The comedy/music video artist currently known as Baked Alaska is a 25-year-old white male who grew up in Anchorage. His publicist calls him Baked, for short, and refuses to tell me his real name. This is great for two reasons.
1. I get to walk around the restaurant prior to the interview and ask people, "Excuse me, are you Baked?" This is well worth showing up early.
2. I get to think up a fun, food-related name for myself. "What do you think of Smoked Salmon? No, not the fish. The girl. The reporter. She's pretty awesome."
Baked Alaska bills himself as the "hottest emcee out of the coldest state." He likes to make rap videos about Alaska -- and cats -- but has yet to come over and make a video of my roommate's Alaska cats. And, as a self-professed "cross between Weird Al, Lonely Island, Borat and Jackass," he is obnoxious on purpose -- in his videos, anyway.
"People either understand and get it, or totally hate it," he says. And that's OK with him. "I want people to superficially judge me super hard. So they think I'm a wacky douchebag; I've always been the underdog. When somebody tells me I can't do something, it's the best inspiration there is."
His high school friend and "idea man," Ben, is also joining us. He has an idea almost immediately. "People don't realize that it's satire. If this were on SNL (Saturday Night Live), you wouldn't take it so seriously. Some people just don't get it."
For example: "In L.A.," says Baked, "when I say I'm from Alaska, I'm like, the only one. People ask me, 'Did you dogsled to school?' 'Did you have a pet penguin?' I like egging them on (in the videos), taking it to the hilt."
But in the videos, he explains, "everyone from Alaska knows what's real."
Baked Alaska has more than 5,000 Twitter fans, and that is his true platform. He makes a point of not just responding to his fans via twitter, but enlisting their advice, and accepting invitations to meet and hang out. He considers his videos a community project, and asks things like, "What should I make my next video about" (riding a polar bear!) and "What's the first word that comes to your mind?" then incorporating those things into lyrics and shoots.
But once in a while, the response is not so nice; in fact, his YouTube comments are like watching swing state news in an election year.
"I've gotten death threats on YouTube," he says. "I never thought a video could make people so mad."
In the video "I Climb Mountains," someone suggested he fall off a mountain. He says he was pretty offended at first. But then he smiled, looked at me intently and adds, "I've thought about making a video called 'YouTube Haters' and including screen shots with all the comments."
I'm starting to like this guy and to dislike the negative commentators, particularly the one that said "rap about something that matters" in the one video -- "NSA (No Snooping Allowed)" -- that I thought really did matter beyond the scope of comedy and entertainment, and even the underlying social commentary. In fact, this is not my genre of music and I doubt I'm his target audience, but I hope he makes more videos like it. Big issues need to reach all people. Why not through this form of freedom of speech and expression?
Before He was Baked
Before he was Baked, he graduated from a local private high school. He told me which one but didn't want me to say. Maybe it would be uncool for him to associate with it. Or maybe he knows that graduating someone who uses the F-word all over the Internet isn't likely to attract many new parents to his alma mater.
Baked Alaska has the charisma of a former student body president. Parody videos he made in high school got even the teachers laughing. The more he thought about it later in life, the more he decided it was time to play to his own strengths.
"It was 100 percent good feedback; that's when it clicked for me. I've always been what Baked Alaska is, it just wasn't focused, or branded. People have always loved my videos. I'm known for prank wars, silly parodies and ridiculous outfits."
Indeed, when we met up, he was scruffy under a hat, wore an oversized army-green coat and had several large chains hanging around his neck, including the golden C3PO from Star Wars that appears in "I Climb Mountains." His wooden sunglasses were especially impressive. And although the mustache is a little weird, his actual persona is enthusiastic and articulate.
"I owe my English teacher a lot of credit. I use literary techniques in lyrics."
They're also full of what he refers to as expectancy violations. "It's when you say the complete opposite of what people think you'll say. You set it up that way."
The Grizzly Bear Trap
Baked Alaska currently lives in Los Angeles. He has a B.S. in marketing from Azusa Pacific University, and has been working in the entertainment industry for five years, including stints as a marketing intern for Warner Bros. Records, an A&R intern for Capitol Records and an executive intern for Warped Tour under founder Kevin Lyman. After that, he spent some time managing six different bands.
While he definitely had some connections going in, he's also met some of his most important contacts completely by chance -- the V.P. of NBC Universal at a club in L.A., an MTV producer in the Apple Store and his videographer through a friend on a last-minute video shoot in Las Vegas.
Although he still has a day job, Baked quit the management gig and followed what Malcolm Gladwell (from Outliers) calls his "natural advantages." He plays piano and drums, writes his own lyrics, and directs and bankrolls his own videos. This explains the low-budget feel, but also his level of commitment. "People used to pay me to do all that," he says. "My big ideas were getting break after break. I realized that my ideas were working, but I wasn't getting any of the credit."
He's finally starting to get some of those breaks. He says Beau Billionaire (RiffRaff, DollaBillGates) and Nick Morzov (Ghost Town, Fueled by Raman, John Feldmann) produced videos for three newest songs, which were filmed here in Alaska ("Into the Wild," "I Live on Glaciers" and "Grizzly Bear Trapppin"). The "Grizzly Bear Trap," he explains, is a play on the more modern use of the word "Trap" to indicate "from the 'hood," as in, "stuck in the Trap."
"If you grow up here," he says, "you get really comfortable growing up here."
Anywhere in the Lower 48, Ben adds, "it's like a two-hour drive to get to another state. The difference between Southern California and Arizona is huge. Here you drive eight hours and you just get to Fairbanks."
Both Baked and Ben agree that Alaska is no trendsetter, but it's changing with the influx of reality shows. Baked says, "In my generation, it was different. We didn't get a Starbuck's until I was a senior in high school. When Old Navy showed up, we finally had a real clothing store. I came home from college in skinny jeans, and everyone asked me if I was gay."
And while it's funny to hear a 25-year-old talk about his generation being different, I can see how it applies to a place where change comes a little more slowly. He explained that homegrown role models for Alaska kids didn't exist beyond the borders, the latest technology wasn't always available and the level of competition, for a lot of things, was just plain lower. In "Alaska Vacation," he calls himself "the first team pick from the last frontier."
"When I grew up, he says," all these artists were using street names from L.A. and N.Y. There was no rapper from Alaska." So using words, events, and places people here recognize is as important to him as highlighting the funny misconceptions he finds Outside.
An Internet search for Baked Alaska yields a lot of cake recipes involving Neapolitan ice cream and meringue. Dig a little deeper, and up pops a young girl blogger in Brooklyn, and a music duo in Oklahoma City. Pretty soon, though, you might wind up with something that's actually from Alaska.
Still, at this stage, it's pretty half-baked. When I read that he had more than 8,000 views for a video released in April, I had just randomly watched a silly video of an elderly woman in a drum shop, Grandma Drummer, that racked up 4 million in one week.
But Baked Alaska has an interesting recipe and it's cooking up in various ovens: YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, maybe even reality show. He's gone from a place with zero rappers, to a place filled with them, into a cyber platform full of critics who aren't constructive and can't seem to take a joke. Yet, he is still profoundly optimistic.
"It's a whole parody on these silly people. Who's got the biggest car? The biggest chain?"
"I come from the biggest state," he says, in "Into the Wild," released last month. "I got the biggest dreams."
And last week, on his Twitter feed from the airport as he was returning to L.A. after shooting in Alaska, "My heart will always stay in the Grizzly Bear Trap."