How a Teen from New Jersey Invented the Viral Video

Gary Brolsma gets his groove on in scenes from his “Numa Numa” video. (Gary Brolsma/Screenshots by CNET)

In December 2004, Gary Brolsma, then 19 years old, posted a video of himself lip-syncing to a Romanian pop song called “Dragostea Din Tei,” just for the heck of it. What began as a lark turned into one of the most watched Internet videos of all time.

Even more remarkable, Brolsma’s video, titled “Numa Numa” after a line from the O-Zone tune, went viral without the help of YouTube, which didn’t debut until Feb. 14, 2005.

"I think the wider public loved the video for the same reasons I did," says Tom Fulp, who helped the video go viral by posting it on his Newgrounds website for Flash movies and games. “Gary looked like a fun guy having a good time. It made you smile and feel happy when you watched it.”

"Numa Numa" has been viewed more than 700 million times and was featured in a South Park parody. Brolsma, who still lives with his family in New Jersey and now plays in his own band, reflects on why his 15 minutes of Internet fame is about to enter its second decade.

Where did you get the idea to do a video?
I was just goofing off to show something to my friends. I had no idea it would ever become popular.

This was pre-YouTube?
Yes. It was right on the cusp of when YouTube launched. There weren’t many homemade videos being made on the Internet.

When did you first hear “Dragostea Din Tei”?
I saw a cartoon that was hosted on called “Ma Ya Hi” about some Japanese cats. I found the soundtrack catchy, and it got stuck in my head. So I made a funny little video and put it up on the Internet. For some reason, the planets aligned and Newgrounds put it on their front page. Then it exploded.

How long before you realized it had gone viral?
A couple of days after I posted the video, I was asleep when my mom woke me. News vans from CBS, NBC, and ABC were parked outside our house. I hadn’t told her what I did and I think she thought I had gotten into trouble. That was kind of funny so I had to spill the beans and tell her I made a video.

Why do you think your video resonated with so many people?
A lot of it was the song, which was really catchy. Another part of it was me. A lot of people bring up my weight. They just saw this chubby guy dancing around. It’s sorta funny, but I guess that’s a part of it, too.

Does it surprise you that so few home video clips since have garnered that sort of reaction?
Lots of people focus on making things viral. I never intended for anything like that. I was just having fun. That sort of viral thing happens on its own. A lot of videos today try too hard to be funny. Mine wasn’t scripted. It was just, “Hit record and let it flow.”

Has your life changed since posting it?
I don’t think so. I have a small group of friends. My town’s not too big so everyone knows me. I’ll go to the movies and people may recognize me or ask for a picture. I’m always happy to do that. But it doesn’t happen too much. I don’t think my life changed too much.

Do you miss the fame?
I wasn’t big on the fame part. I was always quiet and shy.

Anybody from Romania ever ask to marry you after the video came out?
Yeah, I got a lot of those (he’s single).

Any follow up to mark the 10-year anniversary?
Maybe making the video again or redoing it in HD — or putting it up on YouTube. I never put it on YouTube.

What advice do you have for would-be Numa Numas?
Have fun with it. If you’re doing something and your intention is to be funny and you’re not having fun yourself, it’s not going to work out.

Editors’ note: This story first appeared online Nov. 2, 2014.


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