"Artist. Musician. Idiot." That’s how 26-year old internet sensation Nicholas Megalis describes himself. As his 4.7 million Vine followers know, Nicholas is actually brilliant — maybe even a genius when it comes to irreverent skits and hilarious, ear-wormy [m1] [m2] jingles — all with a definite, defiantly weird streak.
In his book, MEGA WEIRD, Nicholas makes his publishing debut with a collection of 20 stories ─ all strange and claimed to be true ─ about his first 25 years on the planet which were largely spent in Cleveland surrounded by a family of artists, Greek immigrants, and oddballs.
The book is a creative collaboration with his dad, award-winning Nickelodeon, MTV, and HBO animator, Tom Megalis who supplies the narrative’s colorful cartoons and caricature accompaniments.
After reading this wonderful and so different book, we sat with Megalis for an extremely honest and inspiring interview.
MEGALIS was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to two wonderfully weird parents. He was raised in Cleveland where the highlights of his life included visits to his Greek immigrant grandma’s house with his chain-smoking aunt and imaginary interviews for Rolling Stone that he conducted with himself: "I am the product of blue box mac-and- cheese and a horrible attention span. My dad signed me up for soccer and I cried my way out of it. I was in a strange space ─ the artist/outsider space. But it's a good place to be because you don't have to wear a uniform or study. I was horrible at sports and math. So, I made comic books and short films, hung out in the art room, and
projected videos of myself dressed like a butterfly onto the side of a Dairy
Queen when[m3] I was thirteen. Life was fun in Ohio. I miss that when I fall
asleep at night."
Have you always been a performer?
I like to think I was born wearing a top hat.
I always craved attention, everywhere I went. Except I don't want attention when I don't want it.
When I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I made these zombie videos and conned a
film festival into playing them by claiming they were produced by this hotshot producer, who shall remain nameless because I don't want him to see this and hunt me down. I sent the festival organizers these really important sounding emails. They didn't
know I was just a sixteen-year old kid. At the time, I said I was my own manager.
I got into the festival with a lie. My dad encouraged me. That's a Greek thing.
Not that we're liars ... we're hustlers. I didn't win any awards but the catering was
fantastic and I met a ton of amazing filmmakers.
Did you go to art school?
I didn't go to art school. I didn't have the patience for any schooling after the
obligatory kindergarten through twelfth grade. It wasn't for me; I barely
graduated by the skin of my crooked teeth. Instead of sitting down in a
classroom environment, instead of beating myself up over grades
and struggling so hard, I decided to travel around the country, meet
people, and play music. That was my college ─ the School of Hard Knocks. I got
my ass kicked and went completely broke carrying a piano up and
down stairs, sound-checking, and playing shows for like seven people in
the middle of nowhere. That was my school. As an artist I didn't see the point of
spending money on school just to make mistakes.
Why did you choose the name MEGA WEIRD?
I didn't. I think Lara at Regan Arts did. She's Judith Regan's daughter. She came in one day and said "You're weird. You're mega-weird." And that was it. I was just blown away by it. It's beautiful. It's simple. It sums me up. It's also a play on my last name: "Megalis." Which means "big." There are penis pill websites using my last name. There are male
enhancement pills out there using my last name. I
don't know whether to be honored or confused. I think I'm both.
Who are the characters in your book?
The characters in my book are people who have changed my life in one way
or another. I'm just a sponge or rather a magnet for weirdos. I've spent my entire life trying to understand it and I recently just gave up, while writing this book actually. I don't want to figure out who I am or what I am here for. I just want to react. I want to make things. And I want to meet interesting people who share my passion for the strange. I like McDonalds but I also like harsh Japanese noise. I like everything, really. Everything is wonderful.
What is the overall message you want to convey?
I have no message that I want to put over on the reader. That's
manipulative. It's like songwriters sitting around on VH1 talking about what
each song means. That's just manipulation. I want to think Lennon is
delivering some heavy-handed, deep message about society when he's
singing "Gimme Some Truth," but he probably wrote it while sitting on the toilet and
it just felt right. It's a song. This is a book. You take away from it what you want; it's
not my job. Is it about being weird? Yeah. Is it a manual for all the
outcasts of the world to not only accept that they are "different" but also embrace who they are.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of collaborating with your father? What was that like?
