Pre-YouTube Viral Sensations: Where Are They Now? - Winning Week


By Cleo Bergman

There are very few viral videos I remember watching on the internet before YouTube became the central video-broadcasting network. In fact, it’s hard for me to distinguish between videos that became viral all on their own and the ones that have YouTube to thank. The first pre-YouTube viral video that comes to mind is the “Numa Numa guy,” Gary Brolsma, the young man who pumped his arms and lip-synched to the infamous Russian pop song “Dragostea Din Tea” like it was nobody’s business:

I remember being both fascinated and amused by his enthusiasm, I had never seen anyone act so publicly. It didn’t occur to me how unusual it was that practically everyone I knew had watched the same video — even my older brother in the room next door was laughing hysterically at the perfectly synched ridiculousness. Looking back on it now, Gary was probably one of the first internet “celebrities” as a result of a viral video, and to this day, he still holds internet recognition for immortalizing the catchy “Numa Numa” song.

Unlike the paths of most YouTube celebrities, Gary did not continue to lip-synch as a career like Keenan Cahill, nor has he completely fallen off the radar like The Dormitory Boys. So what is Gary up to, nowadays? In fact, what are some of the pre-YouTube internet celebrities doing now?

In the case of Gary, according to an interview back in 2010, he broke away from the lip-synch field and now leads an alternative rock band called The Nonetheless. Their latest show on January 20 was a benefit event for a child born with a rare spinal condition called Infantile Scoliosis. While rocking the mic, Gary also worked a part-time job as a car deliverer, ensuring the presentation and safety of a new car before dropping it off to a journalist who wants to write a review on it. Over the years since his “Numa Numa” dance hit, Gary has also been featured in television commercials, such as a spot for Geico in 2009 and one for Vizio that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl. Gary is also in charge of the NumaNetwork, an online comedy network featuring independent comedy and music productions in their mission “to make people smile and laugh!”

Ghyslain Raza, aka the “Star Wars Kid“.
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While Gary utilizes his internet stardom to his benefit, other pre-YouTube viral celebrities have decided to break away from their stardom completely. The “Star Wars Kid,” Ghyslain Raza, for example, had a difficult time handling his sudden rise to fame in 2003 when a video of his dramatic impersonation of Darth Maul from Star Wars went viral on the internet. After Ghyslain’s video became a sensation, he endured so much harassment from peers that he dropped out of school due to depression and spent the rest of his school year in a psychiatric ward. That summer, he and his family sued the individuals who were responsible for publishing his video online.

Fortunately, Ghyslain’s unhappiness caused by his internet stardom did not endure for the rest of his life. By 2010, Ghyslain was studying at McGill University for a law degree while becoming President of a non-profit conservation society called “Patrimoine Trois-Rivières,” which works to ensure the cultural preservation of his hometown, Trois-Rivières, Quebec. Unlike most internet celebrities who choose to build their lives around their fame, Ghyslain has successfully moved away from the few minutes that the world recognizes him for.

One of the lesser known pre-YouTube internet celebrities is Vinny Licciardi, otherwise known as the man in the infamous, grainy, 25-second video smashing his computer monitor to the ground on one of his “Bad Day[s] at the Office.” Angry reactions caught on camera are not new to the YouTube audience today, but back in 1998, it was a shocking act that no one in their right mind would make public:

Although the video was only meant to be part of a marketing campaign, it left its mark on everyone who shared similar frustrations regarding computer technology and every day work life. Unfortunately, since the video dates back over a decade ago, there is no news on what Vinny has been up to these days. However, when looking for the video in the YouTube search engine, there are a plethora of videos posted over the years inspired by Vinny’s “bad day,” continuing the unintentional legacy of office rage.

Perhaps it’s because these guys became famous before YouTube really took off that they managed to stay under the radar more so than current YouTube celebrities. Despite their recoil from the spotlight, they will always hold a place in internet history as the first winners of Pre-YouTube stardom.