Thumb through Vine’s Popular Now page and you certainly won’t have a hard time spotting Nicholas Megalis. Nestled among six-second clips that find the app’s poster boys showing off their chiseled jawlines and washboard abs is the hirsute 26-year-old, shirtless and rapping about wearing a necklace made of congealed Chinese food.
But don’t count this lyrical salute to General Tso’s as a one-off. Click through to Megalis’s profile to enter the mind of a madman who is equal parts Weird Al and just plain weird. From donning fright wigs to mocking moms who try to be hip to painting on a full face of makeup to sing about stankface, this performer takes an unabashed approach to comedy that makes his peers look both shallow and lazy.
“To be totally transparent with you, I make things so I don’t lose my mind,” he says over the phone as he paces around his Brooklyn apartment. We’ve known each other for less than 10 minutes, yet his warm candor makes me feel as if I’m grabbing a drink with an old friend. He’s earnest and vulnerable, a refreshing combination in an age inundated with millennials trying to find their 15 minutes of fame online. “My dad always says, ‘People who make things and are insane are artists. People who don’t make things and are insane are insane.’”
While it’s up for discussion if insanity runs in his family, it’s clear that artistry does. Megalis grew up in Cleveland with parents who ingrained the importance of artistic expression from an early age. “My dad always had an art studio my entire life, a sanctuary where we could make shit,” the Vine star tells me. It was in that studio that Tom Megalis, a visual artist who served as head animator on Nickelodeon’s The Amanda Show, began nurturing his son’s passion for film.
“My dad gave me a 16 millimeter Bolex camera when I was 11 or 10 years old and said: ‘Here’s how to shoot. Crank that crank and make this movie,’” Nicholas says. But Tom didn’t just dispense an education in creativity; the animator also taught his son to hone his technique. From lessons on how to edit actual film by cutting and splicing to recording audio and creating soundtracks, the elder Megalis sowed the seeds that would one day lead to his son’s viral success.
Yet when his son joined Vine in March 2013, the father who had been endlessly supportive of his son’s creative ventures was suddenly unsure. After a skateboarding accident left him briefly homebound, Nicholas turned to the app and quickly became obsessed with creating manic vignettes. “‘Hey Nick, it’s Dad. It’s about 3:30 in the afternoon. I’ve been watching these little videos you’ve been making, and you gotta get a job,” Megalis says, mimicking a voicemail his father left him shortly after screening a few of his early posts. “‘You really got a get a job, buddy. I don’t know what you’re doing, and I don’t know what the hell this is, but this is not right.’”
But Megalis didn’t let his father’s uncertainty dissuade him. Soon he began building an audience by dawning pretzel glasses, mocking hipster apathy, and imaging what it would be like if Snoop rapped about refried beans. In June of that year, he saw one of his posts about a wallet full of gummy worms entitled “Gummy Money” take on a life of its own.
With over 20 million loops, fans suddenly clamored for more, and in 2014 Megalis released it as a single that stormed the iTunes charts. With traction like that, it wasn’t long before big brands like Ford and Trident began clamoring for a chance to work with the Vine wizard who spawned the hashtag #singwhatyousee.
Since then, his dad has eased up on his penchant for posting wild videos. “He changed his tune a little bit when Vine integrated itself into my career,” he tells me. In fact, Tom Megalis was so inspired by his son’s success that he established an account of his own where his son makes frequent cameos.
But this father-son collaboration isn’t just limited to six-second sketches. When Megalis was tapped by infamous publisher Judith Regan to write a book, he decided to turn the work into a family affair by pairing his tales of anxiety and adolescence with illustrations from his father. The self-proclaimed “artist/musician/idiot” wanted to make his collection of 20 short stories more personal by including full-page illustrations from the same man who first encouraged him to express his weirdness.
Mega Weird, out today, plays to all of Megalis’s strengths. The collection of essays follows the Vine model by offering a generation with a winnowing attention span hilarious, bite-size stories that skip from the first time he went to jail to a poignant outing at Auntie Anne’s pretzels. “I want to read 10 stories that are different, that have no connection to each other,” he tells me, explaining the non sequitur storytelling he’s become famous for. “That’s what life is. Life is short stories. Life is not very linear for me.”
Non-linear thinking is just one of the things that makes Nicholas Megalis so beautiful. When I ask him what’s next, he tells me he’s unsure. Where his Internet personality peers would gleefully rattle off a laundry list of projects and collaborations in the works, all I’m met with is the simple and very serious answer of “probably time travel.” Megalis’s ambitions outstrip those of his peers by going beyond the tangible. Rather than focus on followers, views, and branding, this artist thinks in terms of the greater good. “I just want to expose people to my mind, and I want to challenge the world a little bit,” he says, passion rising in his voice. “Just poke it with a stick a little bit if I can.”
In celebration of the release of Mega Weird, Megalis will be holding an author event at New York City’s Barnes and Noble on March 31 at 7pm.
Photo via Regan Arts