By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
He has to leave his apartment by May 31.
Two days after getting the notice, Bruso got yet more bad news: The Oakland Housing Authority wanted him to report his income and assets to get recertified for Section 8 housing. That could be standard procedure, but Bruso claims he told his building manager about a $12,000 inheritance from his mother. Plus, with the constant parade of managers and movie producers in and out of his room, "I think they think I'm making a lot of money on this."
Bruso spiraled into depression. Over the next few days, he couldn't eat and didn't want to leave his room. "I just feel safe right here, right now. This is about all I can take right now." When I came to visit, he stood uneasily, shifting his weight side to side, and his blue eyes looked wide and worried. This was not the Epic Beard Man the Internet had seen: not high, not hamming it up, no profanity-laced tirades. "It seems like you can't avoid being homeless, once you've been homeless," he says. "It just sucks you right back down."
For the first time, Bruso seemed pissed at his mental problems, for having squandered $6,000 on strangers and pot, and for signing every contract put in front of him. "I can't even remember yesterday, to tell you the truth," he says. "Half the time, I don't even know what I'm saying. I ramble and ramble. I get high and happy and I just start talking, and a lot of things come out distorted in the wrong way."
He continues, "I am so tired of trying to get through life, trying to be happy, trying to enjoy it. And when I do enjoy it, it seems something comes along to destroy all that. I keep bettering myself, and keep going backwards. ... I'm out of my mind and can't think anymore. I don't know anyone who will help me figure this out."
Being Epic Beard Man had long ago lost its thrill: "I just feel like everyone wants a piece of me," he says. "I'm just so tired of it all. I wish the phone would stop ringing. All the guys I do know now, I don't know who's who when they call."
Bruso mulled his options. He said he didn't want to move back to Wisconsin to live with his sister. Actually, at his age, he didn't really want to be uprooted at all.
Pinky sat up on his seat, wagging her tail. "I know you're goin' crazy, too," he told the dog. He even thought he might have to get rid of her, because taking her out seemed an insurmountable hassle.
He looked away from the TV, where the news was playing in the background, and apologized for being so down. "This story is starting to get bad now, huh?"
Internet stars often can cash in on their fame. Tay Zonday, the singer behind the "Chocolate Rain" video, went on to star in a Dr. Pepper commercial and record an album. Obama Girl appeared on Saturday Night Live. Yet people who never intended to be famous, unwittingly plucked from anonymity and thrown into the limelight by the Internet masses, tend to fare worse. A stoned-looking Oakland guy who called himself Bubb Rubb became famous for a clip in which he told a KRON-4 reporter he was getting whistle tips installed on his exhaust pipes that would make a "Woo wooo!" sound. Though people made a documentary about him and sold Bubb Rubb thongs and mousepads online, he says he never made squat.
"We like to see people melting down," says B. Remy Cross, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Irvine who studies social media movements. "It's like America's Funniest Home Videos for the Internet generation."
"Most people are doing this in their free time when they want to be entertained," says Chris Menning, who helped write the extensive entry on Epic Beard Man for the Know Your Meme Web site. "Most users are less concerned with getting to the bottom of it than perpetuating the myth of it."
Yet in Bruso's case, the same mental problems that incited him to kick a dude's ass on a bus in the first place have made it hard for him to handle fame.
In early March, King hired Nathan Maas, an S.F. State film school grad who had made an online documentary about Bruso, and his coproducer, Aaron Curry, to return to Bruso's apartment to ask him some questions on camera for a screen test. They lobbed softball questions — What's your favorite kind of pot? Do you have any girlfriends? It was soon after Bruso had missed his mom's funeral, and he mostly gave one-word answers.
"His whole demeanor had changed; he was a completely different guy," Curry says.
But in the week after Bruso got his eviction notice, King and Moss flew up from L.A. unannounced to pitch him some good news. They wanted him to come to Southern California for three weeks to film an Internet movie in which Bruso avenges the murder of a black family member. During the meeting, Bruso seemed worried about his eviction, Curry recalls, and was fearful of talking to them without his managers present.