From his hugely popular BuzzFeed show Whine About It, to his solo venture To Be Honest, you'd be hard pressed to find someone on the Internet who hadn't seen Matt Bellassai drink an entire bottle of wine while filming a hilarious rant.
But it's more than just Riesling and ranting. PRIDE sat down with the Internet sensation to talk about politics, making wine, and what's next.
PRIDE: Your nationwide comedy tour, The Drunk and Alone Tour, just wrapped up: What was it like going from video to in-person performing? How do you think it went?
Matt Bellassai: I had a lot of fun doing it! When I was at BuzzFeed, I was doing some live stuff here and there, maybe like a ten minute set during a live show they were putting on, but I hadn’t done a full hour by myself before. And I liked it a lot! All the audiences were really great. When you make videos, you don’t really get the immediate reaction from people. Obviously when you’re on stage, you do. You can tell right away whether it’s going well or not. It can be scary, but when it goes well, I think it’s way more rewarding.
Your work on the BuzzFeed series, Whine About It, was a huge success. What inspired you to move on and move out on your own?
[Whine About It] was great, and I had a lot of fun doing it. I’d been at BuzzFeed for almost four years; I started as a writer, then started doing video, getting more comfortable on camera. As Whine About It was getting more popular I started thinking about performing live and other things, like writing a book, which I’ve always wanted to do. Basically, when I started having those conversations with BuzzFeed about whether I could do those things on the side, they were sort of like, ‘You have to kind of choose between, do you want to stay here and focus on what you’re doing now (and we own everything that you do), or do you want to go out on your own, where you get to own everything that you do, you can work on whatever you want.’ But you take on the risk and you don’t have an office to come into, and you don’t have benefits and you don’t have all the good things that come with working for a big company. So I kind of had to make that choice. And it felt like if I was going to take on that risk, this year was the right year to do it. I still feel like I’m at the beginning of my career (I hope), and I can afford to take a little bit of a risk. And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll still be able to hopefully bounce back. Luckily it seems to have worked out so far!
That experience helped you win the fan-voted People’s Choice Award for “Social Media Star" in 2016. Aside from the hilarious snafu at the event, how has positive fan feedback like this affected your career choices going forward?
I have built an audience that expects a certain amount of output. When you work in an office, you have coworkers that are keeping you in check and making sure that you’re doing your work, and now that I work for myself, I rely on my audience to keep me motivated. When I don’t put out a video, people get upset, so having that feedback as a sort of motivational tool is always helpful. It’s very much energized by the audience. I do rely on the audience a lot to keep the excitement up and to keep the interest there and to keep me motivated.
It was awesome, I had a lot of fun doing it. It seemed kind of inevitable; it came up really organically. They came to me and said, ‘We’re fans of what you do.’ [Winc] started as a subscription service, solely, and then they started making their own wine and working directly with vineyards. Now they’re really interested in collaborating with people, so they came to me, and it seemed like a really natural fit. I was, obviously, like, ‘Yes, I’m in, I’m down, this sounds amazing!’ I got to be super involved in the process and got to taste it along the way and got to pick what the bottle looked like. It’s one of those things that felt very natural. This was the sort of thing I’d built my audience on and what people are into, so it was a very smooth collaboration.
And I’m a consumer of wine, I’d only experienced it once I’d popped open the bottle and poured my glass. So, I really didn’t know anything about the process of how it’s made. I had a general idea, but seeing it happen in person and seeing the scale, the amount of grapes that they go through, the amount of actual wine that you have fermenting in a giant vat somewhere in California—it’s pretty amazing.
Also, you have to get up really early if you want to pick grapes (it gets hot in California), so if you don’t want to be standing in the sun in the middle of the day, you have to get up at, like, five in the morning.
You were recently at the American Music Awards acting as social media correspondent—of the celebrities you met, which one would make the best wine-drinking partner?
I just want to share a bottle, or case, with Hillary. I feel like she could use it right now. After a glass or two, I feel like she’d be down to spill about what she’s really thinking. She’s my dream drinking partner right now.
Speaking of politics: 2016 gave you a lot of fodder for To Be Honest, giving you (and everyone else) a lot of reasons to drink lots of wine—2017 is shaping up to be just as insane! What advice would you give someone feeling scared or hopeless during these crazy political times?
I’m like a lot of people in that, the election woke me up, and now I feel way more motivated in two ways: one, being physically engaged and keeping myself educated, reading the news every day, figuring out ways that I can be involved. And two, I feel more motivated to make art and comedy and provide outlets for people to laugh and feel good and escape, in some ways. I think both of those aspects are important: you want to be able to laugh and kind of get away from what’s happening, but also still be engaged and make sure that you’re actually involved and committed.
I’m inspired, I feel like I’m inspired by a lot of other people—I feel like the next four years will be a sort of renaissance in retaliation of these dark ages. People are going to be producing a lot of wonderful art and comedy, things that are going to fight back.
While most people know you for your wine-drinking and hilarious rants, you have a significant LGBT following, too. What role do you see yourself playing among other LGBT comedians and artists of today?
I mean, I’m the thirstiest of the thirsty on Twitter—I’m very gay on Twitter. I’m not shying away from being my bold and open self across the Internet.
Joe Biden cited Will & Grace as one of the things that moved him in the direction of supporting same-sex marriage. And when you ask the majority of the country if they have family members who are gay or if they know anyone who is gay, it’s at least someone they see on TV or see on the Internet. So, for me, now, I feel motivated to be that person for people who don’t have that person in their family. If there are people who are watching me in the middle of the country, I may be one of the only gay people they see. So it’s about being my open self on the Internet.
And it’s a basic thing, it’s not like I’m breaking down walls here. I’m just being myself.
What topic have you not yet covered on Whine About It or To Be Honest that you’ve been dying to do?
I don’t know! You’d actually be surprised, everyone asks me if I have a list of topics I’m checking off, and I actually don’t. I really just come up with topics every week, on the fly. I’ll go through comments and suggestions. It’s really sort of whatever bubbles up that week.
I will say, there are things, like a podcast, that I’m starting to put together. I’m excited to get a little more topical and news-y. That will be a different outlet, since in my videos I don’t really talk about topical stuff, it’s just more evergreen things like pants and squirrels. So, sharing my opinions on news and politics and all that fun stuff is what I’m excited about delving into.
What can you tell us about what’s next for you and for To Be Honest?
As I mentioned, I’m working on writing a book, and starting to put together a podcast, and starting to put together some larger projects, like some scripted shows that will hopefully come together in the next year. So it’s kind of just a continuation of what’s been happening—keep creating the things I’ve been creating and keep putting out funny stuff.
Thanks, Matt! We're looking forward to seeing everything in store for you in the coming years!