“After years of creative work, I finally get recognised for fucking memes,” says the director, whose new IDEA book, LOVE-A-LIKES, launches at Dover Street Market this week
On Glenn Kitson’s Instagram – where he’s cultivated a formidable following with his signature brand of lookalike memes – one post, in particular, sees the filmmaker turn his cutting humour on himself. It’s a screenshot from LadBible, showing a shirtless man who’s just been tattooed with a Stone Island patch on a night out, and is already fearing the effects on his love life. “Glenn Kitson is a Bolton-born director and original co-founder of magazine and creative studio The Rig Out,” reads Kitson’s caption. “Now he is known for being an attention-seeking bellend on Instagram who used to make quite good memes but gave it up to pursue a career in bottom-of-the-barrel lookalike bollocks.”
Maybe Kitson is being too hard on himself, though. After all, that “bottom-of-the-barrel lookalike bollocks” is the basis for his much-anticipated IDEA book, LOVE-A-LIKES, which will get a super-exclusive launch at Dover Street Market on October 13, as part of the store’s Frieze Week celebrations. It’s also the main attraction for his growing online fanbase, which counts members as diverse as Pam Hogg, Kate Beckinsale, Alan Carr, and David Thewlis (for Kitson, the latter is a particular point of pride).
Originally posted in the name of fun on the side of his commercial filmmaking career, Kitson’s memes draw upon a similarly broad range of British pop cultural icons, from Morrissey, Yungblud and Robbie Williams, to Alan Partridge, Limmy, and just about every Coronation Street cast member. In case you’re unfamiliar with the format: each photo comes with a caption containing a potted biography of someone who looks just enough like its subject to spark a faint glimmer of recognition. Oh yeah, Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner does look a bit like Begbie from Trainspotting.
The humour is often rooted in ridiculous pairings (see: Rod Hull and Emu as Charles and Camilla) or the blurring of the boundaries on the spectrum of “high” and “low” culture. “I know which end I’m at,” Kitson says, with a laugh. “I’m fully aware of where I am on that scale.” Arguably, though, this blurriness is at the very centre of LOVE-A-LIKES, a highly exclusive art book filled with throwaway internet memes.
Here, in his own words, Kitson talks about turning to memes to cheer people up during lockdown, not fitting into the art world, and getting kicked off Twitter for bullying the EDL.
“I used to be a stylist. Lot of sportswear, streetwear, things like that. Lot of menswear. And then I used to have a magazine called The Rig Out. Basically, it was just a few friends putting some editorial work together. We started doing films for each one [and] we ended up catching the early wave of making content for brands. And then I got a job with RSA films [Ridley Scott’s production company] and I was there for a few years, then just started directing myself, making ads, commercials, still doing fashion. Now I do a lot of ads. I’ve just shot the ITV World Cup campaign. I’ve got a feature in development with BFI and Film Four. So that’s the day job basically.
“I always had a healthy Instagram account. I always had a few thousand, because of work stuff. And I’ve always had a sense of humour, taking the piss out of myself, or a brand, or streetwear in general. I used to have quite a lot of followers on Twitter, people like Kathy Burke and Bob Mortimer, who were my heroes, but I got banned for hate speech, for bullying. I was bullying the EDL. The English Defence League. I mean, they’re always banging on about free speech anyway, those dickheads. Then they all ganged up on me and got me booted off for swearing at them. I was a bit devastated by that. But since I got booted off Twitter, I finally wrote my first feature script. I was a lot more productive after that.
“I was putting nice, fancy photography on Instagram, film photography, medium format, 35mm. Everyone does that. There’s loads of it on Instagram. It’s nice, it’s beautiful, but I just thought in lockdown, no one wants to see work. They just want to have a laugh, because everyone was kind of depressed and a bit down. So I just thought fuck it, you know what, I’m just gonna post memes instead. I used to make a lot, usually having a dig at the Tories or Piers Morgan or whoever, and every so often I’d put a lookalike on.”
“I find it funny that after years of creative work, I finally get recognised for fucking memes. A lookalike that got loads of traction really early on was Rodney from Only Fools and Horses as Ryan Gosling from Drive. What I find mad is how many Americans are following me, because my humour is so parochial and British, and you know, I’m no spring chicken, so a lot of my references are quite old too. They’re all like, old sitcoms, loads of Coronation Street and EastEnders. That British culture is so iconic, and very nostalgic. It’s a shared language between a lot of people. I think a lot of Americans, they might just think it’s daft.
“I’ll be the first to meme myself. It’s all done – unless it’s the Tories and all that – it’s all done with love. That’s why I called the book LOVE-A-LIKES, because unless it’s someone I really hate – and then I might be a bit mean – it is done with fun and love. A lot of my following used to be jacket lads and Stone Island, football hooliganism and casual culture. And so I’m always ripping into it, because it’s funny. But only because I love it too, because I’m obsessed with it myself.
“I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider, I guess. I felt a bit outside of all the arty stuff. I’ve always felt it’s a closed shop, a little bit. This book’s coming out for Frieze, which is mad; if I tried to do it, to get something involved with Frieze or Dover Street, it just wouldn't have worked [laughs]. I’ve been a fan of IDEA books for ages, so when they approached me, I was like, ‘you what?’. But they’ve obviously seen something that maybe I didn’t see myself.”
Glenn Kitson will sign copies of LOVE-A-LIKES at Dover Street Market on the evening of Thursday October 13, as part of the store’s Frieze Week big night out.