Justin Bieber may have been celebrating his 18th birthday at the Staples Center down the street but there was a whole different kind of party going on inside Club Nokia this Thursday night. LeetUP is the first of its kind event created to bring people together from all over the world via Twitter and live podcasting. Geek icons such as Felicia Day, Kevin Smith and others were in attendance for what turned into one of the stranger events held in Los Angeles this week.
Trying to explain LeetUP is a little difficult. It was as if someone had the idea to get all the major icons of the Internet together in one room, just to see what happens. But due to the nature of the event those in attendance were not only prone to talking about the event online as it happened but were actually encouraged. Before the show even began DJ R Rated, who laid down some amazing game-related beats, would ask questions into the audience and get responses on his Twitter feed.
“I didn’t realize that by putting myself on Twitter I would turn my page into a request line. Sorry guys I don’t have any more Mary J. Blige, but the first person to guess which video game this beat comes from will win a prize,” he told the audience. No one had said a thing, they didn’t have to, Twitter spoke for them. The event itself doubled as a live podcast that people could listen to and interact with anywhere in the world thanks to microphones placed around the stage.
There were plenty of things to keep the audience busy before the show started. Like a valentine to technology there were game systems from every era available for people to play for free. You could get swept back to your childhood playing Donkey Kong on an original arcade machine or test out your new moves on a Wii.
While the distractions were nice by 8 p.m. it was time for the show to start. Kevin Pereira, host of the G4’s “Attack of the Show” took the stage first to a roaring applause from the crowd. As host of “Attack of the Show” Pereira has spent years telling them what’s hot and what’s not in the technology world. A natural entertainer and never one to mince words he started out by apologizing for the high-ticket prices, something it took guts to do considering he reports directly to the company handling ticket sales.
Not wasting any time he introduced the first act of the night, comedian and podcaster Jimmy Pardo. While his act was good he spent far too much time insulting the crowd, which seemed to have forgotten he had even performed by the end of the night.
The real fun came during the first panel. Putting Felicia Day, cult actress and creator of the Web series “The Guild,” on a couch with Epic Meal Time creator Harley Morenstein and podcaster Alex Albrecht made for the perfect balance for sweet and raunchy. Morenstein never holds back and you can tell that he’s totally at home on stage making it up as he goes. Day is just as sweet and geeky in person as she is on her television show with a smile that could melt anyone’s heat. Albrecht, seated in the between the two, created the idea equilibrium throughout the course of the discussion.
Keeping everyone on topic was a little rough sometimes but the tangents made it worthwhile. Listening to Day tell the audience that she hates it when people don’t believe she is a real game is a hilarious, “I just want to slap them in the face,” she explained with a passionate smile. When asked about the origins of her Web series “The Guild” she explained that she was an out of work actress and spent a lot of time gaming. She had pitched the idea of a show about gamers to the networks but when they saw her script they just didn’t get it. So instead of waiting around she got some friends together and wrote the first season the way she wanted it. Five years later the show has a massive worldwide following. “I always tell people that you should do the kind of work you would do if you didn’t get paid for it. That is the kind of thing that will make you successful,” she said.
Morenstein is the perfect example of that. “I used to be a school teacher before doing Epic Meal Time and while it was fun I always wanted to be in entertainment. But I’m a tall, big guy and you couldn’t really put me anywhere. So I got some friends together one weekend and we started doing this. We did the first one because it was cool and kept doing it because it was cool. That was what kept us going,” he explained.
But simply staying on the couch wasn’t enough, the night was about interaction after all. In what can only be described as Epic Meal Time Live! The panel got to work on creating strange concoctions out of marshmallows, Canadian Club, mustard, jelly, bacon and cheese.
They then brought out to volunteers from the crowd to see who eat the most in 90 seconds without throwing up. Pereira took the extra mile by having the contestants swallow even more mustard in the middle of the competition. Surprisingly both held it down while on stage, though it is anyone’s guess what happened after. Audience members wanted in so they yelled out Morenstein’s catchphrase “More bacon!” and were greeted by a bucket full of bacon thrown deep into the crowd.
After the first panel finished the night had begun to drag a bit. There was too much time between sets and not enough action to keep everyone satisfied. By the time Ask a Ninja finished his skit Pereira looked worried. In what would go down as one of the riskiest moves of the night he actually came on stage and apologized to the crowd. “We actually did spend a lot of money trying to get more people down here but due to circumstances out of our control they could not make it tonight. I want to thank you all for coming, drive home safe.” The lights came up and panic quickly spread through the audience. “What?! No Kevin Smith?! I paid a lot of money for this!” could be heard sporadically through across the venue. Pereira let it go for almost five full minutes before coming back on stage and continuing the show. I’m not entirely sure why he did such a rash prank but I’m sure at least a few people left the show angry.
The second half of the night mirrored the first, this time with an all-male panel consisting of Kevin Smith, Doug Benson, Chris Hardwick and Greg Fitzsimmons. Smith seemed to be on autopilot and openly admitted to having been woken from a nap before he got to the show by his wife. But the night was about conversation after all. There were no sets and no need for makeup, just real discussions with real people.
Smith is famous for saying that he makes a living off of dick and fart jokes and whether it was intentional or not that seemed to be the main topic of discussion during the second half of the night. From using a coat to hide an erection to the kind of porn each panel member preferred nothing was off limits.
Interaction was the key to the night and everyone took part. Through social networking, live Q&A’s and actually going into the crowd and meeting the audience after the show one message became clear: technology is a great equalizer. Anyone can use technology to connect to millions of people all over the globe. The panelists on-stage that night may have been entertainers but they became famous (except maybe Smith) through social networking and pod/video casts. “Making a movie can be really expensive and takes a long time to do, but making a podcast is cheap and doesn’t take long at all. There used to be only one way into the entertainment world, now there are thousands of back doors in,” reflected Smith.