Editor's Note:

By Tom Shroder
Sunday, May 31, 2009

April Witt began the reporting on today's cover story by surveying local people who had hit it big on YouTube. One gave exercise advice, another make-up tips. One, with the screen name makemebad35, did lewd, crude bits that appeal to thousands of young men. After watching a bit where the poster honks a car horn with his rear end, April decided to go with Brandon Hardesty, whom she described as "a sweet young man, a fresh, original talent." Brandon specialized in parody reenactments of scenes from his favorite movies, in which he played all roles, fortified only by silly props. "If he gets the right break," April said, "he can be the next Jim Carrey."

At the first interview, Brandon took April straight downstairs. "It's like a miracle down in that basement," April said. "I felt like I was 12 again, down in my friend's basement. I expected his mother to come down any second with Twinkies or Ding Dongs."

Brandon, who had rarely allowed anyone to watch him create video, not only invited April to stay, but asked her to play a part in a scene from "The Devil's Advocate." He first watched a scene from the real film on DVD a few times, and said, "Okay, props!" He painted on huge Al Pacino eyebrows and grabbed a belt with a big buckle to wear as a medallion. He learned his lines instantly. After one take, he reviewed the result. If he missed an inflection or hand gesture, he did another take and reviewed again. At one point, watching the real movie, he noticed a "hot babe" walk onscreen near the end of the scene -- the devil's girlfriend. "Wanna drink?" she asks, puffing seductively on a cigarette.

Brandon turned to April. "Since you're here, you should do that!"

April sincerely didn't want to. She wasn't wearing any make-up, and she shared that fear of the spotlight so common to print reporters. But she also knew that as a journalist she was constantly asking people to do things they didn't want to do -- tell her a secret, show her a document, let her into their lives. "So I felt if someone asks you to do something you don't want to do for a change, you should do it."

Brandon handed her a cigarette -- actually a piece of chalk -- then coached her on how to deliver the line. "I did my 50-year-old reporter's version and thought it was so bad he wouldn't put it in," April said. "But he did, and there I am on YouTube now, in all my glory: hair in a bun, track warm-up suit on, ready to be poked fun at on the Internet."

In a review of the piece, one viewer snorted, "Is that Brandon's mother?"

"If I hadn't known arguing with someone on the Internet is a lose-lose proposition," April told me, "I would have said, 'No, but I would be honored if I were.' "

Tom Shroder can be reached at shrodert@washpost.com.

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