Matt Bellassai's guide to drinking (and whining) your way to the top

For RedEye

Matt Bellassai has a proposition for Northwestern University, his alma mater: "What better commencement speaker than someone who has made a career out of drinking wine at his desk?"

In any other context, that statement might rate nothing more than an amusing Facebook post, but Bellassai, 25 and living in New York, is the breakout star of BuzzFeed's viral series "Whine About It." Drinking an entire bottle of wine and complaining about the mounting indignities of enduring bros, airplanes, pants and growing up has brought his videos more than 150 million views since last May and a People's Choice Award nomination for Favorite Social Media Star. With his signature plaid shirts and oversized wine glasses, he even became a last-minute costume for many last Halloween. Northwestern might want to think it over.

"Whine About It" exists because of a pun that was too good to resist. Bellassai joined BuzzFeed as an editorial fellow in 2012 after earning his bachelor's degree in journalism from NU. "It was basically an internship on steroids," he said, speaking from the Manhattan office where he films and edits his videos, with a full view of the Empire State Building. After he was hired full time, one of his projects became a themed daily blog called Literally Matt. "Whine Wednesday," for complaints, followed "Tipsy Tuesday," for advice, and the success of the blog led to a weekly Facebook video last year.

There was never any possibility of using another beverage ("I hate tequila, so I won't do Tequila Tuesday"), but "I don't like particularly like wine either," he said. (He told the New York Times last month that some fans get upset when they spot him ordering beer.) Wine is strong enough to get him into character, but not enough to knock him flat, he said. He really is getting drunk in those videos, though.

"Whine About It" films on Monday afternoons, so Bellassai still needs to get through the rest of the day. His 35-episode run of day-drinking does have its perks: "I think people expect me to be more not-together afterwards, and I don't know if this is a good thing, but I am now quite able to function after drinking a full bottle of wine."

Bellassai solicits topics to target from his co-workers, and a director talks him through the actual filming. But Matt has total creative leverage on subject matter, a risk that has opened up some real comedy. One video posted in July excoriated kids. "I was worried about that one, because I was like, 'Oh my God, parents are going to hate this, they're going to feel like I'm attacking their children,' " he said. "It ended up being super popular, because it turns out parents hate their children."

For all the humor of his work, Bellassai thinks seriously about the implications of his success and what it took to get there. "I feel like the mechanics of Internet fame are more like you move super fast and it's super cheap and you make things very quickly and people will forget about you very quickly, unless you play your cards right and put energy into making it a good thing that can have legs beyond the immediate moment," he said. "Whine About It" won't play it safe format-wise as it continues: Bellassai wants to explore new segments, like ventures away from his desk into the city, celebrity guests ("Zac Efron could come on 'Whine About It,' I would love that") and even live events.

He gives BuzzFeed a lot of credit for taking a chance on him—and discouraging his tendency toward perfectionism. "I don't have to be afraid that if one of my videos totally flops, that I'm going to walk in the next day and someone's going to be like, 'Listen, Matt, it's not going to work out. You have to leave,' " he said. "I can feel confident in experimenting and being a little crazy and doing something a little on the edge. If it works out, great, we do more of that, and if it doesn't, nobody's hurt, it's fine, we move on from it, we learn from it. That whole system really helps to create the success that we've created."

It's an attitude he urges creators everywhere to embrace, particularly with the many online ecosystems available to distribute their work. "I feel like now is the time where it costs so little to just put yourself out there," he said. "You shouldn't be afraid to take that first tiny little step and see how people like it and learn from it."

Bellassai also thinks we could stand to shake off some anxieties about the Internet itself. "The fear, I think, for our generation now is like, 'Oh, if I put something out there, that's just going to be on the Internet forever.' There's so much stuff. It doesn't matter. No one's going to find that super old thing you did, and if they do find it, hopefully it's like, whatever, you learned from that and you're better. So just keep putting stuff out there."

Despite growing up southwest of Chicago in Alsip and living in Evanston, Bellassai laments that he never participated in the Chicago comedy scene, beyond seeing shows. That's not all he misses: "Chicago is much cleaner and nicer than New York City." It's also a better city for eating. "I'm a big defender of deep-dish as a cuisine," he said. "It's disgusting how good it is, because it's literally just pure butter."

His next stop, for the moment, is Los Angeles, for the 2016 People's Choice Awards ceremony Wednesday night. Could it be a dry run for a Northwestern commencement address? If he wins, will he even be sober for an acceptance speech? "Probably not," he said, laughing. "I hope not!"

Esther Bergdahl (@ejbergdahl) is a RedEye special contributor who resides in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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