But how are you really feeling? The birds get it.
Why we're flocking to the foul-mouthed fowl of Effin' Birds.
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How are you all doing today?
I’m guessing this fancy chicken speaks for many of us.
I hear ya.
How did you take the news that schools are returning to remote learning?
This little gull says it all.
We sure did.
And dare I ask what you thought upon hearing about Ontario’s latest crackdown on golf courses, tennis courts and playgrounds (since reversed)?
This eagle here says it so you don’t have to.
With an endless list of things to complain about these days, is it any wonder these foul-mouthed fowls have taken flight?
Effin’ Birds is the vulgar brainchild of Toronto’s Aaron Reynolds, who has honed his particular knack for merging exquisite vintage avian woodcuts with crude putdowns over the past four years, to the point where it’s become an actual business with six employees, selling books, posters, calendars, mugs, t-shirts, tote bags and playing cards, and churning out fresh bird memes daily. Not bad for something that began as an amusing Twitter side project.
“Effin’ Birds is my day job,” Reynolds says.
You may have seen some of his night jobs, especially Swear Trek.
But nothing quite lends itself to social sharing and t-shirt sales like shore birds dropping f-bombs.
And those birds are everywhere, once you start looking: on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Reddit. You can sign up for a weekly newsletter, and get daily text messages to your phone (via the Community app). Reynolds is nothing if not prolific.
Apart from disabusing us of the notion that birds are sweet chirpy featherballs of joy, he’s tapped into something real: our need, between photos of masked-chic selfies and home-baking triumphs, to express how we really feel.
Not everyone appreciates the intrusion, however, nor does everyone find Effin’ Birds funny. Reynolds takes particular delight at readers, especially bird lovers, who find the memes offensive, and take the time to tell him so.
Me? I can’t help it. I find Effin’ Birds effin’ hilarious. Not all of them, of course. But I routinely find myself sitting alone at my computer laughing out loud at a picture of some bird with some rude caption.
I always expect I’ll get over it, get tired of the crude humour and the weird bird juxtapositions.
But there’s something about those birds — at once aloof and goofy-looking — that make them the ideal canvas for our shared frustrations.
Reynolds agreed to answer some questions for Uncultured about his journey from bird-meme enthusiast to a guy who can now recognize actual birds by name. (Scroll to the bottom for a special offer.)
Just why are these birds so angry?
I don't know if I'd say angry as much as frustrated or resigned or ground down by life. But if you try to map human expressions onto birds, those eyes and their beaks look like someone who is thinking "oh no, what the fuck" all the time.
It sounds like you're a really busy guy these days. I was surprised to read that you have three employees. Are you all in the business of making birds swear?
I have six now! I make all the jokes and handle social media — replies, scheduling, measuring engagement — and then I have a team of people running the store, doing customer service, doing wholesale and fulfilment, stuff like that. Effin’ Birds is my day job.
About how many bird memes have you made so far?
We had to do a big copyright filing in December, so I got to count them — there were over 2,000. I've kept to a pace of one new joke a day since then, so we must be over 2,100 now.
Got a personal favourite?
I like the owl that says SOMEONE SHOULD SHOVE BEES UP YOUR ASS because it's a joke I pillaged from another thing I wrote that will likely never see the light of day.
I know you've been doing this project for awhile but I only came across it in the last year. Have you noticed an uptick during the pandemic?
We thought the pandemic would be bad news for the store, but sales were up year over year. In terms of engagement online, the pandemic and the final year of the Trump presidency in the USA wore a lot of people down, so I was glad to be there to help.
How do you feel now when you see real birds out in the world?
I recognize some birds now, which is weird. I didn't think I'd ever be That Guy.
You seem to take great pleasure from the indignant bird-lovers who don't realize what you're doing is all a joke. But have you also come across birders with a sense of humour who love what you do?
Sure! The thing about Effin’ Birds is that the birds are important to the joke, but it's not important to know about birds to get the joke. There are people who are upset that there's no level of gatekeeping that prevents non-birders from getting the jokes — but I'm not making jokes about birds, I'm making jokes about my own very relatable emotions. There are people out there who are real mad that I'm not making jokes about birds that only ornithologists will get, and how different is that from asking someone to name all the players on a sports team before allowing them to enjoy watching the game?
I spent a decade in a job where my primary goal was to simplify messages so that everyone could relate to them, a skill that gets a lot of use on Effin’ Birds. Deliberately crafting a message so that only a select few can relate to it is utterly alien to me.
Looking ahead, what other wholesome things can you fuck up for us? Why not Effin' Puppies?
Dogs always look happy, so the joke doesn't work with them. I do have three other projects in the works, all of which treat their central subject with very little respect.
Would you say you're more loved or hated for making a career out of this shit?
I don't like to think about it that way. Humour is subjective, and I can name dozens of funny, popular things that I did enjoy, and dozens that I didn't. So I'm never bothered by someone not liking what I do, because I don't like lots of stuff that by any measure is successful and good. What I make can be successful and good and still have lots of people who don't like it.
I do take a special joy, though, in the small number of people who send me DMs about how angry they are that I make a living doing this. They usually talk about how easy it is and what a garbage way to make a living it is — but they're not doing it, so obviously it's not that easy.
What do you do for fun, when you're not inserting profanity where it doesn't belong?
I like to listen to music really loud, and I play the ukulele terribly and work out uke arrangements for songs that should not be played on the ukulele.
Anything else? This is the space you can use to plug your store or an upcoming product.
This fall will see the release of Greetings From Effin’ Birds, a book of 100 tear-out postcards. Plus the Effin’ Birds field guide which came out in 2019 is getting a paperback release and a French adaptation.
I keep plugging along, making new jokes every day, and for people who don't want to be on social media (and who can blame them, it's a cesspool), I started a text messaging service where you can receive Effin’ Birds in your texts every day for free by sending a message to 647-424-3381.
Special offer for Uncultured readers
If you’re as amused by these birds as we are (or you’d like to send a crass curio to someone you hate), you can save 10 percent off Effin’ Birds merch by using the offer code UNCULTURED at effinbirds.com.
If you’re offended by the memes, well, Reynolds would love it if you said so in the comments.