He's a comedian, writer, People's Choice award winner, human being (maybe?), and more. You may know him from his hit viral web series, "Whine About It," or perhaps from his enthusiastic One Direction tweets. It doesn't matter how you know him, just that Matt Bellassai has been using his quick wit, relatable humor, and knack for social media to follow his dream, and I wanted to talk to him about it. Because that's cool and THERE ARE TOO MANY BORING PEOPLE IN THE WORLD. Alcohol, Tina Fey, profanity, dare I say Oprah? You'll find it all below.
You're very funny and great at finding ways to connect with your audience, has comedy always been a part of your life?
To be totally honest, comedy was never really something I thought about consciously, and certainly not as a career. But growing up, there was always a sitcom on our TV, or a funny movie or a terrible made-for-TV drama, which we would laugh at anyway. So unconsciously, I was always feeding my comedy diet.
I think journalism school actually influenced a lot of my comedy training, because so much of comedy is based on good reporting and good observing and good delivery, which are all tenets of strong journalism. Or at least that's what I tell myself to justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a journalism degree that I don't use.
So then what did you want to be when you grew up?
I went through a whole laundry list of dream jobs that were totally never gonna happen. All the usual stuff: a veterinarian, a teacher, a pet store owner (cause then you didn't have to deal with dogs dying or anything, you just had to pet them until someone took them home). But eventually I went to school to become a writer, because I enjoyed storytelling. I thought I was gonna be a features writer at Time magazine or Entertainment Weekly.
How did you get started with BuzzFeed? Did you have writing experience beforehand?
BuzzFeed hired me a few months out of college as a member of their first editorial fellowship, which was basically a glorified internship to train people to become full-time editors and students of the internet. So it was the time I spent on Twitter and Tumblr learning about how people share stuff and what's funny on the internet that proved to be more important than the writing experience.
When I was in college, though, I worked for a semester at a small magazine in Chicago called In These Times, which is basically Bernie Sanders in magazine form, just a super progressive independent newsmagazine. But it was great because it was a small publication so I got to write a lot of newsy blog posts and edit other writers and learn what it would be like to work at a weekly newsmagazine. And mostly I learned that I didn't care enough about hard news to be excited about working at a weekly newsmagazine.
You have a huge following. What's the downside of being in the public eye?
It's strange, because I don't think of myself as being in the public eye. Until I see something horrible that someone said about me on the internet, which is a very jarring reminder that there are people in the world who don't know me who have these really strong opinions about me. It's always a fun little surprise.
But the hardest thing is what is typically hardest for any creative person, which is, it's scary to put your work out into the world for other people to judge. And the more eyes you have on you, the harder it becomes to take creative risks or to try new things, because there's that many more people questioning everything you do.
I think it takes a tremendous amount of confidence (and ego, frankly) for any person to be able to post their creative work and say "I believe in myself enough to put my ideas out into the world." You have to really believe in yourself, which is not always an easy thing to do, especially when there are people ready to tell you they dislike something.
So, to answer more succinctly, it's the pressure that creating things publicly comes with.
Who are your creative influences?
I think of myself as a writer before anything, so I've always admired writers like David Sedaris, Nora Ephron, Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey -- people who can write about mundane things but make them hilarious and relatable and emotional. And, obviously, I look up to the classics like Jerry Seinfeld and Louis CK and Stephen Colbert, who can talk about things that every single person sees in their lives every day and make them interesting and unique and hysterical. And then Oprah and Beyoncé, of course. For encouraging me to be my baddest self.
It seems like a lot of your experience and interest sprouted from social media. How has social allowed you to develop your brand?
When I was in college, I was always afraid of writing and putting out work because I was terrified of being judged. So I would always avoid finishing projects, or avoid starting them altogether, because I never felt like they were perfect enough to publish. And I think joining Twitter and Tumblr sort of helped me realize how quickly the stream moves and how ephemeral all our work really is and how it doesn't matter if you're thing is perfect because people are only gonna pay attention for a short amount of time.
Plus, you only get better if you put stuff out there and learn from it. So social media, for me, sort of became this testing ground where I could constantly post jokes and get a sense of the reaction to them pretty immediately and then learn and grow from it. In a lot of ways, it's similar to an open mic night. You're throwing stuff out into the world. Some of it will bomb. Some of it won't. And you take what works and build on it.
You're often on camera doing the entertainment. Do you ever get a chance to relax? What are you watching on Netflix right now? Any recommendations?
