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The Web, Etc. | WEB SCOUT

They conquered the 'Net in two original minutes

HBO's `Viral Videos Live' brings Internet acts worth millions and millions of hits together in Las Vegas.

December 03, 2006|Richard Rushfield | Times Staff Writer

Las Vegas — LINING the Strip, billboards the size of aircraft carriers herald the faces of headliners like the battle flags of nations: Elton John, Celine Dion, Toni Braxton.

But on one weekend in November, a star whom some would describe as the biggest in all of Las Vegas sat wedged into a decidedly nonpower central booth at Caesars Palace Cheesecake Factory, unmobbed and unnoticed by the vast hordes of tourists trooping through. In the last couple of years the shy, quiet 20-year-old's face has probably been watched by more people than that of any other headliner working the Strip. With 15 million views on one site alone and probably at least that many from the multitudes of copied and pirated versions circulating the Internet, Gary Brolsma at one point had more Google searches for his name than did "naked women," the Web's platinum standard.

In December 2004, before the dawn of YouTube, the then-18-year-old Brolsma sat in front of his computer in his parents' home in Saddlebrook, N.J., and whiled a few moments by performing an energetic lip-sync into his webcam to an obscure song by the Romanian pop band O-Zone. He then posted the video to a user-generated site called Newgrounds so he could share his creation with a few friends. Two weeks later, his grandmother awoke him one morning saying there was a TV news crew at the front door and his answering machine was filled with messages from reporters demanding interviews. What followed was one of the first viral video explosions in Web history, as the "Numa Numa Dance" video was forwarded, linked to, imitated and parodied.

And nearly two years later, he found himself at Caesars Palace, flown in by HBO's Comedy Festival for "Viral Videos Live," a night of onstage video reenactments of the groundbreaking works of the new medium. Assembled together on one stage in a rejiggered conference room would be the stars of the new era, headlined by the young man who just a week later was to be awarded a lifetime achievement award at age 20, Mr. Numa Numa Dance himself. About 200 people were in the audience.

A few hours before showtime, Brolsma felt relaxed enough to disappear among the hoi polloi and enjoy a cheeseburger with his managers, who have flown from Minnesota. Next stop was Hollywood for "Jimmy Kimmel Live," where he appeared Nov. 21. Last month, Brolsma released a new video on a website put together by the managers (NewNuma.com), which is also sponsoring a contest with $45,000 in prize money for the best fan-created Numa videos.

All this, however, is merely a setup for a top secret Gary-centric project in progress. "All I can tell you," said his manager James Egge, "is that it won't be released for more than a year, and it will be shocking." Pressed, he insists the shock will not involve nudity on Gary's part.

Brolsma, for his part, seems quietly amused by the spectacle his project created. He tells how after the initial burst of interviews he decided to stop giving interviews, which led to a series of what he labels "wrong" articles, driven chiefly by a New York Times story that claimed he was depressed about his stardom. "I was just ignoring everyone and just went on as before. I was overwhelmed by it, but I was fine," he said. However, Brolsma did admit, nodding his head sagely, that the marriage proposals continued to flow in. "A lot of women say, 'If you come to my state you can stay at my house,' " he said. He insisted that he had not followed up on these offers and remained unengaged.

*

The stars of cyberspace

THREE hours later, Brolsma gathered with his fellow Web sensations backstage in a small lounge created by curtain partitions in what otherwise seemed to be a service hallway. Yes, the assembled group has been seen by, according to event organizers, a combined total of 300 million people. But the effect was less like a green room conclave of superstars than awkward strangers waiting in a doctor's office. Seeing them gathered together was somehow stranger and more thrilling than seeing a cluster of film stars at a Hollywood function. These people are not just stars but phenomena, having exploded from nowhere and nothing through the Web ether onto the world stage.

Slowly, the frost thawed and the titans of the new age began to make shy acknowledgments of their peers. Along one wall, Stephen Voltz, who has captivated millions with elaborate fountains created by dropping Mentos in Diet Coke bottles, chatted in his lab coat about video hosting services with Charlie Todd, from Improv Everywhere, a New York-based website that recently created mass havoc when they sent a team of hundreds to move in slow motion through a Home Depot store. Along another wall, the Urban Ninjas, two young men in full martial arts costume, famed for dazzling leaps from the tops of buildings, nodded to Marco Tempest, the Virtual Magician, master of head-scratcher camera-phone-taped tricks.

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