by Andrew Briedis
While I remember writing short plays as far back as childhood, it took some time for me to really find my way to becoming a writer. There weren’t any afterschool programs for hopeful nine-year-old playwrights in San Diego, and acting was my first love (an aspiration born out of an unnecessary envy of Joseph Mazzello in Jurassic Park, and child stars in general), so I started performing in youth theatre. When I was twenty-one, I got my Equity card on the national tour of The Boy Friend, directed by Julie Andrews. A mentor of mine said to me, “Julie Andrews gave you your Equity card, and that is something nobody will ever be able to take away from you.” There was caution in his voice, and I couldn’t quite figure it out. Was he warning me that my acting career might not take off after that? I booked the job with a year still left at the Hartt School. I was going to be fine! Skipping out on my senior year, I moved to New York City the day after the tour ended, and never signed another Equity contract again.
Call it a good case of bad luck? I can make up any number of excuses as to why I was an unsuccessful actor, but they’d be just that… Excuses. By the time I hit my mid-twenties, I was coming to terms with having fallen out of love with the business. It’s fair to say we had broken up years earlier. When it came to acting, I never really had the unique skills that drive actors to get up in the morning—and those qualities have always fascinated me. Maybe that’s why two years into flirting with the idea of becoming a writer I was compelled to create a parody Twitter account about the people I had been surrounded by for the greater part of my life. I’ve never been on Broadway. I no longer pursue acting. I’m a personal trainer at Equinox. Annoying Actor Friend could be viewed as an elaborate ruse, but I wouldn’t say that I “pulled one over” on the Broadway community. I just loved writing about them.
My name is Andrew Briedis, and I am Annoying Actor Friend. It’s understandable that it might be strange to discover that I am not an actor anymore (I do still pay my Equity dues so I can vote in elections), but I believe that for any of this to work, I needed to have a lack of emotional connection to the subject matter to be able to objectively analyze it. This experiment has, and will always, be about impartial social commentary on a very specific kind of culture.
Truthfully, Annoying Actor Friend was my third attempt at a parody Twitter account, but the only one that stuck. The first two were geared toward spoofing personal trainers and jaded New Yorkers. They bombed. How’s that for irony? There I was trying to make a clean break from “the business,” and ended up being drawn back in and finding myself falling in love with the industry all over again—but in a much different way.
I admit the entire thing began because I was really annoyed by some of my friends. Social media behavior is tricky, and I’ve sucked at it, too. I was one of the first one million Facebook users, and I guarantee most of my friends hid my profile during some pretty dark days between 2008 and 2011. I mean…I did a Kickstarter for a stolen laptop in 2009, before there were Kickstarters. Now, I guess the only people I piss off on social media must not dig my decidedly heightened obsession with Jurassic Park, or this thing I’m doing where I pretend I replaced the Olsen Twins in Fuller House.
Hate is consuming shit. For me to continue this charade as long as I did, it had to be out of love of the industry. It was a subject matter I was close to, and I think I was able to find some success satirizing it because I can relate to actors without the need to be one. I had found something that worked for me. It might not have been blue meth, but I honestly kept doing it because I liked it. Writing brought back a passion and fearlessness that a long time ago I used to have in the audition room.
When I did youth theatre, my mom would coach my auditions from her chair in our living room. I’d sing “We’re Off to See the Wizard” or “Seize the Day,” and she would encourage me to make bold, if sometimes unnecessary, choices. One time, for a holiday show, I sang “The Restroom Door Said Gentleman” to the tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” There was a lyric that alluded to me being caught in the women’s restroom by mistake, and leaving with a high-heel up my behind. Naturally, I squeezed one of my mom’s mid-nineties patent leather pumps in between my legs and held it for the length of the number, until just the right moment, when I let it drop to the floor as if it were literally falling out of my ass. I was eleven.
My mom passed away when I was in high school, and a little bit of that fearlessness went with her. I pursued musical theatre in a conservatory setting, which led to me thinking way too hard. I started questioning every single note, beat, and step. I have the most painfully contrived back-story for Rolf Gruber known to man. That’s not the faculty’s fault; it’s what I signed up for, and it didn’t work for me. Do we really know what’s best for us when we’re eighteen? Somewhere in college I forgot how to hold my mom’s shoe between my legs and not give a shit. Seriously, there was never a more butt-tight, nervous interpretation of Claude in Hair than me eleven years ago.
