New Yorker Mark Douglas spends his days writing about Kesha vomiting glitter, imagining Justin Bieber as a zombie and dressing up as a cockroach.
It almost sounds too good to be true but, as the brains behind the Key of Awesome parody series, the 42-year-old Astoria resident makes a full-time living off of YouTube videos.
Some of biggest hits include parodies of pop songs like Kesha’s “Tik Tok,” Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” and Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” The channel — Barely Productions — has 4.7 million subscribers and big hits, like “Tik Tok,” can score upwards of 140 million views.
Ben Relles – who’s since moved on to other work – started Barely Productions in 2007 with one viral hit called “I Have a Crush on Obama.” The video featured a hot character known as Obama Girl and it debuted right as the candidate’s popularity was soaring.
“So the time was really, really good with that song,” Douglas told the Daily News.
When Relles signed a deal to expand the channel, he brought on new talent, including Douglas.
Though his full-time job was as a hotel porter, Douglas dabbled in the local comedy scene, hosting a weekly variety show and doing various stand-up acts — so he had good qualifications for the task at hand.
He started with a political sex scandals slow jam and that did well, but around that time Douglas realized the channel needed a change of direction.
“By the time Obama got elected, what we were doing wasn’t really working anymore because the election media frenzy died and that was what our content was based on so we were left with, ‘What do we talk about now?’ So I started the Key of Awesome series,” he said.
“Tik Tok” was one of the early successes.
The video opens with a glitter-covered Kesha lookalike, trashed and lying in the bathtub.
“Wake up in the morning looking greener than Shrek,” the singer begins. “Sleeping in a tub can really mess up your neck.
“Before I leave I stop and vomit up tequila and glitter/It seems I’m spending every morning with my head in the sh–ter.”
The song continues to make fun of Kesha’s partygirl image and even features her parents staging an intervention, only to have Kesha sing, “Okay, it’s time you know, this is just a video. I don’t drink or pee in sinks. It’s what I want my fans to think. It’s all an act, and in fact, it’s even in my contract.”
Douglas wrote the words, his wife sang and the production team conveniently located a Kesha lookalike to star in the vid.
To the millennial YouTube fan, Key of Awesome is probably funnier than parody great Weird Al Yankovic – and part of that’s because of the songs’ different themes and focus. While other parodists simply rewrite songs to be about unrelated topics, Key of Awesome parodies specifically make fun of the artists themselves.
In envisioning the direction of the series, Douglas said he “wanted some of the bite of ‘South Park’ — almost like Weird Al but meaner.”
For instance, in the “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” parody, Douglas portrays Swift as a psycho who is delusionally singing a song about someone she was never with in the first place. In a “Rolling in the Deep” parody, the comedian pokes fun at the abandoned, messy house shown in the video and portrays Adele as a slob who is too addicted to playing Angry Birds to get up and clean.
He pokes fun at everyone from Justin Bieber to Paul McCartney to Ariana Grande, which sometimes rouses the ire of diehard fans.
“Sometimes people get mad at me and are like, ‘You’re just jealous of Ariana Grande,’ but I’m not jealous of Ariana Grande.
“That would kind of weird if as a man in my early 40s I wanted to be Ariana Grande. I mean, I know there are guys like that in New York but that’s not me,” he joked.
For the most part, though, fans of the artists are fans of Key of Awesome. The artists themselves might have different reactions, but Douglas said he’s never gotten a direct complaint.
In a Kesha parody, Key of Awesome founder Mark Douglas (right) plays Dr. Drew, staging an intervention for the partygirl.
“I’m sure there are probably a few of them who probably aren’t big fan of me. I’m sure Justin Bieber thinks I’m a jerk if he knows who I am.”
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A number of comics and helpers have been involved in the series over the years and, until very recently, Todd Womack — whose bald head made him perfect for Pitbull parodies — was one of the staples. (He’s since moved west to pursue other ventures.)
The standard Key of Awesome crew includes Douglas and three others, although there’s a whole gaggle of lighting and production people who come on board when it’s time to film.
“We have a pretty deep roster of talent acting-wise,” Douglas said.
Finding those people is a little bit harder in New York City, though; most of the YouTuber community is based in Los Angeles.
Although others who make a living on the video-sharing website might be tempted to head west to what Douglas referred to as the “YouTube Hollywood,” the Key of Awesome creator is a New Yorker at heart.
“I’ve never been that big of a fan of L.A. personally,” he said. “I just like New York better.”