WNPR reporter Jeff Cohen’s piece, “Two Little Girls Explain the Worst Haircut Ever,” went viral a few weeks ago.
The Girls took over the world and could be found on Gawker, HuffPo, ABC News, and more. PRX went full throttle trying to keep the site afloat (we had 200 times more visitors on PRX.org than usual), but we all made it out alive!
We had some questions for Jeff and wanted to find out more so I interviewed him last week about how it all came together.
PRX: First, how much did this disrupt your life?
Jeff: You know, it sort of depends on how much you pay attention to the internet. If you don’t turn on your computer or look at your phone, it doesn’t affect your life at all. I got a bunch of emails but not an overwhelming amount.
Then curiosity sets in. This sort of thing happens once probably…ever, and I wanted to get a sense of the scope of it. But once you get sucked into the comments wormhole, you never come out. So it disrupted my life briefly and there was some juggling on the phone, but by the end of the weekend it was largely over.
What made you decide to record this one instance when I’m sure there are lots of hilarious things that happen with a 3 and 5-year-old?
So the reality is that I record a lot of stuff. I have other recordings, and they are things that are more family album recordings. Sadie likes old Kris Kristofferson songs, so I have her singing and me playing the guitar, and I have Eva singing the Allman Brothers and Bon Jovi. So, I record them a lot, but this is the only one I edited down for non-family album use.
In fact, the first recording of it was for family use and it was probably five minutes long. A friend suggested I put it on PRX, so I did. It’s not as though it’s the only thing I’ve ever recorded with them, it’s just the only thing I thought would have any interest beyond my immediate family.
How did you record this? Did you go back and forth?
When I recorded it we were just sitting at the dinner table. I interviewed them individually. Sometimes you can hear one of them jumping in over the other. I tried to ask them the same questions as a narrative device so I could weave the two stories together.
Did you think this would happen when you put it on PRX? What did you think would happen?
I didn’t know! I was flattered. The first notice I got was that Roman Mars at Public Radio Remix licensed it, which was flattering. I knew I enjoyed listening to it and different things about it made me laugh, but I didn’t know that it would make other people laugh in the same way. Then it sort of picked up a little bit and some other radio stations purchased it and used it and that was cool, too.
I had no idea it would go this big, but it’s not like I didn’t seek it out. It’s not like you put things on the internet to hide them, you put them there so people can see them. I didn’t think that the end result would be a white-hot 3 days of internet viewing. No, I didn’t expect that.
I’m sure the girls are semi-aware of what’s going on? How do they understand this? Do they know that they are popular on the internet?
They don’t really know. I told them once that people enjoy listening to it on the internet, and that a lot of people have listened to it, like several Superdomes worth. I’m from New Orleans, so the only way I can conceive of people in large numbers is how many people fit in the Superdome, and then multiplying it. I told Sadie it’s several Superdomes worth of people listening to it. That made her eyes pop out of her head.
ABC did something on television about it and we watched it as a family. We talked about how we shouldn’t go to school tomorrow and brag about it because that would be anti-thoughtful. After we finished, Sadie’s response was, “Can we go outside and pick raspberries?” So that was it…it was over.
Most of the comments about the piece have been very positive. Are there any comments you read that really stuck out to you?
On the negative side, there was an article that posed the question of whether I was exploiting my children. Which was sort of bothersome because I don’t think I was, but everyone is allowed to have his or her opinion I suppose.
The overwhelming majority of comments were very nice. There was a comment from a woman who said she got back from her husband’s first chemo treatment, and she said, “Just when I thought I couldn’t laugh anymore, I saw this linked on a friend’s Facebook page.” That was very special to me.
There was another woman who just had a hysterectomy and she said she couldn’t laugh, because it hurt to laugh, but she did anyway.
It’s nicer to me as a storyteller than as a dad. As a dad, I see this about my kids, but more it’s about a good universal story. And its appealing broadly and was fairly popular not because my kids are necessarily unique or anything like that, but because the story itself is identifiable and NOT unique. They just happen to tell it well and have a dad that likes to tell stories on radio.
You’re a pretty serious reporter. This is pretty different from what you’re usually doing!
It’s definitely different than political corruption! But I’ll tell you, having been a newspaper reporter much longer than a radio reporter, I learned early on in radio, it’s the power of someone saying something. Not just what they say, but how they say it.
When you hear someone say something and it hits you in the gut. It’s something that I’ve experimented with, but this has taught me some lessons in storytelling.
The piece really made ALL of our days! It was like working in a newsroom.
I’m eternally grateful to the folks at PRX. I didn’t realize I was going to “break the website.”
Thanks for talking with us, Jeff! And thanks to Eva and Sadie for making us all laugh.