When Elvis Presley performed at venues, fans would rush the stage to touch his hands or snag a scarf worn by the music legend. When comedian Vic DiBitetto takes the stage, his devout followers sometimes hand him loaves of white bread and milk.
The strange phenomenon started back in 2013, after DiBitetto, who at the time was a part-time comedian and trash collector, posted a seemingly mundane, 30-second video of himself to YouTube that poked fun at people who freak out over winter storms, as they rush to the nearest grocery store to buy the bare essentials: bread and milk.
“I gotta get the bread and milk,” DiBitetto repeats, over and over, in the video, as he scrambles from his house to his car with a worried look on his face, pretending to head to the supermarket before the first snowflake hits the ground.
By the end of the clip, DiBitetto, who is performing in Medford in March, is screaming as he backs out of his driveway. One would think, watching the video, that the apocalypse is near.
If you live in the New England region — or have access to the Internet, really — you’re probably familiar with DiBitetto’s viral sensation, one that he says set his career in motion and eventually landed him a role in a Kevin James film.
As of Wednesday, it has been watched more than 16 million times. And every winter, especially when the news cycle is dominated by threats of severe snowstorms set to pummel the East Coast, the number of views continues to pile up faster than the snow itself.
With the season’s first big storm expected to pack a punch Thursday, DiBitetto’s video is once again making the rounds, as it celebrates its fifth anniversary online.
Given the video’s semi-cult status on the Internet — it’s become the official unofficial marker of a snowy winter — we asked the comedian to retell the history of how it all came to be, in his own words:
DiBitetto: I have been doing these videos — which I call “Vic’s Vignettes” — I’ve been doing them since 2010. I never went out or set out to get a viral video, and I never thought — that’s not why I do them. . . . A lot of people they didn’t know what happened before “Bread and Milk.” But “Bread and Milk” is the one that I got a lot of fans from, it literally put me on the map.
The video came about when DiBitetto’s wife shooed him out the door one February day in 2013 and told him to go buy some takeout or pick up some food from the store. When he stepped outside, he saw a snowflake.
DiBitetto: I opened the door and saw the snowflake and it just hit me. It was the first snowstorm, like, “Here we go, we’re going to see all the idiots now rushing to get the bread and milk.”
The comedian whipped out his phone, and hit record, a reflexive move that he says blew up his career as a performer.
DiBitetto: So I walk from the house to my car, looking at the sky, I’ve got the parka on, “I gotta get the bread and milk! I gotta get the bread and milk!” — that’s all I said, “I’ve got to get the bread and milk.”
Walking towards the car, you hear the alarm go off — the chirp — I open the car — which was then a Toyota Corolla. Now I drive a Lexus because my career just [expletive] skyrocketed. Anyway, I get into the car and the one line I really say is, “They said snow!”
At first, DiBitetto didn’t want to post the video. He thought it wouldn’t necessarily translate to laughs online. But after running it by his wife, he changed his mind.
DiBitetto: Twenty-six seconds from the house to the car, of this lunatic saying, “I gotta get bread and milk,” got me more recognition than 30 years of stand-up. And here’s the beauty of it — I almost deleted it! Every time I make a video, I look at it a few times, and I say, “Nah, this isn’t funny.” But my wife says, “Eh, post it. You never know.” It went viral Feb. 9, which is my birthday. I mean, come on, what are the odds?
The mass circulation online was largely thanks to Reddit, he said, an online forum he didn’t even know existed at the time the video went viral.
DiBitetto: I had no clue. It went viral on my birthday. And the beauty about it, it comes back every winter. It’s like Christmas carols. This thing isn’t going away. Most viral videos, they come and go. This thing is here with us. I don't even post it. I have fans posting it. Then there were remakes. . . . It’s become part of Americana.
The year it first appeared it was featured on national television stations across the country, and radio shows used the audio of DiBitetto’s freakout live on air. That attention continues half a decade later.
DiBitetto: It goes up about a million views every winter. It’s up to 16 million now. But the initial hit was like, I mean, the computer was ringing overnight. It was like, “ding, ding, ding.” It was like a slot machine. Me and my wife were just staring at it.
The video inspired DiBitetto to create other rants and characters and post them to his YouTube page. One of his videos caught the eye of actor Kevin James, and it landed DiBitetto a role in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.”
DiBitetto: That’s how it happens. “Bread and Milk,” once it went viral, I was like, “Wow.” I put in a new bathroom with this.
The video’s popularity over the years has transcended winter storms, too. As hurricanes hit various parts of the country, his short clip sometimes offered people preparing for the storms a brief moment of comedy during an otherwise dire situation.
DiBitetto: I have my friends in Florida, “You know it’s not only good for snowstorms! You gotta get the bread and milk!” And it’s clean, there’s no cursing, it’s good for kids.
The one thing DiBitetto gleaned from the experience was this: Listen to your significant other.
DiBitetto: Always listen to the wife, that’s the one thing I’ve learned. . . . It spikes a nerve, she said — “Everybody is going to relate to this.” And that’s the beauty of it. People relate to it. There’s no gender, or age, or race — it’s timeless. It’s like Beatles music. It’s timeless.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.