Back in 2010, a paparazzo captured a series of photos of Keanu Reeves that have dogged the actor ever since. Or, that have dogged “Sad Keanu” ever since, to use the moniker that emerged from the snapshots of Reeves looking positively miserable while eating a sandwich on a park bench in solitude. (They inspired so many memes that the image service which published the photos eventually went after a site devoted to compiling them for copyright violation.) More than a decade later, memories of the meme live on—to the point that Stephen Colbert raised the topic when Reeves appeared on The Late Show on Monday night to promote his new film, The Matrix Resurrections.
“So we’re all familiar with Sad Keanu,” the host said, producing a copy of the photo. “I’m just eating a sandwich, man!,” an exasperated Reeves exclaimed in response. “Man, I was eating a sandwich. I was thinking—I had some stuff going on. I was hungry.” Though he can’t exactly blame Colbert for forcing him to explain as much: An illustration based on the meme appears in his new comic book, Brzrkr. “I didn’t know [illustrator Ron Garney] was going to do that, but that’s what he did,” Reeves continued. “So I think it’s kind of meta.” Shrugging, he added, “but that’s life and art, right?”
“Sad Keanu” isn’t the first time images of Reeves have sent the internet into a frenzy, prompting Colbert to ask the actor why he thinks he’s so memeable. “I have no clue, sir,” Reeves replied. Then, he suddenly burst into song, crooning a version of Bill Withers’s “Lean on Me” with the chorus “meme on me / when you’re not strong / I’ll be your friend / I’ll help you carry on.” Add it to the list of ways he’s delighted the internet since embarking on the Matrix Resurrections press tour, from his takedown of NFTs to the photos of him transporting a Christmas tree in a Porsche.