Brett Cohen isn’t your typical 21-year-old, at least not according to the tourists in New York City’s Time Square on July 27.
Cohen is now “famous” after pulling a huge prank on the city, posing as a celebrity and wandering the streets of Manhattan.
Accompanied by two bodyguards he hired on Craigslist, as well as three cameramen and four photographers acting as his own paparazzi, he attracted a huge fan following and caused quite a stir in response to what he calls his “social experiment.”
“It was a social experiment. It confirms the theory of how our culture is so obsessed with celebrity and fame,” Cohen told ABC News.
Cohen recorded the entire experience and posted the video on YouTube on Aug. 21. It went viral almost overnight. He said the entire idea originated from a simple conversation he had with one of his best friends.
“I said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we did this?’ joking around. What would we need to pull off a stunt like this, never thinking we would or could. And then it turned into ‘All right, let’s look into this,’” Cohen said.
And so they started planning.
“I had photographers follow me around and act as paparazzi. There were 15 people in total that were actually in on it. No planted fans or anything like that. Everything you see in the video is completely real,” Cohen said.
Cohen admitted he was nervous he might not be able to pull off the stunt, but said there was one defining moment for him.
“We had a meeting with the whole crew before it all started. I was a little bit nervous that it wouldn’t work. There’s no guarantee it would work. When we were just standing there on 46th street, people were already asking me to take a picture. It’s not even on tape,” said Cohan. “It proved to me and everyone on the crew this thing was going to work. We were all so confident and fired up going into it, and I think that’s why the video was so successful.”
With his new-found confidence, Cohen and his entourage began their walk toward Times Square. It didn’t take long before crowds began to surround him on every block. “Very few people even questioned who he was, where was from, or what he does,” said a press release Cohen used to explain the video.
“I had to pretend like all of this was normal. That was one of the hardest parts. And plus smiling for all those pictures, I took around 300 pictures. Some people kept coming up to me again and again. My face really hurt by the end of it. I thought my face was going to freeze in that smile,” said Cohen.
One little boy was particularly excited to meet the fake celebrity. Cohen said the boy went so far as to make an international call home on his cell phone, and was overheard screaming, “I just met Brett Cohen!”
Even security guards at large businesses were duped by the ruckus.
“We walked by Madame Tussaud’s wax museum and the security guard said, ‘I can’t believe we don’t have a wax figure of you,’” Cohen laughed.
Cohen was drawing so much attention posing as a fake celebrity he was actually worried it would cause a problem with the NYPD.
“We were nervous police would get involved because why would a celebrity just walk through Times Square like that? Two cops walked up to me and I was so nervous, but they just asked if they could take a picture,” he laughed. Of course, Cohen politely obliged, and later thanked them for their service.
From beginning to end, the whole thing took about three hours to shoot. Cohen said the hardest thing about the entire experience was stopping the frenzy, literally.
“It was really hard to end the shoot. How the hell do you stop when there’s so many people following you? We actually had to walk away from Times Square and into a small hotel,” Cohen said. “One of my bouncers blocked off the door to the bar to keep the public from going in. It was the only way we were able to stop it.”
Cohen could be the poster child for the popular slogan, “Fake it ’til you make it,” but don’t let his celebrity status fool you. Though he was dressed to the nines with girls swarming him for hours, he claimed he didn’t walk away with anyone’s number that night.
“No, I have a girlfriend. I am very loyal,” he humbly replied.