Nick Lavallee was feeling slightly burnt-out last year, and was questioning his place in the local comedy scene, when he decided it was time to apply his talents to something different and new: creating humorous, custom-made action figures of characters from iconic TV shows, bands, and movies, and then posting pictures of them on social media under a pseudonym.
Little did the New Hampshire native know at the time how quickly his side project, dubbed “Wicked Joyful,” would catch hold — and with it bring a cascade of fans that includes the likes of comedian Bill Burr, the band Weezer, and “Full House” star John Stamos.
“It has just grown exponentially," said Lavallee, 40. “Every time I post a new figure online, it just seems to snowball."
Lavallee, a longtime musician and comedian, cobbled together his first homemade toy around the start of 2019, an idea he said was ignited by the works of “Hands of Doom" and “danobanano," two similar artists who are popular on Instagram.
“That’s kind of how I was inspired,” he said. “I had been performing music and comedy for half of my life, and I wanted to try something different. And I was inspired by those guys.”
His process works like this: Lavallee scouts flea markets and thrift shops for old, discarded action figures like G.I. Joes, so he can take them home and transform them into new characters.
Once he secures a toy, he sets to work in what he calls his “nerd cave” — a place in his house that’s packed with VHS tapes and 80s and 90s nostalgia where he paints and modifies each toy.
When the painting and piecing together of a toy is complete, Lavallee makes special packaging for them. Using Photoshop, he creates customized backgrounds that describe what a particular action figure is all about.
He then prints out the descriptions and applies them to a piece of cardboard backing. From there, he places the toy into a plastic bubble and secures it to the front of the package. It can take anywhere from six to 12 hours to complete a particular piece.
“There really is no difference between the packages I assemble and something you might buy at Target or a major retailer,” he said. “But I see these as works of art. It’s a blend of pop culture that’s wrapped in a nostalgic bow.”
The final stage of the process is perhaps the most simple and rewarding, however: posting pictures of his creations online, and sharing them with the world.
“It’s honestly turning what could be trash into treasure,” said Lavallee, who has a day job in media production. “I’m giving old toys a new purpose. And anything I make, it has to be fun.”
Lavallee has produced dozens of action figures this year, each one in a limited quantity. But the toy that recently put him on the map was his New England-themed rendition of “Mayfield,” the ex-Imperial sharpshooter from the “Star Wars” spin-off “The Mandalorian,” played by Massachusetts comedian Bill Burr.
Lavallee’s piece features a bug-eyed Burr inside a plastic bubble, with descriptions on the packaging that sound like they were plucked from a Ben Affleck movie.
“[Expletive] Stah Wahs: Mayfield The Shahp Shootah," the package says, imitating a Boston accent. “Wicked Awesome!”
It comes with two accessories: a Dunkin’ coffee and a “blastah" — Bostonspeak for an intergalactic weapon.
“The fact that Bill Burr has that New England accent in the official Star Wars canon combines three things that I love: Stars Wars, comedy, and my New England roots," he said. "The fact that I was able to package that all into something very tangible, that’s what makes doing this so fun.”
Earlier this month, Burr retweeted a picture of the action figure from his personal Twitter account, bringing wider recognition to Wicked Joyful. It’s been shared hundreds — if not thousands — of times by other accounts since.
Burr’s not the only star who has shone a light on Lavallee’s project.
In July, Lavallee tweeted a picture of an action figure he made of “Uncle Jesse," one of the main characters played by John Stamos in the 80s-and-90s sitcom “Full House."
“Where’s mine?” Stamos tweeted to Lavallee when he saw the figure online. “Send me one and I’ll keep Warner Bros legal off your tail (kidding of course).”
Lavallee summed up the experience like this: “How was my 2019? John frickin’ Stamos retweeted me.”
He has also received accolades from comedian Chris D’Elia, for a “fun pack” he made based on D’Elia’s joke about rapper Eminem; and Streeter Seidell, a staff writer for Saturday Night Live, after he made characters from one of the show’s sketches.
Other celebrities have even purchased figures directly from Lavallee.
For Christmas, Alexis Novak, a comedy writer and girlfriend of Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine, reached out to Lavallee and asked him to make a custom figure of her boyfriend. Valentine later shared a picture of the toy made in his likeness to Instagram.
“Killed it thanks man!,” Valentine wrote to Lavallee, after receiving the gift from Novak, which included a tiny guitar and the words “Masters of the Strings” on the packaging.
And earlier this year, after Lavallee made a toy of Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer of Weezer, the band’s official archivist and historian, Karl Koch, asked if he could get his hands on it.
In an e-mail to the Globe, Koch said his current work for the band is being their “fan club president and social media guy/webmaster,” so he always has eyes and ears on the online Weezer community.
“I keep an ever-growing archive of Weezer stuff dating back to the earliest days,” he said. “So when Nick’s figure hit my radar, I was definitely interested in it.”
It could end up in a “future traveling Weezer museum,” he said.
While Lavallee credits celebrities for giving his project a much-needed boost, he said it was his decision to get sober four years ago that has really sparked his creativity, and motivated him to pursue different avenues like Wicked Joyful.
“I love everything about it,” he said. “Instead of cracking a beer after a long day at work, I’m relaxing in my nerd cave, and painting tiny plastic men that are going to make a whole bunch of people laugh. To me, that is pure joy."
With each new piece this year, Lavallee has refined his newfound craft. And as 2020 rolls around, he plans to take the project even further.
“I think I have found my niche. I feel like this is going to become my creative focus. It’s taken off faster than anything I’ve done creatively before,” said Lavallee. “I want to create these pieces that bring me joy, and let the images of the figures find their way to like-minded people. Together we can have a cult of fun. We can be ambassadors of joy.”
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Ultimate fahkin’ yankee swap gift 🎅🏽 Tag a friend & follow @wickedjoyful 🎄 @gronk #gronk @patriots #newengland #yankeeswap #stahwahs #boston #newhampshire #wickedawesome #bostonaccent #wickedjoyful #christmasmemes #bostonmemes #maine #mainememes #redsox #newenglandmemes #patriots #nepatriots #dunkins Courtesy photo of @producermattamp by @dawnkingston
May 4, 2019
@billburr I’m sure 100,000 people have tweeted this at you but just in case pic.twitter.com/7xbrJfRndi— Neil MacEachern (@nrm8821) December 19, 2019
Incredible https://t.co/2rZRn65R5k— Streeter Seidell (@streetseidell) October 18, 2019
Where's mine ? Send me one and I'll keep Warner Bros legal off your tail (kidding of course) https://t.co/lz72ynyV5R— John Stamos (@JohnStamos) July 17, 2019
Steve Annear can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.