THE MAN CHILD BOY WONDER
By Andrew Vontz
Andy Milonakis might blow up into the next Johnny Knoxville. Or he might be MTV’s next here-today-gone-tomorrow Jesse Camp. But right now he’s at the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market, a permanent grouping of food courts and produce stalls, holding my hand and doing what he does best—acting like a little kid. “Daddy likes pizza!” Milonakis shouts enthusiastically with the lilt of an alternately-abled youth as we walk past a real father and son who are holding hands. Perhaps mistaking Milonakis for a genuine retarded man, the dad smiles, nods his head and says, “Yeah, this daddy likes pizza, too!”
The moment’s weird and a little bit creepy and kind of hilarious, just like his piece of MTV’s Sunday Stew, the Andy Milonakis Show. In one skit that’s evocative of Sesame Street, Milonakis sees Snoop Dogg on his TV and starts talking to him. Snoop talks back and steps out of the TV and into Milonakis’s twisted world where the two trade identities. In another bit, Milonakis interviews a blue-haired old lady and sees how many times he can utter the phrase ‘know what I’m sayin’?’ before she walks away. He’s turned a pancake into a mask, eaten Fruity Pebbles with L’il Jon and babysat the Ying Yang twins in other sketches. The childish humor and the quick pace of the sketches—most are less than a minute—are perfectly suited to today’s ADD kiddies. The production values are so low that it looks like a twelve-year-old might have actually made the show.
Well over five feet tall with a child’s chubby face and a slight limp, Milonakis is wearing the same red checked button-down shirt, dark baggy denim, and white velcro kicks that are his uniform in front of the camera. When his wood grain Vestal watch and the silver chain around his neck are factored in, Milonakis’s aesthetic adds up to a confusing message. Either he’s a baby-faced, rolly-polly thug or he’s a little kid in his big brother’s designer hand-me-downs. As Milonakis struts past a newsstand grabs a copy of Rolling Stone shifting into his kiddy voice again. “I wonder if my review’s in here yet. Oh wow! Andy Milonakis is a fat loser and he’s not funny! His show is going to tank!” Actually, things are going well for Milonakis so far. Since it premiered on June 26th, more than 35 million people have tuned. MTV claims the 12-24 year-old audience ranks first in its time slot versus cable and broadcast offerings. “Can I lick the gum off your hand?” he asks when I toss a piece of gum into the trash.
The next moment he’s clapping his hands and cruising the aisles of the market to hunt down a sculpture of a pig made from ground pork that he’s seen before in a butcher’s display. “How good is that? The ground meat of a dead animal molded into the form of the animal it once was,” he says and then he busts into a freestyle based on his current hip-hop obsession, R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet. “I’m eatin’ a burrito/in the closet/in the closet. . . Hey, I’ll get a tattoo as long as you get one that has all of the lyrics from R. Kelly’s six closet songs in Times New Roman font.”
Milonakis’s persona is paradoxical and like famed magician and transcendental meditation devotee Doug Henning, mysterious. MTV’s promo materials for Milonakis, like the web site www.whoisandymilonakis.com, are written in the voice of a 5th grader and present him as a little kid. “I think it’s great for us if it gets people talking. Who cares how old he is?” says Tina Exarhos, a Vice President of marketing for MTV. But Milonakis told CollegeHumor.com that he was 27 in 2003. “I was lying,” he says, giggling nervously. “I’m this many.” He holds up four fingers. Perhaps he’d like to grab a beer? “You’re gonna have to sneak it to me and convince me that I like the taste of beer,” he says, giggling again.
Milonakis got his start making absurd comedic videos that he posted on the web while, yes, living with his parents in Westchester County in New York. “I lived with my parents. I was a loser,” he says. His mother works in a school. His father is “a full-time Greek immigrant.” His sister is 20 and works at an accounting firm. He moved to the city to pursue comedy more seriously and studied at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Soon he was performing improv and standup around town. A longtime hip-hop fan, Milonakis started spinning dance hall. “I used to spin reggae parties in the Bronx, Jamaican guys coming up with jerked chicken, yeah man, big respect, bumbaclad,” he says.
In the meantime, his web site drew thousands of visitors including Jimmy Kimmel, who featured Milonakis’s ‘The Superbowl is Gay’ music video on the premiere broadcast of the Jimmy Kimmel Show. A gig as a correspondent and announcer on the Kimmel show followed before the pair put together the Andy Milonakis show and MTV picked it up. “What he was doing reminded me of what you do in the mirror when you’re a kid,” says Kimmel.
At the opposite end of the Farmer’s Market, a trio of girls in their early teens run up screaming Milonakis’s name. They ask to take pictures with him. When one pulls out a video phone and asks him to do something funny, he looks in the camera and deadpans, “I’m Andy Milonakis and I’m hilarious.” They like this a lot and giggle some more. Then Milonakis shifts back into thug mode again strutting and flowing his verbal celebration of R. Kelly’s Closet. As he orders Korean barbecue in the food court a table full of high school kids in the Upward Bound summer camp start yelling his name. “Can I have your autograph?” one bold girl yells across the food court. “Do you want any Mongolian beef?” Andy answers in a kiddy voice.
He gets his food and is walking over to sign autographs when their guidance counselor arrives with a tray full of styrofoam soda cups and intercepts him. “Uh, excuse, me. What are you guys doing? We have a rule. We can’t touch people outside our program. You guys will have to leave,” the tense counselor says.
Milonakis shrugs and grabs a table. He makes airplane sounds as he glides a fork full of glass noodles into his mouth when the counselor approaches our table. “I’m really sorry but I didn’t know who you were. Would you mind signing autographs for some of the kids?” Milonakis smiles and borrows a pen. The kids crowd around the table, thrilled to bask in his glory. Milonakis laughs as he jots down personalized notes for two of the UB kids:
I wish I was accepted by your leader.
Museum of tolerance, museum of smolerance.
Just then his cellie rings and “Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ ta Fuck Wit’” fills the air. As he checks the number, the father and son that we saw by the donut shop earlier walk past. The dad sees Milonakis signing autographs and realizes he’s been had, that this seemingly mentally disabled kid is actually—could it really be?—someone famous. The dad looks pissed as he struts up to the table. “Daddy likes pizza, huh?” he says and shakes his head in disgust.
After the kids have left and the glass noodles are gone, Milonakis drops the Oz bit and reveals the intelligent, reflective grown man behind the curtains of the hilarious but disturbing image he’s forged through a campaign of active obfuscation and disinformation. “Hopefully the show goes on for a while but I know when people do a certain character for a long time it’s hard for them to get work in movies because they’re known as that one person. I don’t want to be known as the retarded kid forever.”
That’s great and all, but it’s time to cut to the core of the Milonakis mystery. How does a grown man end up looking like a pre-teen? Is he aging backwards like Mork and Orson and all the homeys on planet Ork? Does he have some kind of wasting disease? “No sir,” Milonakis says busting into that goddamn kiddy giggle again. So he’s not dying and if he’s diseased he won’t admit it. His appearance might have gained him notoriety, but it’s not always easy being different. “Some kid was singing karaoke at this sushi place in Hollywood and he was saying I looked like a girl and pointing at me and laughing. It was middle school shit. I have no idea why this kid had beef with me. I told the karaoke person to put on a hip-hop beat and I grabbed the microphone and freestyled and totally dissed this guy. I started it out with, ‘This is dedicated to Hollywood douchebags who talk too much shit,’ and I pointed at him. Comedy is my weapon not my fists.”