There's never a time when I'm not watching Bob's Burgers. It's such a feel good show and it makes me laugh no matter how many times I've seen every episode. And I can watch reruns of 30 Rock and The Office constantly and never get tired of either one.
I'm also a big fan of Chelsea Handler's new Netflix talk show, even though I know it's not doing the greatest. But I love to think about where talk shows are going next. People are getting tired of watching celebrities sit on a couch and talk to a host. It's exciting to think about the next generation of talk show hosts, paired with places like Netflix and Hulu, and the possibilities that can come from that.
Your weekly series, "Whine About It," was a huge hit, and so is your current series, "To Be Honest." How did you come up with those ideas?
I'd been a comedy writer at BuzzFeed for a couple of years, and was writing this blog for BuzzFeed called "Literally Matt" where I'd write a dumb little post every day around a different theme. Tuesday was "Tipsy Tuesday" where I'd get drunk and give advice, and Wednesday was "Whine Wednesday" where I'd complain about something (which, by the way, was inspired by a friend and fellow BuzzFeed colleague, Jen Lewis, who hosted a weekly wine Wednesday at her apartment). But anyway, the blog kinda flopped. And around the same time, Facebook video started becoming popular. So I mentioned that I'd love to try out a YouTube-style vlog, but for Facebook, and have it be an original comedy video that I'd write and perform every week. And so we sort of combined Tipsy Tuesday and Whine Wednesday into the idea for a single video where I'd get drunk and complain. And it took off from there.
Since then, I've left BuzzFeed in order to have more ownership over all the projects I'm working on next, but it was really important to me to keep making weekly videos. So I started "To Be Honest" in order to keep putting out a weekly show that features me getting drunk and ranting about whatever I want!
For "Whine About It" especially, it obviously added to the humor to see a guy not only getting drunk, but getting drunk at his desk, at work, in the middle of the day, surrounded by his co-workers. The visual definitely amplified the jokes.
Of course, there's probably a dash of influence from the almighty Facebook algorithm and the trend in video in the past year, but I also think it's about human emotion. Comedy works best when people can relate to you. And short of literally standing in front of people, video is the best way to establish an emotional connection.
You've mentioned that you're not even a big wine fan, what's your drink of choice?
It's true. If I'm out for a drink, I usually won't order a glass of wine. I save that for work, obviously. But my drink of choice nowadays is a good ol' whiskey on the rocks, which I've convinced myself is actually the healthiest option because it's the only hard alcohol I can drink on its own, which is of course not the definition of what makes something healthy. But whatever.
What role do you think humor plays in our culture?
I think comedy is a part of therapy for a lot of people. It's a part of their self care. I get a lot of comments and messages from people who say, "I had a terrible week, I need your video!" Because it's part of what they do to keep themselves sane. And when I think about my own entertainment habits, it's the same. Humor is a nice escape when things aren't as good as you'd like them to be. And that's because humor has a way of deconstructing life, and exposing the ridiculousness of everything. So it's not even that humor is a distraction, it's that humor puts things in perspective, and helps you realize, hey, that thing I was worried about earlier actually isn't as bad as I thought it was when I was in the middle of it.
The only problem is, if you take that too far and choose to laugh rather than worry, you end up with Donald Trump.
So you recently left BuzzFeed to go solo, and I know you have a lot of projects in the works, can you share a little about what you have planned?
Of course! In addition to putting out weekly episodes of "To Be Honest," I have a lot of other projects. I just announced my summer stand-up tour, called the Drunk & Alone Tour, with over 20 shows in 17 cities around the country. I'm writing a scripted web series that I'm producing with some folks (can't say who just yet, but more info on that soon!). I'm starting to record episodes of a podcast that'll hopefully be out soon. And I'm working on a book of humor essays, which will mostly be about how I'm terrible at life.
And I'm also shopping around some other projects, like a travel web series and a bigger, more traditional television show. But, of course, more details to come as those things develop.
These days it seems like the election and pop culture are one in the same. If you were running for president what would your presidential campaign slogan be?
"Who Fucking Cares," which is my life motto. Or maybe it should be a decree, like "Don't Be A Piece Of Shit." Which is generally good advice, I think.
And if you were a billboard top 100 song?
"Dangerous Woman." It feels right.
You write, you tell jokes, you talk about Beyoncé, what's the ultimate goal?
I just wanna keep making people laugh. And passionately make out with Zac Efron against the side of an old barn. But mostly the first thing.
Well, I don't think you'll have to worry about that. Thanks a lot for your time, Matt. I really appreciate it. And good luck with all your projects as well as the whole Zac Efron thing.