Viral video creators ride wave of online success into publishing

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TORONTO - It started as an off-the-cuff remark between two guys, morphed into a joke-a-day Twitter page, exploded as a viral video and became a bona fide industry player with a red carpet premiere at the recent celeb-studded Toronto International Film Festival.

Now, the online collection of uber-femme quips known as "S--- Girls Say" is a full-colour glossy, hardcover book — is there no limit to where this meme can go?

"We weren't sure of the longevity of the project but it keeps growing," says co-creator and video star Graydon Sheppard, who launched the online sensation with boyfriend and graphic designer Kyle Humphrey.

So far, their quirky sense of humour has drawn more than 30 million views on YouTube, earned endorsements from famous fans including Juliette Lewis, Perez Hilton and Stacy London of "What Not To Wear," and carried the Toronto duo all the way to strategy meetings with Hollywood agents.

It's a sharp turn from Sheppard's original creative ambitions.

The 29-year-old says he studied film hoping to become a director of sombre movie dramas.

Instead, he's become famous for dressing up in drag to portray an insecure brunette who spouts universally recognized bon mots including, "Could you do me a huge favour?" and "I should probably eat something."

"Overnight we were kind of (known as) Toronto comedians and I've never done standup and I hadn't really performed before," says Sheppard, who admits it nevertheless gave him the gumption to briefly pursue a comedy career.

"I've tried to audition for some other things and it didn't go too well. I think I'll just stick to my own roles and cast myself when I can but I'm not counting on being a performer."

Sheppard's failed bid for comic stardom included an audition for the buzzy new Mindy Kaling sitcom, "The Mindy Project." It stars the former "Office" writer and performer as a single doctor struggling to balance her personal and professional life.

Sheppard tried out for the role of a secretary. It did not pan out.

"That part is now (played by) a woman," he notes wryly. "I destroyed a role with my horrible audition."

But the journey certainly won't end here, he hopes, noting that this week's plans include book launch parties in Toronto and Los Angeles. The slick Harlequin publication turns their irreverent phrases into visual gags — "I'm thinking of becoming a vegan," for instance, is expressed via letters that have been meticulously cut out of ham and cheese.

Beyond that the duo is also working on "longer form" projects that could involve film, television or any other medium that will have them.

"We'll never say never but we don't know what's next," says Sheppard, refusing to get into details.

"The Twitter feed kind of took off and even at that point, before the videos we thought, 'Oh, we'd love to make a book out of this somehow.' And then the videos happened and that kind of helped us get to this point where we were able to speak with publishers and actually get something made."

The invitation to screen their fourth "S--- Girls Say" short at the Toronto International Film Festival was a major coup, marking the first time a viral video had made it into the short cuts lineup. Sheppard and Humphrey were also among the heavyweights to helm one of the lectures in the Mavericks section, alongside more widely established heroes Jackie Chan, Johnny Depp and David Geffen.

"It was nice to be kind of validated in that way," says Sheppard.

Humphrey, who plays the anonymous boyfriend only partially seen in many of their clips, notes that mainstream media can't afford to ignore the increasingly popularity of online fare.

"People are turning to the Internet for entertainment more and more so it can't be denied as a place where entertainment lives," he says.

Geographic location: TORONTO, Hollywood, Los Angeles

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