By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 11, 2005
One morning 2 1/2 years ago, Andy Milonakis woke up with nothing to do. He'd bailed on a friend's Super Bowl party, and when he rolled out of bed and decided to write a song, he quickly had a concept. A very low concept.
"The Super Bowl is gay," he sang into his Sony video recorder, flailing away on a cheap and undersize guitar. "The Super Bowl is gay. Super Bowl, Super Bowl, the Super Bowl is gay."
Milonakis looked like a Ritalin-starved 14-year-old in need of a timeout and a hobby. He wore a rumpled shirt and had a bad case of bed-head. The longer he howled, the more you expected his mom to walk in, scold him and tell him to clean up his room.
"Water, gay. Cologne is gay. DVD players are gay. DVDs are gay. Stray cats are gay. The sky is gay."
"Gay" here was being used in the sixth-grade sense of the word, which translates roughly into "lame." Apparently everything that morning seemed lame to Milonakis -- orange juice, shirts, cottage cheese, cologne, vacuum cleaners, coins, McDonald's, his dad, himself. "We're all gay!" he shouted at the end in a frenzied falsetto.
Maybe you saw this performance. More than a million people did, not long after Milonakis posted it on a Web site called AngryNakedPat.com. "The Super Bowl Is Gay" quickly achieved the sort of viral, pass-it-along acclaim that is possible only on the Internet. Within a month Milonakis had been tracked down at his home in Queens by a dozen or so radio talk shows.
The story should end right there, with Milonakis one of those oh, that guy moments on the inevitable VH1 special, "Remember the '00s!" Instead, he is sitting in a diner near Times Square one recent afternoon, talking up "The Andy Milonakis Show," a deeply twisted half-hour of television that airs on MTV. Yes, through a chain of semi-absurd events, possible only in the age of broadband, the lad got his own show. Well, first he landed a bunch of on-screen cameos with "The Jimmy Kimmel Show," the late-night talker on ABC, and then he got his own show.
And nobody is more amused than the star.
"I've enjoyed it so much, I think, because of the way I got it," he says between bites of a turkey burger. "At one point I was staying in a hotel in Florida, for free, looking off this balcony, on my first assignment for 'The Jimmy Kimmel Show,' all because of the stupidest thing I'd ever done in my life. All because of something so dumb."
He pauses. "That was really gratifying."
He has arrived for this lunch wearing a red tartan-patterned shirt, untucked, standard issue for suburban 10th-graders. He speaks in a slightly stoner monotone, which he peppers with self-mocking stabs at hip-hop lingo. He's polite and a bit chubby.
He is also -- and here comes the stunning part -- 29 years old. No joke. Milonakis is a former tech support staffer at a Manhattan accounting firm, and for a time he took improv classes in Manhattan in hopes of breaking into showbiz. His youthful appearance is neither an act nor a miracle of makeup. It's the result of a "growth hormone problem," as he told the New York Observer a couple years ago, when "Super Bowl" went national. It is a problem he is reluctant to discuss. He does comedy, after all, and there's nothing amusing about a medical condition.
"I just hate the age thing," he says at lunch. "It's just annoying to me because people ask me my age like 100 times a day. I don't even acknowledge it."
The vehicle of Milonakis's fame -- the World Wide Web -- makes pinpointing his date of birth pretty simple, however. But why belabor the matter? Part of the joy of his shtick is the assumption that it springs from the addled mind of a rambunctious high school sophomore, and maybe to some extent it does. There's a bit of Pee-wee Herman in all this, a grown-up playing a juvenile and mugging with abandon. But the Andy Milonakis on MTV doesn't seem like anything as formal as an alter ego. He's more like a teenager who is channeled so effortlessly that you can't imagine it's an act of channeling.
Still, there's something a bit disorienting about hanging out with the guy. It's like the movie "Big" but in reverse; he's an adult in the body of a tweener. You want to ask him questions like "Are you married?" and "Did you go to college?" but those questions seem inappropriate or ridiculous. (The answers are no and no, for the record.) If you were to read the transcript of a conversation with him, you'd assume he was a grown-up. But face to face, his adulthood is very hard to get your head around, and every once in a while, over lunch, he says things like "These onion rings taste like Satan's bellybutton," a thought you wouldn't hear from many people on the cusp of 30.
"When I first met him, I didn't know what to make of him," says Kimmel, calling from Los Angeles. He co-created and co-produces Milonakis's show. "I didn't know how old he was, I didn't know if he was on drugs. And I still don't know what to make of him."
He's doesn't sound like he's kidding. "There are a lot of mysteries about Andy. Until very recently, he didn't have a checking account. He must be the only person in America with a TV show who doesn't have a checking account. He's a weird kid."
But . . . he's not actually a kid.
"We'll see if he's an adult," Kimmel says. "I'll believe it when he has a kid. Until then, I don't know."
Kids don't seem imminent in Milonakis's life. Asked if the ladies treat him better now that he's semi-famous, he laughs a little uncomfortably, the way any 14-year-old would. "The ladies," he says, putting on his fake Lothario voice. Then he adds: "I was in a bar recently and there were some women there who asked me to sign my signature in places that would make my mother blush."Cats or Dogs?
Those familiar with his Super Bowl rant will know what to expect from "The Andy Milonakis Show." It is so infantile and so winning that you can't believe anyone had the nerve to put it on the air. It looks as if it cost 45 cents to produce and Milonakis is in nearly every frame.
