I don’t talk s–t, I just talk normal vocabulary,” says Nik Richie, CEO of CELEB and one of the godfathers of gossip-driven digital media, on episode 38 of BADNWZ, a podcast hosted by Tal Cooperman and Matt Crist, released May 9th.
Richie got his start in media in 2007 when he founded the website The Dirty, first known as Dirty Scottsdale. Of The Dirty days, he says, “It was me poking fun in that MySpace era when social media was just starting. The Dirty was before Instagram. And if you look at all the things that have spawned off—Reddit, Facebook. [I was] the first person to hold a mirror to society when everyone had privacy.”
Disrupting the Internet
To be a celebrity in the early 2000s was like being the popular kid in school, but on a larger scale. Back then paparazzi still had to snag the photos—versus celebrities posting on their own platforms. However, that all changed when social media took hold. Richie saw an opportunity within this new world and made the most of it. He explains to Cooperman and Crist, “When they realized they couldn’t have privacy, they kind of just gave up and said ‘okay, let’s go. Let me put all of my family pictures up, let me say who I am, let me show off my fake lifestyle’ you know? Which gave me more content.”
Richie illustrates the process behind how posts came together at The Dirty. “What I would do is come up with my phrases in my mind—whatever I was thinking, I would type my one liners to a submission. And the submissions were from all over the world.” He shares, “These major markets would get bigger and bigger and bigger and what happened was girls in these smaller markets figured out how to submit themselves to become the Paris Hilton in their market. So it got to a point where the site got so big that even if I talked negatively about a person, they’d instantly become famous in their town.” Describing these people as “dirty celebrities,” Richie would give each of them a nickname, which basically became their new image, allowing them to live a life in the spotlight.
“It’s the Closest Thing to Playing God”
The power that came behind running a site that received 10 million visitors and 1,000 to 2,000 submissions daily was greater than any human could single handedly control. However, Richie most definitely tried. “It’s the closest thing to playing God. With the hit of an ‘enter’ button I could either end your life or make your life. And, if I didn’t like you, you were done,” he reveals. “There was a bigger spirit to what I was trying to do but the reality was, the numbers, I couldn’t manage the numbers. It was getting overwhelming to the point that I couldn’t control the negativity. Because, there’s a part of it where it got so negative that it consumed my life.”
It became a challenge for Richie to decipher the truth from lies and genuine character versus who only wanted to boost their fame.
Richie exposes the truth about the confidence and vulnerability people gain when being a computer screen distance apart from who they’re communicating with. “In all actuality you don’t really know who anyone is until you see who they are behind a computer. Because they just let go. Because they think there’s some sort of wall that protects them. And that’s not the case. This is way worse. You’re basically giving yourself up to the world,” he explains. Richie shares a story about the power behind the ‘enter’ button and when he watched it happen in real time; “I was doing an appearance in Toronto and I saw this chick, I’m like ‘Oh my God, that’s the same chick, let me see what happens.’ Literally, timed it, it was the most insane thing ever. It was like 26 seconds, her phone was blowing up and she was crying, like literally from five feet away.”
He admits to getting consumed by the amount of power he acquired through his site, however, the grounding moment came for Richie when he began to build a family of his own. “I don’t think until I started having a family and started stepping back and became a real person that I kind of saw, like, ‘Oh s–t. [This is] not me.’”
Nightlife has shifted as generations change, with real-time content becoming more important to share than a good time. Cooperman, Crist and Richie dissect club culture in the present day where all people worry about is who will be there, who will see them there, what the vibe is like, who is performing and so on, rather than just going for the pleasure of the party. “People going out these days is just people telling their story in the now and posting about it right away,” says Cooperman. This brought Richie to discuss the value in finding who your real core audience is when creating.
CELEB Magazine Is Born
Following The Dirty, Richie sold the website and has since moved forward. He opens up to Cooperman and Crist about his four-year hiatus from the media world and, after going back to school and finding a new sense of purpose amid the pandemic, he founded CELEB Magazine.
“My goal with CELEB at the very beginning was to say ‘okay, how do I take social media and do this in a reverse psychology way?’” he says. Richie wants to get people engaged and create a sense of hospitality on the internet. Something that he explains to be “the living breathing dinosaur,” which he stresses the importance of keeping alive in order to “save the world.” “I know it sounds crazy. But without it you’re talking about digital communication, which is the worst form of communication because you’re falling in love with something that’s not real.”
Continuing to speak fresh air into our direction, Richie elaborates; “To me, I was like ‘okay I’m gonna start CELEB and I’m gonna gear this toward bringing celebrity to community.’ And, when I say that, I mean keeping people in the vanity or spotlight enough to maintain a higher level of hospitality because through COVID what we have learned is the competition is gone. And now we have to come together and hospitality has to be one so we all rise together. And if that is a possibility then we all win.”
Proving that he’s risen for the right reasons, Richie shares “My goal and my vision is using my leverage smarts to bring a cultural vibe to hospitality. To have people understand that we need it more than anything in life because it’s our key to happiness. And if we can all work together to be friends again instead of competitors, then we can crush.”
What to Expect
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Richie describes CELEB as “the dream team” who’s now going to “take over the media.” He continues, “I can actually use my marketing genius. I can use everything that I know, and all my knowledge of all my years. … We’ve already done this. And we’ve done it to perfection but when we did it before we were blind. We saw good things, we saw bad things. Now we know what the good things are. So, we are 10 times more potent. What I’ve done in seven months [with CELEB], it took me five years to do at The Dirty. So I’m so excited for CELEB.”
Richie says, “you’re going to start seeing more elements as we grow that are going to be hybrids of different models.” The app will have all of CELEB’s stories along with his new travel show, featuring life in obscure places and the people that define those locales.
To say the least, Richie has officially come out of retirement with a new spirit, (one that “can’t be bought”) and is ready to create a resurgence of his captivating energy and work ethic to take over the media, yet again.