. I realize I’m getting mystical here!
They’re both me, of course, but mainly this whole experience has reaffirmed for me the strangeness of identity, how we have these various selves within us that perform different functions (sometimes in isolation from each other), and which somehow add up to a whole person. That complexity is a little bit clearer to me now—that’s the main way I’ve changed, I think.
College professor by day, popular anonymous comic by night… Do you sometimes feel like Batman?
Well, I certainly used to! I don’t really feel that way these days, though, now that it’s no longer a secretive thing. But I think that’s for the best. I couldn’t have sustained the anonymity for much longer anyway. It was too complicated, logistically and otherwise.
“Chickenshorts, math slap, homesquirts, juicicles, frogbite, world-class sex captain”…where do all of these originate from?
What a question! I wish I had a concise answer for you. For whatever reason, my brain has always generated these kinds of squiggly sounds and word shapes. So, yeah, this kind of stuff is always kicking around. For me, the bigger task is to figure out whether or not these word creations make any sense (I’ve got long lists of failed ones that don’t), what they could possibly mean to a reader, and which topics and drawings they might potentially fit with. To me, those last three tasks are excruciatingly hard, because I’ve learned that the presentation and placement matters a lot. These weird words just don’t work visually if they get placed incorrectly, and that’s something that I’m always trying to get better at. It’s tough.
Do you feel like Lord Birthday helps you to say things and poke a bit of fun at things you couldn’t in real life, like religion or politics?
This short answer is yes. I do feel more freedom to speak my mind when I’m in LB mode. The longer answer, though, is that I’m only rarely consciously trying to poke fun at things. I have a pretty strong sincere/sentimental side, as well as a cynical/satirical side, and I think that Lord Birthday reflects this ambiguity. So, people tend to read my stuff in different ways, which is great, and I wouldn’t want to interfere with that by talking too much about my intentions.
That said, I had someone recently describe my stuff as “earnest absurdity,” and I think that’s a terrific way to put it. I’m really drawn to art and writing that combines tones and genres in new ways. To me, things that are exclusively one thing or another (e.g., pure satire or pure sentimentality) are less compelling over the long term. They sort of announce their presence, make their mark, and then vanish. So, yes, I’m always trying to find the intersection between these things.
Now that you’ve revealed who you are and have signed a book deal, do you think you’re ready for Lord Birthday and the real life you to merge?
Ready or not I suppose! Well, yes, at this point it’s beyond my control, so I’m just trying to keep my focus on the work itself and not think too much about it. That’s a pretty generically optimistic answer, right?
Delve into the highly appealing insanity of Lord Birthday on Instagram @lord_birthday