On a recent Saturday night, the comedy community of both coasts gathered to fête Mitchell Stephen Fesh. At New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade, the bearded guest of honor sat amid a doting crowd to watch a tribute video to himself packed with stars from NBC’s Thursday night comedies: 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, Community’s Donald Glover, and The Office’s Ellie Kemper and Zach Woods (who plays Kathy Bates’s obsequious lackey). Woods applauded Fesh’s three-word name that “makes you sound like either an aristocrat or an assassin,” while Human Giant’s Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer taped themselves at UCB’s Los Angeles branch, amid a capacity crowd cheering Fesh’s name. And then came the Saturday Night Live encomiums: On came a video greeting from the cast’s Fred Armisen, Will Forte, Bobby Moynihan, Nasim Pedrad, Andy Samberg, and Jenny Slate — as well as the show’s writers, interns, and the actor Jude Law, who was hosting the show that very night. Fesh shook with excitement throughout the evening as the praise rolled in.
But who was this mysterious Fesh, and why all the love?
To properly tell the legend of Fesh, we must go back to early February, when Chris Gethard, a UCB regular who has written for SNL and the Onion News Network (as well as a book called Weird New York), posted a video to YouTube called “Attn Sad Youth of America”: In it, he talked about how dark and lonely and confusing his youth was, and then he made an offer. If his depression resonated with anyone in his audience, he would like to fly that someone out to New York — “and for one night, at least one night, you will be a rock star. I will make sure that before you ever even arrive in New York City that everyone knows about you and what’s great about you and is psyched to see you here.”
The first response came from Fesh. Plump, bespectacled, with his face framed by wild tufts of curly hair and a puffy cotton-candy beard, the 19-year-old community-college student and self-professed “huge, huge comedy nerd” from Maumee, Ohio, wrote via Facebook, “I’ve already written to you about a number of things, generally about being unhappy in Ohio and coming off as a jerk to people I look up to, which I feel includes you. Through my day-to-day life I’ve found it also includes people I don’t look up to or like, apparently. I don’t want to drag on, so, yeah, that sounds like me.” Gethard had his guest of honor, and once Fesh was alerted, he posted a video in which he said, his voice breaking, “This is I would say a thing on my bucket list; but I never put it on because I never thought it could happen.”
The comedy community — full of oddballs and outcasts — rallied for this kindred spirit. (Huebel paid for Fesh to have a room at the hotel 60 Thompson.) The celebration began Friday night at a duplex in Astoria; as Fesh climbed the stairs in the rain to his first-ever house party, the neighborhood thundered with the chants of the 51 people within: “Fesh! Fesh! Fesh!” Inside, drinking Pepsi and nibbling on a quickly discarded slice of artichoke pizza, Fesh was approached by a pretty young blonde woman. “You’re so cool for coming,” she said. “How do you feel about it?” Fesh fidgeted, shifted his weight from foot to foot, and trembled a little. “Most days I really don’t like my life,” he replied. “But tonight is fun.” Later, Fesh, dressed in hand-me-down plaid, ended up having a long, flirtatious conversation with Emily Hoffman, a sophomore at Barnard College.
This instant pack of back-slapping friends was far different from his life in Ohio, where he has one friend, a gay childhood pal, who sometimes brings his boyfriend to join them as they watch old movies together. “I like walking around in New York,” Fesh told Gethard Saturday afternoon, while they watched the movie Spaceballs together. “When I walk around in my hometown, people beep at me with their car horns, and I know it’s kids from my high school still making fun of me.”
The Feshtival, Feshfest, or Feshelmania — depending on who you asked — climaxed at a midnight show at UCB, where Fesh was the star of a regular performance of The Chris Gethard Show, a monthly live talk show known for its bizarre stunts. Breaking into a standing ovation several times, around 250 people packed the performance space, some wearing homemade tribute T-shirts. A six-person band, all wearing “FESH!” T-shirts, joined as well. Gethard hosted in a shirt that read: “The Man, The Mitch, The Legend.”
Two of Fesh’s favorite comedians also gave live performances. Dave Hill, a fellow Ohioan, delivered a stand-up routine tailored specifically to Fesh. And the comedic rapper M.C. Chris spat a personalized rap; Fesh muttered, “Oh, shit” under his breath when the song made a reference to Luke Cage, the alter ego of his favorite superhero, Power Man.
Afterward, Fesh was sucking on a blue Ring Pop someone had given him and was talking with the comedian John Gemberling. Gemberling joked that it’s unwise to accept candy from strangers. When Fesh noted that it was wrapped when he got it, Gemberling countered that there is always a way to inject various toxins into a wrapped confection. “You know what? It’s fine,” said Fesh. “I feel invincible now.”