Some people have to change their college majors once or twice before they decide on a career. For Joel Moss Levinson, it took 40 jobs to find his true calling – winning YouTube video contests.
In the last year, he’s won 12 contests thanks to the votes of thousands of fans and his brand of raunchy, catchy musical comedy – earning him over $200,000 in cash and prizes. His wins have landed him on the front page of the New York Times, on NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” – and now, he’s AccessHollywood.com’s newest Rising Star.
It’s been a quick rise to fame for the Los Angeles-based comedian – and a weird one.
“[On Leno], Steve Carell turns to me and says ‘It’s pretty surreal, isn’t it?’” Joel told Access. “But nothing is more surreal than Steve Carell telling you it’s surreal.”
And though his victories have earned him trips around the world, from Antarctica to Israel, just months ago he was far from a life of luxury. Joel filmed one of his videos, “More Beef In More Places,” with chili because he couldn’t pay for the meat of the title.
“I was so poor that I was singing about beef and all I could afford was chili,” he said.
Among his many jobs were songleading at a Jewish summer camp in Malibu, nude modeling, selling strudel at an open-air market in England and working the graveyard shift at a 24 Hour Fitness, where he used his time off to make the video that won his first contest – the chance to wear a smoothie costume and earn $5,000 from Planet Smoothie.
“My worst job was the one right out of high school,” he said. “I used to put laser pointers from Japanese boxes into American boxes for nine hours a day in the basement of a strip club.”
When he won the first contest, one thing led to another and soon he’d entered a total of 23, with more still to come.
“There are literally tons [of contests],” he said. “At any given time, there are 20 or 30 that are on my plate to enter.”
Among his best wins – a video filmed with live polar bears on his Arctic cruise that won him $100,000 in a Klondike Bar contest (watch it here), and a video titled “Mr. Watermelon, Party Fruit,” where he goes hip-hop at a pool party with, well, a watermelon. (His material is archived on his Web site, HappyJoel.com.)
“I love rapping aggressively at the camera about watermelon while there’s a part of friends in the background who don’t give a s*** about what I’m doing,” he said.
Joel’s often ribald songs began taking shape long before YouTube.
“I was writing dirty songs and comedy songs when I was 12,” he said. “I used to play them around school, got in trouble for that. That was probably a mistake in judgment to sing there.”
Though his songs seem part Flight of the Conchords/part Adam Sandler, Joel’s main influence was unintentional.
“I draw a lot more inspiration from Poison and Warrant and Slaughter – rock bands of the late 80s and early 90s who were 100 percent committed to the things they were saying which were also entirely hysterical,” he said. “Bret Michaels really means every sentence he sings in ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn.’”
And though he’s interested in pursuing film and television projects, it’s the short-form video where his particular blend of humor has made him an online star.
“It’s a really fun creative exercise,” he said. “Here’s a product or here’s an object, make it entertaining. How are you going to make watermelon entertaining for a minute-and-a-half?”
A good question – but judging by the votes of his fans, it’s one Joel’s already answered.