Almost famous: SUNY New Paltz student pranks celebrity-hungry New Yorkers

Above: Brett Cohen's "fake celebrity" YouTube video, which has gotten over 4 million views to date.

Have you heard of the hotshot celebrity Brett Cohen?

Maybe you’ve heard his newest single, or perhaps you might remember seeing him on the silver screen in one of this summer’s popcorn blockbusters.

If you haven’t heard of the famous Brett Cohen, you are just like the rest of us – because he doesn’t exist.

But if you scratched your head and thought you might have heard of him, you wouldn’t be alone.

On July 27th, 21-year-old Brett Cohen, a media management major at SUNY New Paltz, fooled thousands of unsuspecting New Yorkers into thinking he was a world-renowned celebrity as he walked through the streets of Times Square.

Cohen surrounded himself with professional-looking bodyguards and paparazzi, walked out of the 49th Street marquee at NBC Studios and was immediately surrounded by curious and anxious onlookers. He walked to Times Square while his entourage escorted him past a slowly growing crowd.

A video crew documented the entirety of Cohen’s self-made 15 minutes of fame and asked gawking pedestrians questions about the ‘star’ they had come to see.

Cohen’s “social experiment” was uploaded to YouTube and currently has over 4 million hits. After the video had gone viral, Cohen appeared on ABC, among other major outlets.

Watershed Post: First and foremost, how did you think of an idea like tricking thousands of people into thinking you were famous?

Brett Cohen: I thought of the idea in a conversation with my friend, Edward. We started just joking around about it, and then it quickly turned into being something that we thought was possible. We couldn't take an idea like this and do nothing with it. There was so much potential. Right after that, I started putting the pieces together and set a date. It all came together really quickly.

WP: How much planning went into this experiment? Was it easy to convince people to help you with the project?

BC: I did all of the planning myself in a matter of three weeks. Since I did an internship with TMZ, I know what goes into creating a typical celebrity entourage. We had two bodyguards, two assistants with clipboards, and a few photographers with big flashes on their camera. The flashes really stand out at night. All of those pieces helped me to build the credibility behind the stunt.

WP: What was the craziest thing someone said to you that night? Does any one person stick out in your mind?

BC: I wasn't able to hear what people were saying, since the crowds were really large at some points, but I did hear a young kid call his mom and scream "MOM, I JUST MET BRETT COHEN!!!!"

WP: Did you expect some of the reactions, such as people making up ways in which they knew you, when you set out to do this experiment?

BC: One of the best parts of this video is that we didn't plant any information in the crowds. Everything that they "recognized" me from was from their own minds. All we told people, when asked, was my name. I didn't see the interviews until we began editing, and I was pretty surprised at how hard people fell for this. It's so much more than I ever imagined.

WP: Looking back on that night, does any particular lesson you've learned at SUNY New Paltz come to mind after seeing the crowd's reaction?

BC: All of my studies in the field of media, both academic and personal, helped me to shape this video and make it appealing. The biggest help from my academic career at SUNY New Paltz was the ability to put out a press release as soon as the video was uploaded to YouTube. It was a major factor in how the video went viral in less than 4 hours.

WP: So after having a taste of the celebrity lifestyle, do you think it's something you would want to do in the future?

BC: The celebrity lifestyle is insane, and I'm ready for more of it. I don't think I'll ever have to go through a huge amount of people like that again, because if you think about it, there's no logical reason for a celebrity to casually walk through the busiest few blocks in the world on a Friday night in the summer.