My dad is an amazing soul. We are best friends. We talk all day sometimes.
He blazes through life like a Greek tornado. He is unstoppable. A fucking force. And he works harder than everyone you know and anyone that I will ever meet. I watched my
parents when they were down and then when they were up, and everywhere
in between. My mom is a graphic designer turned amazing mother. She
put together a hot meal for us from scratch every day of our lives. My dad gave me a
16mm camera and Rapidograph pens and told me, "just make stuff."
And that has been both my therapy and my existence for 26 years now. I don't
know how to live otherwise. I make art so that I don't go absolutely full-blown nuts. Right now, I'm doing well at about 48% nuts. I call that success.
How do you manage to establish yourself as a credible artist in just six seconds?
Six seconds is enough for that medium. It's enough for little videos. Who wants to see a sixteen-second Vine? I don't.
People are now exposed to Nicholas Megalis. Finally. It's taken me eleven solid years, nonstop. Just making a ton of shit and putting it out, failing, and trying again. So, people now get it. People saw I was doing something different and it opened them up to my world. Now that I'm in the "room," I can burn it down. Let's have some fun! I got my foot in the door. Now we dance.
Can you describe your work space?
I work in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. I would give you the specifics,
but I've had to call the police on "fans" who threw rocks at my
windows. Not pebbles. Big, fist-sized pieces of rubble that left cracks. People used to follow me off the train to my apartment
and I would say, "Guys, let's make Vines. Let's take photos. Whatever you
want. You don't need to creep around." I can't take that chance anymore. I even had my name removed from my buzzer. It's a pseudonym now.
It's fun to pretend to be someone else. My studio is in my living room.
I make huge paintings and I just move the couch out of the room. I have
filmed hundreds of Vine videos in there. I have dozens of backdrops,
lights, and bags and bags of props. Butterfly wings, tiaras, clown makeup,
confetti cannons. I'm hoarding the Wizard of Oz in Brooklyn.
What materials do you work with?
I have a nice "professional" HD camera for the non-Vine stuff and literally four working iPhones for Vine videos. It's getting ludicrous. I like having different phones for different purposes. I have lenses and stuff. But I'm so psycho that I'm too paranoid to share my Vine "secrets."
Do you have a vision in your mind before you film your Vines?
Yes and no. Sometimes. I don't know. I don't always have a solid plan.
Sometimes I am inspired by an argument or the idea comes out of seventeen
horrible, miserable failed ideas. Sometimes the moment is after
a series of non-moments. I spend all day on social media. I love talking to
my friends. They are fans, yes. But they also have faces and names and
they're human beings. They are part of the conversation. This is a
dialogue. All art is. I tell people this and they don't believe me.
What does art mean to you?
Art means life. Living. It means eating an amazing donut, having really
good sex, and buying an air freshener for your car but hanging it off your
nose instead. It means I can't and won't waste this life in a four walled office
staring at an Excel spreadsheet. It's in my blood. I grew up
doing funny voices, making videos, and painting pictures. It's all
because of my stupid dad. And thank God for my stupid dad. Or else I
wouldn't be the happiest man in New York City.
How do you define yourself as an artist?
I just want to create things that make people happy and make the world somewhat less
Who are the artists that inspire you?
I love my father. I love John Lennon, Willy Wonka, Jean-Michel Basquiat,
Joseph Beuys, Marcel Duchamp, Harmony Korine, Beck Bukowski, Keith
Haring, and Graham Smith of Kleenex Girl Wonder. I'm really into punk rock
again. Jeff Rosenstock just put out a great record. I play it in
the morning really loud.
Can you tell us about a project you are working on right now?
I just recorded an album in my kitchen in the midst of the worst month-long
headache of my entire life. It was brutal. It's still there, but it's a lot more
manageable, and it's getting better. I don't know if this kitchen record will
ever come out. But it's awesome. It's punk rock with an acoustic guitar and
migraine medication. And then there's an even bigger project, but I can't talk about
What is your motto in life?