arlier this month, Redditor natedern shared the video of his first commercial to the “Funny” subreddit. The video reached the front page with over 31,000 upvotes in 24 hours, becoming a rage face known as The “Huh?” Guy the next day. Many community members were skeptical over whether or not Nate was an actual Redditor or if the whole thing was a viral marketing scheme. We spoke with Nate over e-mail about his career, his reaction to the rage face, and just how he ended up in the commercial.
Q: How did you land the part?
A: I’ve been going out on commercial auditions in New York City for about three years. Some weeks I’ll have a few auditions, some none at all. I have a commercial agent who sends me out. Occasionally there are open casting calls for commercials, but most of the time you need to have been sent out by an agent or casting director. I didn’t do anything special on this one that I haven’t done before. Just got lucky this time.
Q: Did you think the internet would respond with this magnitude?
A: No way. I have self promoted on Reddit before (if you go back through my posts, I think I have a few videos and other things I’ve created that I’ve submitted). I had no idea that I would get upvoted significantly, and obviously had no idea that rallying behind the “Huh?” guy would become an inside joke / show of solidarity.
Q: Some have suggested that this was an elaborate viral marketing campaign for AT&T. What would you say to them?
A: I’m not sure what I could say to assuage their suspicions. This is the truth: on Friday I got a text from a friend who saw the commercial on TV; I hadn’t seen it yet so I checked the AT&T YouTube channel a couple times a day over the weekend; then on Monday I finally saw it online, and as soon as I did I posted it to Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook; I left for the day, then a few hours later I got a text from a friend saying something like “Hey, saw you on the front page of Reddit. Congrats!” The ad agency and presumably someone at AT&T noticed that it had taken off, and the following day I had a conference call with my agent and someone from BBDO about the possibility of releasing the outtakes. They gave me a link to download and told me to upload it to my own YouTube page and then post on Reddit. They left it up to me what I said in the link title, etc.
Q: Has your newfound internet fame affected your career at all or is it too soon to tell?
A: Not in any obvious ways. I think that my commercial agent probably thinks a little bit more highly of me since I finally booked something and the subsequent buzz, so they might remember me more and be more likely to send me out. But I don’t think it will help my acting or comedy career necessarily. The “Huh? guy” was flash-in-the-pan famous, not “Nate Dern.”
Q: Has anyone recognized you IRL from the commercial?
A: I don’t think so. If someone did, they did not approach me. I also have a pretty good beard going now, so I don’t look exactly the same as I do in the commercial.
Q: Did you think you’d become a rage face? Did you previously have a favorite rage face?
A: Not in a million years did I ever think I’d become a rage face. Also, I don’t think that mine will catch on. I imagine it will fade pretty quickly. My favorite rage icon/graphic is the Freddie Mercury fist in the air pose.
Q: How often do you use Reddit? Do you have any other favorite websites?
A: I check Reddit multiple times every day. It’s actually kind of a problem. My girlfriend thinks I’m addicted. At night when I can’t sleep I’ll start out reading on my Kindle app on my iPhone, then when I get too sleepy to do that but still can’t fall asleep, I’ll start browsing Reddit, sometimes for hours. Reddit is my favorite website. Not just saying that to suck up. Check my browser use history.
Q: What was it like being on Beauty and the Geek?
A: I am grateful to have been able to have the experience, though I can safely say I wouldn’t do it again and at this stage in my life probably wouldn’t recommend it to most people. During the filming, most of the cast and crew were very nice. It was an interesting experience that I still reflect on from time to time. It definitely did not lead to anything in my acting career.
I think once Reddit connected that the “Huh? guy” had also been on a reality TV show, some people felt disillusioned or betrayed, which pained me to see but I guess I can understand why. But the truth is, the reality TV thing didn’t help me in the acting/comedy world at all. After the show I reached out to about twenty different agents, got a phone call meeting with one, and that was it. Nobody was interested. My band, So Long Princess, who appeared on the show, also got, like, phone call meeting with a record label, but they weren’t interested either. The show ended, the press faded, I graduated college in 2007, then I went to England and got a master’s degree, so by the time I started in New York in 2008 I was starting from scratch in terms of acting and comedy.
I actually don’t put Beauty and the Geek on any of my bios or resumes because I think it is more of a hindrance than a benefit, sort of a tarnish that marks me. It’s not like Last Comic Standing or another reality TV show that you’re cast on presumably because you’re talented. I’m hoping to do something else interesting enough, or create something that is quality enough, so that one day people won’t ask me about Beauty and the Geek. If I can fill my life with enough accomplishments that Beauty and the Geek gets crowded out of my obituary, I will die a happy man.
Q: What nights do you perform at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York City?
A: I perform on an improv team called Sandino, which performs at Harold Night, which is Tuesdays at 8pm. Check the schedule at UCB Theatre to see when we’re up.
Q: Anything else?
A: I’d just like to add again how grateful I am to the Reddit community. I don’t want to pretend that any of what happened was really about me specifically – it was about a community of strangers spontaneously showing solidarity and support for the idea of working hard for something and finally getting it, plus the added humor of all of that work culminating in a somewhat anti-climatic way, plus the joy of overtaking a website (YouTube) in order to celebrate the most mundane part of the commercial, so all those “not in the know” would wonder why the “huh guy” was getting all of the praise.
I was just a sacrificial vessel for the hivemind to exert its temporary will. Also, note that although it got a lot of upvotes, there were a whole lot of downvotes too. I think the percentage was like 55% vs 45% or something. So a lot of people on Reddit think that it was stupid of us to upvote a commercial for a giant corporation, and that I’m just some actor asshole undeserving of any praise. I agree with both sides.
Nate Dern is a Brooklyn-based writer and performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City. He is also a sociology PhD candidate at Columbia University and the owner of NOJL Films. His personal website is natedern.com. This interview was conducted over email on November 12th, 2011.