This Buck Doesn't Stop: How Hyper-Chatty Wallingford Public-Access Host Became YouTube Sensation
(Hartford Courant, The (CT) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Oct. 21--He is like a living, breathing can of caffeine-carbonated Red Bull, this Michael Buckley character. Only he swears he never touches the stuff. And he swears it's not a character.
"This is all me. It's me to an extreme, but it's me," Buckley says in his trademark rapid-fire manner, punctuating every few words with a jittery laugh. He wears a blazer and tie over a tattered pair of jeans and sneakers. His gelled hair stands in straight, spiky points. And a geek-chic pair of green Dolce & Gabbana glasses frames his sweet but smirky face.
Yes, this is all Michael Buckley. And through the far-reaching lens of the popular video-sharing website YouTube.com, the Connecticut native has parlayed being his own irreverent, fast-talking, pop-culture-obsessed self into a second -- if entirely accidental -- career.
The man who just last year had never even heard of YouTube is now among the website's video darlings, drawing a cult following around the world for his cutting, oh-my-God-did-he-really-say-that? video diatribes on the week's pop-culture happenings. The clips -- just minutes long and tagged at the screen's bottom with his catchphrase "What the Buck?!" -- regularly land him top spots on rankings of the site's most-viewed videos and most-subscribed-to comedians.
Now, not even a year after his young cousin threw a few of his videos online just for kicks, Buckley is finding himself in demand on the big(ger) screen. After appearances on DirectTV and Leeza Gibbons' syndicated radio show, the 32-year-old has in the past month won himself a regular guest spot on Fox News Channel's weekly gossip show "Lips & Ears." Earlier this month, he sat in as a pop-culture pundit for the channel's entertainment news program "RedEye" -- an appearance that yielded Fox a raft of favorable viewer e-mail and will likely lead to more.
And to think it all began with his very homegrown videos -- grown literally in his hometown of Wallingford, where he still shoots his weekly segments in the dim storefront studio of the local public access station, WPAA.
"I mean, in the whole world, you think of all the millions of videos there are out there [on YouTube], and this, you know, little guy in Connecticut has the No. 1 video?" he says with a nervous laugh on a recent Monday night before taping the week's four "What the Buck" video snippets in the chilly Center Street studio. That's also where he still tapes the show that started it all -- "Table for Two," a weekly public-access chat show that he's been hosting for two years with friend and area teacher Kristin Tierney.
"It's weird," Buckley says, whispering the word, still processing the recent rush of attention.
For a kid from Wallingford who went to Xavier High School in Middletown, went on to get a psychology degree at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., and thought he'd have a teaching career? It is weird. But it's also emblematic of the shifting entertainment landscape, and of the power and reach of the online You-world, when that "little guy" with a big personality can launch himself into celebrity without setting foot on the traditional path of resume-auditions-rejection.
"YouTube is providing fresh talent that only a couple of years ago we would have never been able to find. So now, agents are going on [the site] to actually find the talent," says Courtney Friel, host of Fox's "Lips & Ears." She came across "What the Buck" on her own YouTube wanderings and invited Buckley on the show. He nailed his first appearance last month, she said, prompting droves of viewer e-mail requesting him back. "Everyone here was like, 'Where did you find him? What a great get.'"
Creative Control Is Key
The beauty of YouTube for users like Buckley, she says, is that they have complete creative freedom, no concerns over the whims of advertisers or test audiences. They can lay it all out as they like. And Buckley lays it all out.
On his recent Monday night taping, Buckley zipped through his zingers on Ann Coulter's latest off-color comment, on Barbara Walters' and Star Jones' heartfelt reunion and on Britney Spears' child-custody woes and panty-less escapades. He reads from homemade cue cards, printed in 24-point Arial bold and held by floor director Amee Marcantonio, who does her best to swallow her laughter during taping.
"Britney has found support from Liza Minnelli," Buckley smirks into the camera, sitting on the edge of a wooden stool. "She told the St. Petersburg Times that she feels horribly for Britney.
"Good. Remember that two years from now when she asks if she can open for you at the Cape Cod Melody tent."
And that is tame. Most of his monologues aren't easily publishable in a family newspaper, typically peppered with the kind of language he'd never have been able to use had he stuck to his intended teaching track.
Here's another taste:
"If you're one of those people who spends $3,000 for a ticket to see Hannah Montana, you're an idiot. And your child's going to grow up to be one of those douchey kids on [MTV's] 'My Super Sweet Sixteen' who cry when you give them a Lexus and they wanted a BMW. I'm just warning you."
