Trying to ride viral videos to wider fame
For a couple of comedians, Jimmy Craig and Justin Parker don’t joke around much. Not, that is, when discussing their craft.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously, we just take this very seriously,” says Parker, wondering aloud whether he should emulate the comic Louis C.K., who Parker says cracks a joke “every other line” in interviews.
“This is what we want,” he continues. “This is what we want to do with our lives.”
They’re hoping they get that chance after the recent triumph of “Cat-Friend vs. Dog-Friend,” a sweetly funny video imagining what it would be like if friends acted like pets. The clip, shot in their hometown of Billerica and posted in late November, went viral, collecting nearly 7 million YouTube plays in its first month and a segment on the “Today” show.
But in an age of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it online fame, how do two 27-year-old dreamers parlay that success and newfound recognition into steady comedy careers? That’s the puzzle they are attempting to solve through developing a full toolbox of skills, consistently generating quality material and, of course, keeping the phone close.
Before Craig and Parker, who met in high school, started working at popularity, they stumbled upon it. In 2007, after goofing around making “a bunch of really, really bad” videos and some relatively popular techno remixes featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice, they shaved a friend’s head, slapped a jock strap on him, and painted him green to look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. As they hosed him off afterward, they kept the tape running while he executed amateur karate kicks in the spray. Craig says they laughed so hard off-camera that the hosing became the main point of the video.
The crude finished product, “turtleboy,” was picked up by MTV, VH1, and the BBC. A Japanese network licensed the clip for five years. It was the duo’s first taste of widespread video success, says Craig.
The same year that “turtleboy” broke, Craig graduated from Emmanuel College and moved to Los Angeles, where he dipped his toes into improv comedy and gained experience creating Internet content at the Independent Comedy Network. There, he produced Web comics that helped forge a relationship with the humor mega-site Cracked.com.
Craig moved home to Billerica and reunited with Parker to give comedy an honest go under the moniker they had adopted in college, Fatawesome. Parker had just received an engineering degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and lacked the savvy Craig brought from the entertainment industry. But he quickly got up to speed, says Tim Speziale, a friend of both since high school who appears in “Cat-Friend vs. Dog-Friend.”
“Jimmy kind of started with most of the knowledge of filmmaking and shooting and how to use their equipment, and Justin was kind of a raw comedy mind. Now it’s a nice balance,” Speziale says. “Justin has developed a lot in the filmmaking aspect. They both made each other grow into what they’ve become.”
To pay the bills and sharpen their skills, Craig and Parker formed a two-man corporate video production company called Methodloft in January 2011, partnering with McDougall Interactive, a marketing agency that was seeking an in-house video team that would work without a salary in exchange for office space and a client pool.
“Immediately it was a match made in heaven. . . . They were looking to keep their overhead low because they were quitting jobs to go live the dream and do the viral stuff and we didn’t have to pay salaries,” says company president John McDougall. “It was a nice way to have a win-win for both of us.”
Along with bringing the duo some clients and revenue, the Methodloft connection with McDougall allows the pair to work together and innovate for Fatawesome while at their day job, Craig says. They also regularly flesh out ideas during the 40-minute commute between their homes in Billerica and the office in Danvers.
“Sometimes they might blow us off a little bit and we’re like, OK, they’re kind of focused on their thing,” McDougall says. “We give them the flexibility and try not to overload them knowing that there will be waves of time when they’re making a new viral video. We try not to overwhelm them with the corporate stuff.”
But they can also combine the two sides of their operation, and inject humor into videos for some of their more serious clients, Parker says, likening it to notoriously lighthearted Super Bowl ads.
“Those are basically comedy sketches with a Budweiser logo at the end,” he says.
“We spend most of our time thinking about stuff that will do well online, and that’s something that will apply to any business,” Craig adds, drawing a parallel between comedy video success and corporate projects. “We have the corporate side, but Fatawesome is our baby.”
And that baby has continued to grow and post huge numbers. Well-worn skits like “Spider-Man’s Less Impressive Superpower” (sewing his own costume) and “Video Games From the Bad Guys’ Perspective” helped build their comedy brand, while a documentary-style video about a man (Parker) shouldering the burden of the world’s largest penis remains their biggest YouTube success to date, garnering more than 7½ million plays and counting.