I’ve spent my life surrounded by people who are more talented, intelligent, and successful than me. That’s not a bad thing. At first, it taught me how to learn from others and to take the work seriously, but not myself. Sometime after I moved to New York, I lost that—and it wasn’t until I started writing that I got it back. The new direction reminded me of what it was like to try things, and not be afraid if nobody gets it. It was like being with my mom again. The fearlessness returned. It’s a pretty big cop-out to make this about my mom, but I have to think that my inability to deliver on a dream that led to me pursuing an education costing thousands of dollars comes from some place more than, “I just didn’t like it anymore.” I need to believe that I was supposed to find a different way. A way back to what I had learned from her.
When I first walked into my eighth grade English class, my teacher handed each student a unique key with a card attached that read: You possess the key to your success. I turned to her and eagerly asked, “Miss Mooney! What does this key open?” Without missing a beat, she smiled at me—in that friendly fashion only those rare teachers whom you never forget know how to master—and replied, “You could spend a good part of your life trying to figure that out.”
Of course at thirteen, I took her literally. I wondered how many locked safes, trunks, or doors I would have to try, to find out where my key belonged. Looking back, my naïveté may not have been far off; for me, I spent so long trying to unlock the wrong door with the wrong key, instead of finding out where my key went. I carry the actual key on my key chain to this day.
When it comes to finding success, I think I was just waiting for technology to catch up to my laziness. It’s like I needed immediate validation to kick-start the determination and discipline I had lost. Annoying Actor Friend helped me find it again. If people hadn’t followed me back the first night I created the account, or hadn’t retweeted me, or had neglected to suggest I write a blog and then come up with something to do after Smash ended, none of this would have happened. It makes me wonder if, had I gotten just one callback at the right time, maybe I’d still be pursuing an acting career. I’m so thankful I didn’t get that callback.
Looking back on it all, I’ve learned that the need to be liked doesn’t consume me anymore. Sure, I love attention, because I was an actor, I am a Millennial, and also, I’m a human being—but it doesn’t drive my activity. Our own personal progress shouldn’t be dictated by whether or not people like what we do. We should be doing it because we like it. I’ve had plenty of Annoying Actor Friend experiments completely bomb, and I’d revel in a hundred more failures if they led to just one #Dim4Joan. I am #grateful and #blessed, and all of the things I make fun of, that I didn’t succeed as an actor, because it led me to writing—and being able to accept things when they’re bad, because I know they can be good again.
You might be wondering, “Why reveal your identity now?” While it’s no mistake that this was all carefully planned months ago with such close proximity to the release date of my second book, (there’s actually a mostly honest 20,000 word semi-autobiography that defines my identity hidden in its ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ format) the real reason I felt it was time to end the anonymous aspect of Annoying Actor Friend is because I believe that has run its course. Everything I have ever done as this character has been founded upon calculated social media experimentation—and when the timing is right, those experiments take flight. I could feel a cultural shift within social media during the past year not unlike the one that drove me to create the account in the first place, and it led me to believe that for me, this is the right time. Annoying Actor Friend takes a surprising amount of focus to run, and I’d like to redirect my attention to elevating other things I have written (and the many more things I want to write) but I look forward to finding a way to reinvent it. While some people might be upset because they strongly think that the reason my activism works is due to the power in my anonymity, to that I say, “If this community needs an ‘anonymous crusader’ to ignite and drive conversation, then there is a much bigger problem.”
Ultimately, it was always imperative to me that everyone eventually knew who I am (and more importantly who I am not) so I can show that you don’t need to be what people expect (or want) you to be, to get something done for yourself. There has never been a more accessible time in history to make your own thing than right now, and you can do it without anyone telling you, “no.” Most importantly: You don’t need to live your childhood dream, if you’re led to another one.
I realize that this is all pretty heavy stuff for a guy who had an Anne Hathaway profile picture for almost a year, has photo-shopped a velociraptor onto a picture of Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie, and flirts openly with the Smash Twitter account, but for every unserious quality about this silly parody Internet personality, there was just a tiny bit of seriousness behind it. I loved it. I’ll miss it as it was. It changed who I am. Above all, it taught me that you can have an epic passion for something and then one day you might wake up and it’s gone—and that’s OK. Because if you really love it…if it is absolutely a world you’re supposed to be involved with in some way, it will drag you—violently if necessary—back into its arms.