The Web goof-off TV star

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Andy Milonakis is sitting on a couch, stuffing his mouth with Skittles, M&Ms; and other sweet treats when his teeth fall out in an especially gooey piece of pink candy. So begins season two of The Andy Milonakis Show, an offbeat half-hour comedy program starring Web phenom Andy Milonakis.

The show, which debuted on MTV last year, returned to the airwaves on MTV2 on March 31 with multiple repeats through the week. But, in an effort to take advantage of viral marketing, the network put part of the show online in early March.

For Milonakis, the teaser video release brings his career full circle. It was online that the comedian first developed his fan base, catching the eye of late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel and, as a result, MTV. Since 2000, when Milonakis started videotaping himself singing, rapping and generally making a fool of himself in and around his New York apartment, his minutes-long clips have become Web classics, seen by millions.

His best-known video - The Superbowl Is Gay - shows Milonakis strumming his guitar and singing about how "gay" the Raiders are, along with water, cologne, DVD players, the sky, cottage cheese, vacuum cleaners, shirts and everything else.

Then there's "Crispy New Freestyle," an off-color rap that begins "meet me at the Waffle House" before bringing his mom, dad, a frying pan, Junior Mints, birds and other incongruities into the mix.

His MTV2 show expands on that same oddball humor in a hodgepodge of sketches, pranks, songs and man-in-the-street segments that, in the first season, had Milonakis skipping up to strangers to compliment them on their socks or say things like, "Thanks for not stabbing me."

Off camera, Milonakis is a bit more dialed down.

When he arrives at a lunchtime interview he looks and acts pretty normal, wearing an outfit almost identical to the one he always wears on his show: blue jeans and a button-up shirt, only today the shirt is navy blue instead of red.

Throughout lunch, Milonakis sits with his Treo on the table - the latest gizmo evidencing his "gadget freak" nature.

"I was a huge Internet junkie," says Milonakis, who was doing computer work at an accounting firm when he started making videos six years ago.

His first was a written rap about his experience at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. It was filmed with a Webcam. Upgrading to a digital camera, Milonakis branched out to other topics, spoofing children's songs like "Where Is Thumbkin" and stepping up production to two or three videos a week, all of which were uploaded to the site angrynakedpat.com under his own Ice Cream Fantastic moniker.

"I'd think of a topic and just rant on it and transfer it to the computer, upload it. It's such a quick thing. You post it on your Web site, and after an hour, 10 people write comments. It's instant gratification to do something creative and then instantly get feedback on it. There was no waiting, so it became a little addictive thing."

For the first couple of years, Milonakis said his videos attracted a daily audience of a few hundred. That changed when he filmed The Superbowl Is Gay - a video he shot and uploaded in less than half an hour, he says. In the span of a week, the traffic on his site increased from 200 a day to 2,000 to 90,000, and he started getting e-mails from people saying they'd seen his videos on Web sites other than his own - collegehumor.com, ebaumsworld.com and gorillamask.net. The Web sites started asking him for interviews, then radio stations.

"They were calling me up live on the air, and I didn't even know they'd be calling," Milonakis says. "Two seconds after I answered my phone, I'd hear my song playing in the background on the radio. My heart was beating real fast."

Like most Web humor that makes the rounds, the frenzy for his Superbowl piece slowed to a trickle within a couple of weeks, but then, just as Milonakis thought the whole thing was over, he got an e-mail. It was from the TV show Jimmy Kimmel Live, asking for permission to air the clip and gauging his interest in being a correspondent.

"I'm on the Internet a lot more than I watch TV and most everybody I know is, and yet if you watch most late-night talk shows, it's as if it doesn't even exist. So the Internet, it's just something I wanted to make use of in some way," says Kimmel, who'd been forwarded the clip by one of the writers on his show, which made its debut on Super Bowl Sunday in January 2003. "I was fascinated by what appeared to be a child singing this song. It just struck me as funny."

In person, Milonakis looks as young as he does on TV. His height, girth and cherubic unshaven face all give him the appearance of a teenager, though IMDB.com and an independent credit search reveal him to be 30.

Ask Milonakis about his age, however, and he'll say "anywhere between 10 and 70."

Ask MTV2 executive producer Tony DiSanto, and he'll say, "somewhere between 16 and 39."

Ask Kimmel, and he answers, "Why don't you say Bozo was a man inside a clown's uniform? It takes a little of the magic away."

The success of Milonakis' humor is based, in part, on that look. His antics are just funnier when you see him as a bored kid with too much time on his hands, instead of the adult he is.

According to DiSanto, who was sent a DVD of Milonakis' online clips by Kimmel, who proposed The Andy Milonakis Show, "The goal was always to keep it pure to what he was doing on the Web."

For the most part, the show has succeeded.

Milonakis is from Thornwood, N.Y., 30 miles north of Manhattan. When he was shooting his early videos, he lived at home with his mother, a school librarian, and his dad, a Greek immigrant who designs and builds restaurants. Part of the charm of the online videos is that they were filmed in his bedroom, and his dad, at least, was often home.

The show, however, is filmed in an apartment building on New York City's Lower East Side. Instead of living with his parents, Milonakis now lives alone with his dog. The other stars of the show - his friend Ralphie and an assortment of senior citizens - weren't cast so much as accumulated through chance encounters. They're the real neighbors who live in and around the building.

"It was like God wanted us to find these people because they're geniuses," Milonakis says. "They're so funny."

Milonakis' sense of humor is, of course, a little off. But it's off in a good way. At least, it's good enough for MTV to renew the show, good enough for Kimmel to encourage him to do a comedy album, and good enough for Milonakis to develop a broad cult following that includes hip-hop artists and toddlers.

Milonakis says a father with a 1-year-old in his arms told him his infant wouldn't watch Sesame Street but loved his show.

"Whatever the Wiggles and Barney have," Kimmel says, "Andy has it too."

Susan Carpenter writes for the Los Angeles Times.

The Andy Milonakis show is on MTV2 at 9 p.m. Fridays.

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