Recruited to interview YouTube stars following a screening of their film, Natural Born Pranksters, I witnessed humor, altruism and true fandom.
On Thursday evening, I entered the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Center City Philadelphia from the back entrance and, as I was escorted to my dressing room, Mr. Vitaly Zdorovetskiy and Mr. Dennis Roady, two of three stars of Natural Born Pranksters, were walking towards me.
“Good evening Mr. Roady,” I said.
“You know who I am?,” he responded, a bit shocked that he was recognized.
“Of course I do,” I said, extending my hand for a shake.
I introduced myself to him, and Mr. Zdorovetskiy, as the journalist who’ll be moderating the evening’s Q&A session, which was to follow a screening of their movie, Natural Born Pranksters, a film that took two years to make and that’ll be released, across platforms, on April 1st 2016, a Friday which happens to be April Fools’ Day. The fact that a movie about pranks will premiere on a day where jokes are bountiful was somewhat of a coincidence, but it’s awesome nonetheless, said Mr. Roman Atwood, the third prank-star who, when I entered the green room, was eating a strawberry and sitting next to his partner, Ms. Brittany Smith, who herself has some celebrity from appearing in numerous prank videos, the most notable among them a clip wherein Mr. Atwood pretends to have thrown his son of the balcony of his Los Angeles home, which is monitored 24 hours a day by security.
Prior to the screening, which attracted a sizable audience of die-hard fans, I engaged in small talk with the three gentlemen who, collectively, have garnered more than three billion views on YouTube. Mr. Zdorovetskiy, best known for his Russian hitman pranks, disclosed some details of how he spent his 25th birthday: a kick ass party in a multi-million dollar Bel-Air mansion. And Mr. Atwood revealed that the label “prank-star,” though accurate in this context, doesn’t fully acknowledge his body of work, as he, through his vlogging and business venture, Smile More, is a full-blown creative genius though he didn’t use those exact words.
As the movie was starting, I, along with my friend Mr. Rashaun “DJ Reezey” Williams, was escorted to the Verizon Hall, the main auditorium of the world-class performance venue that’s home to the annual Marian Anderson Awards. The R-rated film was about an hour-and-half long and featured never before seen pranks, the first shown was set in a massage parlor of sorts and included a makeshift penis that would become erect via remote control when a prankster was being rubbed down. The first mark, a term used to describe the person being pranked, was a woman who was clearly uncomfortable by the hard-on. The second mark, however, was an older man who was so weird that Mr. Zdorovetskiy, who was being rubbed down, thought he was being pranked by his colleagues while Mr. Atwood and Mr. Roady thought they were being pranked by Mr. Zdorovetskiy.
The humor only increased from that point. There were pranks that involved a black baby born to a non-black couple; artwork made from human feces; and even one where a man was made to believe his girlfriend was seriously injured when a drunk driver crashed into a Port-a-Potty she was using. During the Q&A session, I asked Mr. Atwood, who never thought he would end up in a movie let alone be a celebrity if he ever feels guilty when he sees the reactions of his marks. He told me the prank about the black baby was the first time he felt guilty for not feeling guilty, as the mark, stunned and speechless when seeing the newborn, made for great viewing.
Mr. Williams, when we were watching the film for our seats in row G, remarked to me that Natural Born Pranksters is, in some ways, like Jackass: The Movie. I asked Mr. Atwood if he’s flattered or offended by that comparison and he selected the former, implying that risk-takers like Mr. Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O are inspirations. A parent in the audience, when she got her turn at the microphone, thanked the cast for bringing a smile to the face of her young son who, because of Sickle cell anemia, can’t play basketball like he wants to. Mr. Atwood asked if the son was in the audience; he was; and Mr. Atwood invited him up on the stage to sit with us for the remainder of the show.
A young boy in the audience, when he got the microphone, asked, in Russian, Mr. Zdorovetskiy about where he could purchase the Natural Born Pranksters hat he was wearing. Mr. Zdorovetskiy took off the hat, autographed it, had it signed by Mr. Atwood and Mr. Roady, and gave it to him. The Philadelphia audience impressed members of the road crew with their questions: more substantive inquiries than the New York audience, one of them told me.
I asked the pranksters about their April Fools’ Day plans and Mr. Zdorovetskiy revealed his, which, though considered breaking news in the industry, is also a secret. But let’s just say that Mr. Zdorovetskiy, no stranger to confrontations with police, is prepared to get arrested on April 1st. When the Q&A was over, Mr. Roady, known equally for his good deeds as he is for his pranks, and I talked about his Homeless Addiction video, which showed him sleeping on the streets for nearly a week and befriending several homeless men, one of whom he helped get off the streets and who he still keeps in contact with today.
Back in the green room, fans outside were banging on the window and the prank-stars, at times, when not eating the snacks provided by catering, would open the curtain and wave. Some fans made it backstage for autographs and pictures. Mr. Zdorovetskiy, Mr. Atwood and Mr. Roady, who missed out on filming some of the last scene of the movie because his child was born, were gracious and personable the entire evening, even agreeing to take a picture with Mr. Williams and me before we left the building.
What’s next for the pranksters? Well, today, as part of the Natural Born Pranksters Tour, they’re in Columbus, Ohio and on Monday they’ll be in Atlanta, Georgia. But regarding their long-term future, only big things are ahead, including, maybe, another movie.
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