‘Hey Girl, It’s Paul Ryan’: Turning a wonk into a hunk

WASHINGTON -- Before he was Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul D. Ryan was a prominent congressman, an intellectual leader of the GOP and, of all things, a stand-in for actor Ryan Gosling in an Internet meme.

“Hey Girl, It’s Paul Ryan” takes the Wisconsin representative and, with a bit of wordplay, turns him into an Internet sex symbol. Take, for example, this photo of Ryan, with the caption, “Hey girl, you know I can’t inflate our love … and that would just devalue it anyways.”

The site started when Emily Zanotti, an account services director for a Chicago-based communications agency, and two friends, Lyndsey Fifield and Lindsey Dodge, drew a connection between Ryan’s stories of bare-handed “catfish noodling” (popularized by the New York Times) and the pre-existing “Hey Girl” meme featuring Gosling. After making a few images, they decided to start the site in May, never expecting it to be met with such popularity.

Zanotti, the unofficial spokeswoman for the group, made clear that there was no political motivation to the posts.


“There is already a wealth of partisan negativity, spin and misinformation in politics. You can get cheesy jokes about Paul Ryan’s position on any number of issues anywhere,” she said, “We tried to be funny first, and positive, and judged our success on whether our liberal and our conservative friends found it funny.”

Those in on the joke ranged as far as members of Fox Business Channel, who submitted Zanotti’s favorite post, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose submissions “weren’t very well done.”

Ryan’s tepid reaction to the site’s growing popularity, though, put a temporary end to the antics.

“We ended up bringing the site to an early retirement because he gave the impression he was uncomfortable with his newly minted fame as an Internet heartthrob,” Zanotti said, referencing a radio interview in which Ryan discouraged the hosts from driving traffic to the site.

The trio didn’t anticipate that Ryan, who was left off many vice presidential shortlists, would end up as Romney’s choice, but after agreeing they would resurrect the site on the off chance he was chosen, “Hey Girl” made its return Saturday.

And now that the presidential campaign is heating up, the site is once again churning out posts at full steam. And with Ryan’s staff already “very aware” of the meme, it’s unlikely that the congressman will want to turn his back on his beefcake status again. Nor is it likely that “Hey Girl” will be the only meme to take Ryan’s persona and run. The Twitter account @PaulRyanGosling, for example, is already on the attack, highlighting his views on women’s health issues.

morgan.little@latimes.comTwitter: @mlittledc