Judging from the crowd of frenzied fans surrounding Brett Cohen in Times Square, you’d assume he was the star of Hollywood’s latest blockbuster.
But 21-year-old Brett Cohen isn’t an actor. Nor is he a musician, an athlete or a model. Brett Cohen is a prankster — and on the night of July 27, he duped thousands of people into thinking he was a huge celebrity.
Cohen, a media management student at SUNY New Paltz and a Long Island native, planned the fake celebrity stunt with a group of friends just to see if they could pull it off. They recruited two bodyguards with ads on Craigslist, planted paparazzi-style photographers and personal assistants. Cohen, though, had to make sure he looked the part. He donned a collared shirt, jeans, tinted sunglasses and spiked hair.
“I was going for a Tom Cruise kind of look,” Cohen, who posted the video online Wednesday, told Metro.
He entered NBC on 50th Street and exited at 49th Street to a small crowd of people who gathered after his “assistants” told them a big celebrity was about to exit. Cohen said his crew did not plant any fans and all the reactions seen in the video are real. His “assistants” were instructed not to tell people anything about him or why he was famous.
“The crowds grew on every block,” Cohen said. “People would praise my work. They’d say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it. I’m such a big fan.’ Only one guy said, ‘I don’t know who you are.’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know you who are either.’ And that was it.”
Cohen’s co-producer, Edward Sturm, was part of a camera crew interviewing fans in the crowd. Some people said they recognized Cohen from “Spider-Man.” Others said they’d heard his music and thought he had a bright future.
In one group of excited teenaged fans, a girl can be heard saying, “This is the best day of my life! I love him!”
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Cohen laughed. “It makes a point about culture and how people are so obsessed with celebrity.”
The prank continued for several blocks until one of Cohen’s bodyguards ushered the crew into a hotel bar. The crowd eventually dissipated. At the end of the video, Cohen is seen walking to the subway as if nothing had happened.
“The most interesting thing I’ve learned was how a video platform like this is the best way to showcase comedy,” Cohen said. “I’ve tried a lot of different platforms, and it did take a lot of talent to pretend the whole thing was normal.”
Cohen estimates he posed for about 300 photos that night. He said the crowd was a mix of tourists and New Yorkers.
“People are so obsessed with fame. It’s not a theory. It’s a fact,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether they are really famous or not — people want to take a picture and they will put it on Twitter and Instagram in the hopes that their friends will know who it is.”