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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pizza Intern is all of us, in our overworked, awkward and hungry glory

Up on Capitol Hill, the president’s former fixer testified before a House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday. Michael Cohen talked about hush money to cover up a liaison with an adult-film star. He talked about a president who manipulates his estimated wealth to suit his purposes. He talked about a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer. He called the president a racist, a liar and a con man. It was dirty stuff, coming from the mouth of a man considered equally dirty by President Trump’s allies.

Then there was Pizza Intern.

During a live report of Cohen’s testimony outside the committee room, CBS political correspondent Ed O’Keefe was photobombed by an unwitting young man with a hunger so large that it had no boundaries — or situational awareness, like the student who tried to squeeze by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to fetch some ranch dressing. The man is seen digging into what looks like a rectangular box of &pizza. He takes a big, ravenous bite, and before he can even savor the slice, he turns his head hard left, with an expression that is the textbook definition of “deer in the headlights.” It would appear that someone, maybe a CBS producer, told the man he was an unwanted background diner in O’Keefe’s report.

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The man, quickly dubbed the Pizza Intern for his naivete, became an instant online celebrity. Some called him, with both admiration and hyperbole, a “hero” and a “legend.” The tweet sent by Mike Uehlein — who describes himself as a “PR and comms pro” — has been viewed more than 1.6 million times in the hours since Uehlein posted the five-second clip from a flat-screen TV.

Michael Lastoria, co-founder and chief executive of &pizza, confirmed the identity of Pizza Intern, who is not an intern after all. He’s a Georgetown University undergraduate who was on Capitol Hill, according to a Washington Examiner story, to see history unfold. Lastoria and &pizza are using only the student’s first name, Thomas, as part of the company’s promotions of Pizza Intern, but Inside Edition has revealed his full name, Thomas Connelly.

Connelly did not immediately respond to messages left on his social media accounts.

The responses to Connelly/Pizza Intern’s hallway repast have ranged widely. Some consider him a kind of wonk-class hero. Others view him as an object of pity. They want to fill his empty, overworked world with all the pizza he can stuff into his face.

&pizza, the local chain whose slice the Pizza Intern inhales like a last meal, has embraced the Internet’s latest instant celeb. The company has already developed a Hallway Pizza, a pie with a decidedly spicy bent. There’s even a GoFundMe campaign page, started by someone named Calvin Billien but posted under &pizza, and it has already raised $190 (at the time of this story) to keep the Pizza Intern buried in pies. The Washington Post verified with &pizza that this is indeed the company’s GoFundMe campaign.

Connelly “was kind enough to text us the details and so we offered the pie today to celebrate his newfound Internet stardom,” Lastoria wrote in an email exchange.

The fundraising campaign is part of &pizza’s efforts to capitalize on Pizza Intern. The company has changed its Twitter avatar to the Pizza Intern and has been tweeting out various memes under the #hallwaypizza hashtag. It’s further confirmation that, in Washington, there is no viral moment that cannot be turned into a marketing opportunity.

Lastoria said that &pizza will continue the campaign long “enough to keep the humor alive. Like most things on the Internet, it will be gone tomorrow or, more likely, by the time we fall asleep tonight.”

The Pizza Intern’s appeal is not hard to understand. He’s not a hero. He’s not a hard-luck case in need of a fundraising campaign. He’s just another Washingtonian who logs long hours and doesn’t have a moment to sit down and eat a proper meal. But more than that, he’s a symbol of something vulnerable — a real hunger captured on camera in all its youthful awkwardness — in the middle of this ruthless, inhumane era in which we Americans find ourselves. The Pizza Intern is the lost puppy we all want to save. The Pizza Intern is us.

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