There's a story catching fire this week and I bet you've heard about it. A kid goes on YouTube a month ago, asking rich people to give him a million dollars, and a few short weeks later he claims to have found the generous donor. Most of the headlines I've seen go something like this: Guy Asks For Million Dollars, Actually Gets It. Though the young man, named Craig Rowin, is sticking by his claim that this whole thing is very real, you can just go right ahead and put my name down in the "skeptics" column.
Begging for money on the Internet is nothing new. It's so old, in fact, that it's probably due for a resurgence. Someone mildly charming starts a blog and asks for money. Typically, they are willing to do something in exchange for the money, like tattoo your company logo on their head or name their baby after you. But Rowin has become the latest e-begging phenom by offering a big fat nothing in return for the million dollars. He wants to keep it all for himself. Another innovation he brings to the e-begging tradition is that instead of a blog, he's made his pitch via the web content format du jour, video. Here's his original plea:
It's pretty funny, you have to admit. And now, just one month later, he has posted this video:
So that's it, right? He did it. Everyone break out the balloons and immediately post this video on your blog–imagine the pageviews you'll get from a story like this!! Even the Huffington Post couldn't resist posting as though this was all verified fact.
Except it can't possibly be real. Allow me to tell you why:
He's a comedian
Ever since Andy Kaufman, comedians have had a hard time convincing people they're being serious. It's like Kaufman cried wolf a thousand times and ruined it for all comedians everywhere. We're just skeptical; we tend to think there's always a punchline coming, and that's because there usually is.
And would you look at that… it appears that Rowin will be receiving his million dollar check in person… at the (wait for it) live comedy show he's putting on with his friends on February 2 in New York City. Where? Oh, the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater–didn't you know… he's a member of that theater group. Also… he's a contributor to The Onion–a web publication that has made a career out of grossly exaggerating things for laughs.
His YouTube videos are posted on the "roryandcraig" channel, where he and a friend have posted several comedy videos for the past three years. Just watch that original "please give me a million dollars video" again. Look at how polished he is, both in the writing and the delivery of his comedy. This is a performer, not just a random Internet hayseed. If he were just some college kid, I might be less suspicious, but this is a polished, professional comedy performer, and that has alarm bells ringing in my head.
His videos have hardly any views
The first video, where he asks for a million dollars, has 36,000 views right now. That's it. 36,000. And the other three videos he's released on the subject of his request all hover between 10,000 and 13,000 views. That's not viral.
According to Wikipedia, about .9% of Americans are millionaires. Less than one percent. What are the odds that one of Rowin's 36,000 viewers was a millionaire? And if so, what are the odds that the one or two millionaires that caught the video are in the mood to give away that much cash for no real reason?
It's not that I don't believe this is possible… it's that I don't believe this is possible in this short a time span and with no viral traction whatsoever. It's all too perfect… and too fast. The video didn't have time to grow and find a natural viral audience before he claimed victory.
The public is very forgiving of stunts like this
Remember James Frey, the Million Little Pieces author who was caught making up parts of his memoir and famously trashed on live television by Oprah Winfrey? Yeah, that guy's still writing books… and we're still buying them. We don't care that he fibbed, because he ultimately turned out to have loads of writing talent.
Rowin could be the same way. He could pull the rug out from under us at his live comedy show–gotcha!–and because he's genuinely funny, he'll eventually be forgiven. Heck, this whole thing might be a career-launching exercise for him. After all, Craig Rowin wasn't the hottest name on the Internet until he did this… and now everyone from Forbes to the New York Daily News is trumpeting his success–all before any million dollar check has been seen or proven to exist.
If this is just a promotional stunt, it's already succeeded. The comedy show on February 2nd is already sold out, and nearly every website in the blogosphere has written about the guy who got a million dollars by asking for it. Time will tell if this was all an elaborate hoax, which is my suspicion. Of course, it could be completely legitimate and real. If it is real, then it defies all logic that he could succeed in just a couple months and with only a handful of video views. But I would wish him nothing but the best. If he actually earns a million dollars on February 2 without having to do anything in return to receive it, then I have nothing but respect for the man.