Fake celebrity pranks New York City in social experiment caught on video

Brett Cohen pranked NYC on the night of July 27th, 2012, and he has video proof: he "came up with a crazy idea to fool thousands of pedestrians walking the streets of Times Square into thinking he was a huge celebrity," and succeeded.

He is not a celebrity—or at least, he wasn't before this video went viral. He's a 21 year old SUNY New Paltz student. Snip from the project description:

This social experiment, of sorts, makes a profound statement about how modern culture is so attracted to pop culture, without any real credibility needed. He dressed up like a typical celebrity and was accompanied by an entourage of two professional bodyguards, two assistants, and photographers pretending to be paparazzi. While the assistants and photographers waited for Brett to exit the 49th street marquee at NBC Studios, they started a buzz that a "big star" was about to walk out, thus making it worth their while to wait and get a picture. Many asked the crew whom Brett was, and no answer was given. They were forced to either make something up, or just take a picture with him in hopes that their Facebook friends or Twitter followers might have a better idea.

As the crew walked over to Times Square, the crowds around Brett grew on each consecutive block. Very few people even questioned who he was, where he was from, or what he does. Brett took pictures with nearly 300 people before the stunt ended. The video even includes interviews with people who had just taken a picture with Brett, and puts them in an awkward position when they're asked questions such as, "Where do you know Brett from?" and "What's your favorite movie he was in?" Many of them were overwhelmingly excited over Brett's walk through Times Square, and it showed.

He hired the bodyguards and photographers from Craigslist, and wore cheap knockoff sunglasses and a shirt from an Express clearance rack.

[Video Link], and NY Daily News has more on the making of, via Joe Sabia.


  1. I actually pulled a stunt like this with my friend in Downtown Disney around 2007! He simply wore a tuxedo while two of us (me and an additional friend) simply walked close to him. We didn’t have near the showmanship Brett here did, even though a few people stopped and told him things like “I love your movies” and another of “We saw you on stage last night, you were great”. We didn’t think to tape it, which is a s shame because I think Mr. Cohen hear would chuckle from it. It’s really interesting to see people flocking to someone just because they look important, and it shows this guy is creative and funny in a non-menacing way (something rather uncommon right now) while in public. Good work, dude!

  2. One time I saw some pigeons looking for a handout, so I mimed the motion of throwing food at them. They went pecking for the imaginary food on the ground, and other birds saw that and flew in to check it out. By the time I got tired and gave up there were hundreds of birds swarming the street. I still like to imagine that humans are usually smarter than this, but it’s good to check once in a while.

  3. At the beginning of the celebrity video, a crowd has already formed outside the entrance, they cheer his exit and he acknowledges them. Why? If a celebrity was spontaneously leaving it would take a while to get people’s attention. A lot of the photographers seem like the general public. It’s as they were primed for his exit which makes the experiment seem fake. A better approach would have been to start by emerging from an alley or side street and see how long it takes for people to notice.

    1. I think that’s his buddies causing a stir to garner attention
      And yes it’s fake… isn’t that the whole point ?

  4. Guess it’s all context — Tim Curry once walked past me on Broadway.  I gave him a grin and a nod but wasn’t going to bother him; I don’t remember anyone else really reacting to him either.  And this is, of course, in a place where he would certainly have been recognized (Spamalot was running at the time and he was presumably on the way to work).

      1. My friend who works as a celebrity minder at the film festival here rated Tim Curry as very nice and completely not self-important.  High marks also for Eartha Kitt and Carol Channing.  Sean Connery was rated as a five-star asshole.

    1. I went to college in Manhattan, and in four years bumped into a few celebrities  just out for a walk.  It’s just the city’s scenic charm.

    2. I once crossed paths with Bob Hope in the New Orleans Hyatt.  I was panicked that he’d say hello to me, because even though his face was completely familiar, I just couldn’t place him.  I thought he must be an old friend or a relative.  I was even preparing my excuses.  Then he said something to his companion, and that voice ID’d him in an instant.   Funny how you forget that the people on the tube may also exist in real life.

  5. I tried this way back in the late 1980s. A friend had taken some b&w headshots of me when I thought I wanted to get into radio; I took a stack down to the Air & Space Museum with my friend, and ended up signing a dozen or so for tourists who assumed I was someone famous. 

  6. The people are essentially using him to try to gain minor fame for themselves. Their hope is that they may be in a publication photo with him or briefly on TV with him. Or by having personal photos of themselves with someone famous gives them a certain amount of celebrity among their friends. The experiment is as much or more about peoples desire for fame themselves, than it is about their interest in the fame of someone else.

  7. Those women whose name starts with K* aren’t any different – they became celebrities by telling the people they were celebrities and acting like celebrities in public, not by having actually done anything noteworthy.

    No reason you can’t be famous for 15 minutes yourself!

    (*I don’t write out their full name, because any time you use it in public, they win again…)

  8. Reminds me of the stories of people waiting in lines in the Soviet Union without knowing what they were waiting for.  They saw a line outside a store and assumed a scarce product was available. 

  9. But what if the whole video itself is fake, and the real social experiment is about the shocked reaction it’s getting across the internet from everyone remarking how gullible the people in the video are? How will we feel then?

  10. Here in LA, fooling people into thinking you’re a celebrity is something of  a contact sport.  

    Of course, most of the people playing that game here don’t post YouTube videos confessing to the hoax.  :-)

  11. Adam and Joe did this in Tokyo about a decade ago (it was in episode 1 of Adam & Joe Go Tokyo I believe), with pretty much the same results. Funnily, it was put down to being a local phenomena.

  12. Why? Why do we worship celebrities like we do? They have become the new gods of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But i have yet to see one give birth to his own sister-slash-grandchild through his damn forehead!!!
    Also, what’s with multiple people seeming fairly convinced they know him from some Spiderman joint? Very strange!

  13. Guh… proof of the brain washing people have done to themselves, believing in something so insubstantial as Celebrity and how willing people are to make a jump and assume something not there. It reflect the utter stupidity that reigns out there…

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