Matt Bellassai (Medill ‘12) won by losing.
During his junior year at Northwestern, Bellassai – now a social media star who you may have seen on Facebook or BuzzFeed – ran for ASG president. After seeing that other people didn’t feel as passionately about being at NU as he did, he wanted to try to spread his own passion through ASG. Instead, he “lost to some douchebag.”
“I totally was like the Hillary of my year,” Bellassai said. “I was the insider, I knew everything – but was not the most likable, because nobody wants to vote for a guy who only does ASG all the time, so they voted for the popular kid.”
Today, you might know Bellassai from viral BuzzFeed videos like the drunk complaining series Whine About It, or his current independent Facebook video series To Be Honest. Now, he’s moving into other forms for his comedy – standup shows, a new podcast, and an essay collection released last month called Everything Is Awful and Other Observations. It took losing that ASG election to give him more time to explore the internet, leading Bellassai to his career as a social media comedian.
Using the time he had blocked out for ASG during his senior year, Bellassai became active on Tumblr and Twitter as they grew in popularity. Additionally, he started writing for this very website, giving sometimes comedic takes on the ASG administration that could’ve – some may say should’ve – been his. When he started as a special ASG correspondent, NBN’s news editors wrote in a note, “We realize that the phrase ‘Special White House Correspondent John McCain’ comes to mind. But Matt has three years of experience at many levels of ASG … We believe this exceptional level of institutional expertise will benefit NBN readers and enrich debate at Northwestern.”
Bellassai’s stories, like “Senators LOL’d, funds doled out at ASG Senate,” poke fun at ASG proceedings, like a conversation where former provost Dan Linzer tried and failed to make jokes. “Well, it’s funny if you’re the provost, at least,” Bellassai wrote. (Linzer had said, “We’ll just give all the students A's and not hold classes,” when asked about Kresge’s then-planned construction.)
“I wrote the most bitter, hostile reviews every week, where I would describe – the guy who ran for president and won, I described his outfits every week in the most fabulous way,” Bellassai said. “Every week the NBN editor would take out my descriptions and say, ‘They’re hilarious but we can’t put that in.’ I just had fun with it.”
All that set Bellassai up for a post-graduation job writing comedy at BuzzFeed, a website then making its name as a purveyor of listicles, quizzes and videos. After a few years, he created the web series that he became known for: Whine About It. Every week, Bellassai got drunk off wine – in the BuzzFeed office – and ranted in front of a camera about whatever was on his mind.
The series blew up on BuzzFeed, along with Facebook in particular, leading Bellassai to eventually win the first-ever People’s Choice Award for favorite social media star in 2016. (Maybe you remember the awards ceremony, when the camera accidentally identified someone else as Bellassai when he was announced as the winner.) Not long after, Bellassai left BuzzFeed and started to work on comedy on his own, creating the Facebook video series To Be Honest (which involved him drinking on camera again) and performing standup. His podcast, Unhappy Hour, came out this summer, which features more longform comedy with guests such as Aparna Nancherla and Snooki.
“For many people, a People’s Choice Award is – that’s the epitome of success,” Bellassai joked. “So I’ve peaked already and there’s nowhere to go from here.”
But Bellassai has further aspirations – he hinted that he’s exploring television, and said he would welcome a Grammy nomination for the Everything Is Awful audiobook. (“Hillary Clinton will probably win” for What Happened, he said.) As he’s tried new forms of media, though, Bellassai realized he wants to continue writing too.
“It’s just a painstaking process of having to sit down and force yourself to write,” Bellassai said. “But I do want to write more now that [the book] is done and out.”
The writing process may have been difficult, but for Bellassai, the content was there. Everything Is Awful collects embarrassing, funny moments from Bellassai’s life – the stories he said he would tell around friends and family. Together, the memories in the book made Bellassai “the grumpy, terrible person” he is.
One story in particular – “I Fell In Love With My Straight Best Friend And It Was A Terrible Idea,” which Bellassai published on BuzzFeed in anticipation of Everything Is Awful’s release – documents an awkward, specifically Northwestern moment in Bellassai’s life. He writes about the dreamy straight guy who he befriended freshman year in PARC (in the building now known as 1838 Chicago) and crushed on hard through his senior year. The story features exploration of gay sexuality with an actual closet, an “Intro to Shakespeare” essay inspired by said straight friend, and even an awkward and long coming out Facebook message, included verbatim.
“I graduated from Northwestern in 2012 – it wasn’t that long ago,” Bellassai said. “I was able to go back and look at all of the text messages and Facebook messages. … I can read everything that I said and pretty much relive all those moments word for word, which is strange.”Bellassai’s stories may seem like cautionary tales for NU students – and in a sense, they are. But when it comes to encouraging advice, Bellassai said Northwestern is the place where you can explore, mess up and figure yourself out because of the people you’re surrounded by.
“I felt so overwhelmed by the number of people, or I felt like I didn’t fit in,” Bellassai said. “Looking back, it’s like I had way more in common with everybody I went to school with than I do with most people in the world. Try to take advantage of the community you’re in.”