Much of the time he's swooping down on strangers in the streets of New York and baffling them with non sequiturs and clumsy freestyle rap. In a segment called "Weird Compliments" he walks up to an elderly woman and asks, "Is it me or did you just get out of a bathtub full of rainbows?" In another, he asks a stranger to interview him, helpfully handing over a list of questions.
"What do you like better, cats or dogs?" the man asks, reading the handout.
"Uh," says Milonakis, feigning deep unease. "I don't feel comfortable telling you that. Can you ask me the next question?"
Other bits are just Milonakis in his apartment, dreaming up pranks with an assist from various oddballs, none of them professional actors, who seem to have shuffled in from David Lynch's "Twin Peaks." In one, Milonakis drapes a sash that reads "Coupon" on a gray-haired woman, then sics her on a Chinese-food deliveryman. "Coupon, coupon," she intones, robotically moving toward the door. Deliveryman retreats, totally freaked out.
Not all of this works, and some of it falls flat or seems to be the kind of thing you'd need mind-expanding drugs to grasp. Like the skit where Milonakis pretends to tearfully grieve for a slice of lunch meat he has named "Dr. Curly." That's just perplexing. But when it's funny, the comedy is somehow both childish and darkly subversive. Which is to say the humor is as singular as Milonakis.
He was raised in Westchester County and has one sister, who is older. In high school, looking younger than his classmates could have been a huge liability, but his mother never heard him complain about it.
"He was a really outgoing kid," says Kathleen Milonakis. "Always wanted to go to parties, had a lot of friends."
If there was a joke to be made about his appearance, Milonakis made it before anyone else. "Humor is a great defense mechanism," he says. "If you're a serious, fat, young-looking kid, you're not going to be the most popular guy in high school." Growing up, he watched others tortured psychologically by peers, but says it never happened to him. "Self-deprecation is an awesome way to steal people's thunder. You make fun of yourself, people like you."
Studying the guts of computers had been a passion for a while, and after high school, when the Internet boom arrived, he found a way to marry his geekdom to his inner ham. When he wasn't at that tech support job at the accounting firm, he posted video vignettes, shot by himself at home, to AngryNakedPat.com, a site started by a friend.
"It was a dumb hobby," he recalls. "We had a fan base of like 500 people and a message board, so like 10 or 15 people would write to say what they thought about it. And I was fine with that."
By 2002, he'd made dozens of these little films, and he was ready to try something else, something more immediate and public. He started taking classes with the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improv theater with a pretty extensive comedy curriculum. The morning he filmed "Super Bowl," the day of the game, Jan. 26, 2003, he hadn't made a video in weeks. At first he felt rusty.
"When I first started singing it, I wasn't doing it with energy," he recalls. "But you've got to sell it. So I just went crazy."
He snipped two minutes out of the video -- the original is six minutes long -- posted it and didn't think about it again. A few weeks went by and someone e-mailed to say, surprise, the song is all over the Internet. He checked the counter that tabulates hits to AngryNakedPat and discovered that 4,000 visitors had downloaded "Super Bowl" that day. The next day it was 8,000. Then it doubled and doubled, until the hits reached 100,000 in a single 24-hour span.
"The server company charged us like $3,000 because we went over our bandwidth," he recalls.
That all happened over the course of a month. Just as the mass downloading and radio calls tapered off, an e-mail from the Kimmel show popped into his in box. At first he thought it was spam, but it was a producer urging him to call right away. He did as he was told. It was 2 a.m.A Star Is Born
Kimmel, it turns out, was instantly smitten by "Super Bowl." "I've always liked things that are intentionally stupid," he says by phone. "And this was so intentionally stupid. His comedy is something that probably would have been around a long time ago if kids had access to video cameras and editing machines and the Internet."
Kimmel played "Super Bowl" on his late-night talk show and told viewers, "The kid is going to be a star." The next night, he played another Milonakis production and announced, "Let me tell you, Leno, if you get this kid before us I will beat your face in. I swear to God."
Kimmel soon was sending Milonakis around the country to do prankish man-on-the-street interviews. Spending less and less time in the office, Milonakis was eventually fired by his accounting-firm bosses, a parting that he describes as totally amicable. They were tickled he was on TV, but they needed him around full time. With the money from those Kimmel gigs, he moved to Los Angeles, which is where he and Kimmel dreamed up a pilot to pitch to MTV. The go-ahead took months and it took even more time to put together the first season, which ends Sunday.
"It's the hardest job I've ever had," says Milonakis, who is still tinkering in post-production with one remaining episode. "When we're filming, it's like 16-hour days."
The upside is fame that Milonakis still finds surprising, given its no-brow origins. Kids are calling his mom at home, day and night. ("They say things like, 'Are you really Andy's mom?' And they want a photo," his mom says.) Recently he dipped a toe in the TV mainstream, turning up as a guest correspondent for the "Today" show, taping a report in Ohio about a bar sport called corn-holing -- you toss beanbags filled with corn into a hole, and giggle about the double-entendre name. Milonakis interviewed the competitors. ("Would you kiss an old man named George on the head for this sport?")
When the taped segment was over, the show cut live to Katie Couric, Matt Lauer and Milonakis, all of whom who were standing outside the "Today" studio in Manhattan. Couric was giggling. She seemed amused and baffled.
"What are you?" she asked Milonakis.
"I'm a robot from the future," he said.