Above: Brett Cohen’s video from July 27.
As cameras flash, Brett Cohen makes small talk with a young girl who points him in the direction of her lens. He smiles.
“I had to pretend like everything going on was normal,” Cohen said. “It was the first time in my life that people were asking to take a picture with me.”
Cohen is an actor; however, he is not famous.
On Friday, July 27, Cohen, a fourth-year media management major, fooled onlookers in the bustling Times Square into believing he was a celebrity worthy of their attention, tweets and photographs.
Cohen said the idea for the prank came about during a conversation with a friend at the beginning of the summer. He said the two discussed the pieces needed to create a credible celebrity entourage, including body- guards, assistants and photographers. Ultimately, the two decided to attempt the stunt. The only goal: to create a funny video.
“There was no guarantee of success in the stunt or in the video,” Cohen said. “It was purely for fun and the night we did it was probably the craziest night of my life.”
In his celebrity attire, Cohen and his 10 person crew hit the streets. There were no planted fans or rumors spread about who the mysterious celebrity was, Cohen said.
“They’ve never seen me or heard of me before, but they still asked to take a picture,” Cohen said. “The reason why they pretended to be familiar with me was out of embarrassment. They were all completely fooled.”
People began to speculate that he was an up-and-coming recording artist or film star, several claiming to Cohen’s cameraman that they had heard his non-existent new single or seen his latest movie.
“The only information we gave out was my name,” Cohen said. “Instead of taking out their smartphones and doing a quick Google search, people seemed more inclined to take a picture with me and share it across social media.”
Without that social media element to propel the video to the international stage, Associate Professor of Communications and Media Donna Flayhan said Cohen’s endeavor would not have been possible.
“Social media platforms allow us to upload and distribute,” Flayhan said. “The content determines if it takes off virally…Then when traditional media catch wind, the fire goes from fire along a path, like a stream, to a wildfire.”
The viral success has attracted mainstream attention, sending Cohen across the country to sit for interviews and to film an episode of “The Jeff Probst Show,” which will air next week. He also filmed segments via satellite for “Good Morning America,” “Today Show,” “Inside Edition” and “Good Day New York.”
“I knew that if this video came out well, it would be comedy gold,” Cohen said. “I never thought that it would get such mainstream media attention. Now it’s going international.”
Cohen said his goal is to use the momentum from the video’s press to move to the next platform in his career. As he has been filming television shows, he said he is also in talks with production companies to create his own television program.
“I have so much more in the tank and I’m ready to take this to the next level,” Cohen said. “The real kicker is that I think I finally found a platform that works best for me: Television.”