At first, you cringe. And then you let him get away with it, because there's something about his delivery that is so lovable and non-threatening.
"Honestly, maybe 70 percent of the things, I'm kidding," he says. "I mean, I don't feel that harshly toward people. In real life, I'm not judgmental about people at all. So when I say, 'Oh, Britney Spears, she's such an a-hole,' in my heart I'm like, 'Poor thing.'"
He busts out again in his jittery laugh.
How Did This Happen?
To show his fans his softer side, Buckley has begun video-blogging about himself from his home, which he shares with his husband of five years, Michael Donegan, and their four dogs. They were wed in Vermont. And with both sharing the same name, he refers to Donegan as "husband" and Donegan to him as "Buck."
"He really likes to stand out from a crowd. I knew that when I first met him," says Donegan, the shier of the two, preferring, he says, to be a "silent partner."
Donegan recalls seeing Buckley in a bit part in a musical on Cape Cod. He wasn't the lead character, Donegan says, but he performed as if he was. And he stole the show.
Of his husband's "What the Buck" success? Donegan never thought it would grow to such popularity. And he never thought it'd be so much work. Buckley's marathon writing sessions are Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m., with lots of television watching and celebrity-gossip reading through the week in preparation.
"I'm really happy for him," Donegan says. "And if something more comes of this? Fantastic. I'm looking for an excuse to stop working."
So how did this all happen? Buckley asks. He has no comedic or writing experience. He can't sing. He can't dance. And he has no desire to move to New York and pound the pavement for entertainment work. His only credentials are a natural, quick whit and an obsession with television from a young age. (He was devastated to learn from his mother that the single-mother family on "One Day at a Time" was not, in fact, real.)
"There are a lot of reasons it happened, I guess," he says.
One of three children (he has a twin sister), Buckley moved to his parents' summer home on Cape Cod after graduating from college, living there for six years while he worked at a group home for children with developmental disabilities. In 2002, he moved back to Wallingford to be closer to his family. There, he settled into a decidedly domesticated life with his husband and started a job where he still works but has a firm policy not to disclose publicly. He'll only say it's a very normal 9-to-5 office job, and that he wants to keep a sliver of privacy for himself and his co-workers.
But Buckley always felt he had a knack for performance. He tried out for "Survivor," making it to the top 50. After appearing on a lark with his good friend and local teacher Kristin Tierney on a fund-raising drive for CPTV, the two thought they would channel their creative energies into a public-access chat show they called "Table for Two." After two years, they continue doing the live show each week -- just the two of them dishing their sassy brand of local politics and pop culture.
"What the Buck" began as a small segment that gave Buckley a chance to riff and rant on his own. And once his cousin posted a few clips on YouTube, it snowballed. Yet, as popular as his videos have become, they aren't exactly profitable. Aside from a few side projects, Buckley makes no money from his online work.
"People are always like, 'Is your end game, being on TV?'" Buckley says. "Not necessarily. I've got a channel on YouTube; I can do whatever I want. And it's a great time. It's just fun. I'm not going to lie. It's basically a full-time job I don't get paid for."
He says he'll take the YouTube success as far as it takes him.
"I'm doing this to have fun. And that was the intent from the start. So anything that comes out of this is just a bonus," he says. "I'm not 21 and wanting to go to New York and be a waiter while I go on auditions. I like my life. I like my job. I have a house and a husband. It would take something quite large [to pull me away]."
But Fox's Friel says Buckley should get ready.
"I think he's going to be super successful," she says.
She says he's natural, likable. And he doesn't hold back. Not even when it comes to the Fox News Channel itself.
On a recent appearance, Buckley quipped about Paris Hilton's painful interview with David Letterman, in which the host sidetracked questions about the perfume called Can-Can that she had come on to peddle, preferring to talk about her time in prison.
"She put on her mad face, which is easily confused with the 'Stick it in my can-can face,'" Buckley said through a smile. "Paris reportedly left crying and claims she will never do Letterman again.
"Uhhh," he said slyly, "that would be like me saying I would never do 'Lips & Ears' again. I can't be picky. And neither can you, skank."
Michael Buckley's online videos will soon be available at buckhollywood.com. Meanwhile, they can be seen at youtube.com/whatthebuckshow.
Reach Joann Klimkiewicz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Copyright (c) 2007, The Hartford Courant, Conn.
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