WASHINGTON -- He's opened for the rapper Wale and comedian Brian Posehn, formerly of "The Sarah Silverman Program." And now Ron Paul.
Those are among Remy Munasifi's eclectic credits. The 33-year-old comedian has ridden his Internet fame from the mean streets of Arlington, Va. -- where he rapped in 2009 about his suburban neighborhood's propensity for brown flip-flops and Starbucks outlets -- to serving as a warm-up act for the Republican congressman from Texas at a "pro-liberty" student conference last week.
Munasifi, who still lives in Arlington County and makes a living producing comedic videos, has turned his satirical eye beyond suburban yuppies and toward politics -- specifically the libertarian variety.
Since 2010, Munasifi has teamed with ReasonTV, linked to the libertarian think tank Reason Foundation, to create short rap parody videos.
He has lampooned the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, the debt ceiling, Jay Z and Beyoncé's Cuban vacation, and, most recently, Anthony Weiner's sexting scandal. One of his catchier spoofs, "Tap It: The NSA Slow Jam," satirizes the National Security Agency's electronic-surveillance program.
Yeah we're saving your searches, that's just a reality
Yes we can" ain't just a slogan, it's our view on legality
Slow-jamming the NSA story is one way that Munasifi connects with a younger audience: people who, he says, are more inclined toward libertarian views to begin with.
"The videos that I post on ReasonTV touch upon a lot of the things that the (libertarian) community finds to be important," he said. "They're funny videos, but I think a lot of younger people care about these civil liberty issues."
Political satire doesn't, however, get quite the same traction that mocking suburban Virginia dwellers did. His GoRemy YouTube channel, where he posted the Arlington rap and other broad satire, has earned 81 million views. On ReasonTV, his videos have garnered more than 2 million hits.
When he's not rapping about Washington's most recent controversy, he is writing music videos under the name of a comedic alter ego, expressing his fondness for Middle Eastern food. Raised by an Iraqi father and Lebanese mother, Munasifi pays musical homage to Middle Eastern staples, including "Teardrops on My Kabob," a song about fasting during Ramadan set to the tune of Taylor Swift's "Teardrops on My Guitar."
Munasifi can often be found at the George Mason University library -- where, he jokes, the lack of television, guitar, Internet and shiny objects keep him focused -- writing lyrics, listening to country music or planning weekday lunch dates with his mom and dad. (She has appeared in his music videos.) In 2009, Munasifi signed with the Gersh Agency and a year later released "The Falafel Album" with Comedy Central Records. It debuted at No. 10 on the iTunes comedy chart.
On Aug. 2 at the Young Americans for Liberty student conference, in a hall filled with a diverse crowd of hundreds of well-dressed, libertarian-leaning college students, Munasifi encouraged the attendees to get their own satirical video careers going. "It seems like a lot of libertarian people are out there making videos, and I'd like to see more," he said during his warm-up for the night's keynote speaker.
He performed a medley of his popular hits, freely taking shouted requests from the captivated audience. He didn't even hold back when the crowd clamored for his Weiner parody "Blurred Junk," a takeoff on the summer anthem "Blurred Lines."
It was the kind of performance that Bonnie Kristian, the former YAL communications director who booked Munasifi, was hoping for. She became a Remy fan after listening to his Arlington rap hit.
"I think he is unique in many ways in the liberty movement in that he does write songs with a political message, but it's very well done," explained Kristian. "They are not something you can only enjoy if you agree with everything in his message."
Remy was 26 and in law school when he posted his first political video to YouTube, a country blues song titled "Macaca Blues" about the 2006 U.S. Senate race in Virginia. The parody is still his favorite.
"I was just so happy I had figured out how to make the camera work," he said. "I watched these tutorials on YouTube that were narrated by these 8-year-old kids who were like wizards with computer stuff."
Nine months later, a video question he submitted to YouTube was one of 39 posed to all of the Democratic contenders at a CNN/YouTube presidential debate in Charleston, S.C. His question, performed as a song about being overtaxed, was named a CNN favorite and received a chuckle from all the candidates.
Prime-time play brought him national attention, an affiliation with the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan Washington-based research group, and an invitation to join YouTube's partnership program, which enabled him to monetize his videos through advertisements.
The summer before the release of his comedy album, Munasifi approached Reason to see if the group would be interested in a similar collaboration. That's how he eventually made it to working warm-up for libertarian hero Paul last week.
"I think our message is complex and our ideas are really difficult to understand, so when broken down into comical little snippets, I think people react to them positively and really appreciate that," said David Haas, a rising senior at Penn State who was attending the YAL conference. "It shows that libertarianism isn't some archaic form of philosophy and that it's up on the times."
And "up on the times" is what Munasifi is going for -- he is reluctant to declare allegiance to a particular political party and prefers that his videos be considered more topical than political.
"When I was growing up, I really wanted to be in journalism and write a column, but my journalism teacher kept assuring me that my stuff wasn't good enough," Munasifi remembered. "I assumed that commentary on current events was not something I'd ever be good at."
Eighty-three million views later, his vast fan base would seem to disagree.
By Megan McDonough
The Washington Post