“Cat-Friend vs. Dog-Friend” has not yet topped those stats, but it’s already done more for their careers. Craig and Parker now have professional management based in Beverly Hills, and they’re penning a spec script for the Comedy Central series “Workaholics.” They’ve also received interest in a pilot of original material. Since the people-acting-like-animals video was featured on the Huffington Post, Forbes.com, and “Today,” the pair reports it has had calls scheduled nearly every day with producers, writers, production companies, and development teams.
“Recently we’ve been getting a lot of guidance from people telling us what specific areas we should focus our attention on,” Craig says. “The majority of the calls have been introductions to people that have said they want to see our scripts as they’re finished.”
In addition to opening doors in Hollywood and New York, “Cat-Friend vs. Dog-Friend” also earned them some recognition in their own households.
“You tell your parents you got 6 million plays on YouTube and they go, ‘Oh cool. Don’t all videos on YouTube have like 6 million plays?” Craig jokes. “But you get on the ‘Today’ show. . .”
“That’s been the best part of this, having your parents acknowledge that you’re on the ‘Today’ show,” Parker adds.
Now that they’ve got the attention of their families and the entertainment industry – not to mention, the attention of about 7 million other people — they just need to decide how and when to take the next step. And whether that step will require relocating.
Louis C.K. is actually a good comparison for what the Fatawesome duo hopes to accomplish. On his wildly popular FX series, “Louie,” the Newton native is in full control: writing, editing, producing, directing, and of course, starring in the title role. Through their work at Methodloft and in Fatawesome, Craig and Parker have been able to develop a similar suite of professional skills, which they hope someday lands them their own program.
“We’ve kind of been able to do everything ourselves so we feel that’s what we can offer a network,” Parker says. “We can produce, write, and star in something, and in this day and age when they’re trying to make shows that are cheap, we feel that would be something they’d be interested in.”
They’ve already written a complete pilot and scrapped it, but Craig says one idea for their show is to make a “less cheesy” horror comedy in the vein of “Tales From the Crypt.” They believe they could even produce their own pilot or a film in Billerica if they had the capital. On Fatawesome’s website, the biography section doesn’t dance around this hope, plainly stating, “Please give us money to make a TV show or a movie. This is our job and there’s no backup plan.”
At this point, some would advise Craig and Parker to quit their day jobs and move to Hollywood or New York while there is still a wave to be caught. But from the comfort of their home terrain, where they’ve had success so far, the duo doesn’t feel the need to make that move just yet.
“If we got staffed in a writers’ room, it’s not a debate. We have to go,” Craig says, noting that TV shows generally hire their staff writers in the spring, so keeping tabs through the early part of the year is of the utmost importance. “For now, it’s cool we’ve been able to do everything from Billerica.”
And being local at times comes with some benefits. In addition to having a pool of willing friends for video projects, those people also help keep them grounded, says Craig’s fiancée, Jenna Dupre, who’s known both since high school.
“Jimmy and I were out this weekend and somebody recognized him [from his videos] and we made fun of him for that, not letting it go to his head,” she says with a laugh.
But if they do get beckoned to New York or California, they’ll have plenty of support, Dupre says.
“For both of them there is no other path,” she says. “It’s not just a job for them, it’s like a lifestyle.”
Parker’s girlfriend, Michelle Pruchniewski, says she’s urged him to make the move, despite the fact that she’s in her second year at UMass Medical School.
“If the door’s open, go for it,” she says, “Hey, there are residencies out in New York or Los Angeles, too.”
McDougall says while it would be tough to lose two guys who produce such consistently great content for his company, he relates to their experience, as he once chased a similar dream as a musician. He advises them to commit “100 percent” to the pursuit.
“I’m definitely not here to hold them back. If Hollywood calls and they land a big deal I think that’s awesome,” he says. “I’ll just be happy to see friends make it.”
As Craig and Parker continue to plot out their pilot and seek new writing projects, they’re dreaming bigger all the time, kicking around ideas for a stand-up college tour and a video in which they hope to cast Celtics forward Paul Pierce. But the overall goal remains the same, so they’re keeping their phones nearby.
“We want that call from a network that says, ‘Pack your bags,’ ” Craig says. “We’re still waiting, but we’re on the right track.”