I didn’t meet James for over a year. Consequently, I had an entire year to develop preconceptions about him. After repeatedly being told “You remind me of James” I started believing that I must have a lot in common with him. I started believing that once we finally met, I’d see a lot of myself in him. I even imagined that when the day finally came, I’d basically be introduced to my long-lost twin. So when I finally met James, I was actually a little insulted.
John and I were playing cards in his dorm room when his cell phone rang. He looked at the Caller ID, flipped it open, and said “Sup homey?” — “You here?” — “Which lot you in?” — “Aight, I’ll come get you.” He closed his phone, turned to me and said “Know my friend James I’m always talkin’ about? He’s outside.”
John went to show him in while I cleaned up our card game. I was a little astonished when I caught myself straightening my shirt and fixing my hair in John’s mirror, as if I was meeting a blind date. When I heard John’s voice approaching through the thin dorm walls, I quickly wiped my palms on my jeans and opened the door for them.
It was in that brief moment where I pulled the door open that I got my first impression of James. He had been following John down the hall, and when I opened the door to greet them he flinched awkwardly. He wasn’t expecting the door to open, so when it did, he seemed to step behind John as if he was ducking for cover.
John spat out an introduction. “James this is Shaun. Shaun, James.”
I held out my hand for a shake. James wouldn’t meet my eyes and gave me the most reluctant “dead fish” handshake I’ve ever received. “Nice to meet you,” I said hopefully. A timid “Hi” directed at the floor is all he said in return.
We entered John’s room and John immediately went into “Host Mode.” He offered James a soda from his mini-fridge and unpacked a spare folding chair for him to sit on. James didn’t sit down right away, because he was admiring the selection of movie posters which adorned John’s walls.
At first glance, I had no clue why John would ever say that James reminded him of me. I wore a green hooded sweatshirt and jeans, while James wore a black leather jacket over his plain t-shirt and khakis. My face was shaved clean, while James sported a natural moustache. The only physical similarities we shared were that we were both skinny white guys with no visible tattoos.
When James sat down I tried to start a conversation with him. I thought that if I could get him talking, maybe he would reveal something about himself that could explain John’s comments.
Unfortunately, James wasn’t much of a talker. When I asked “So how do you guys know each other?” James only looked at John, expecting him to answer the question.
“We grew up next-door to one another,” John said.
That at least explained one thing: John is the most outgoing and gregarious guy I’ve ever known, who regularly parties with other outgoing people. It was confusing to me that he’d become good friends with James, since he seemed so shy. I concluded that they’ve most likely been friends since they were really young, and then grew up to become two radically different people.
But what is it about me that reminds him of James?, I wondered. When James excused himself to use the bathroom, I took the opportunity to find out.
“I don’t see it,” I said.
“What’s that?” John asked.
“You always say that I remind you of James. You don’t really think I’m that shy, do you?”
John laughed. “Yeah right. I don’t think anyone is as shy as James.”
“So what is it then?”
John paused for a moment, thinking. When he finally replied, he spoke with a definitive swiftness that indicated just how certain he was that he was speaking the truth:
“You’re both geniuses, with unique hidden talents.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’ll show you,” he said. The moment James re-entered the room, John said “I was talking to Shaun about your movies. He wants to see one.”
The transformation was immediate. A broad smile appeared across his face as James said “I’ll grab a tape from my car.” He dashed out of the room. Within seconds we heard the outside door burst open and slam shut behind him.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “I remind you of James because you think I’m smart?”
“No. You remind me of James because you’re passionate about something. You write. James makes movies.”
James came back holding a VHS tape. He popped it into John’s VCR and queued up his latest creation — a 10 minute movie called “Cinemaphobia.”
As the movie played, all of James’ social anxiety disappeared. He enthusiastically described how he did certain shots. He talked about the props that he reused from his previous movies. It was clear that he was passionate about his craft…
…and he had good reason to be. It was 2001 — a time where most home users were still browsing the Internet using dial-up connections, and YouTube was nonexistent. At that time, the process of producing self-directed movies to show other people was incredibly unique. I had never met anyone else who had such a hobby.
After “Cinemaphobia” was over, James could not stop talking. He talked about his favorite movies and the different film genres that inspired him. He talked about the creative process and how he gradually learned different techniques through experimentation. He talked about film school and how he was nearly expelled due to the gory nature of his student projects.
This was the one and only time I ever met James Rolfe in person. The next time I saw him was over five years later, in a YouTube video, after he became an Internet sensation known as “The Angry Video Game Nerd.”
If you’ve never heard of “The Nerd,” don’t feel left out — he’s not what I’d consider a “household name.” That doesn’t change the fact that he has a cult following consisting of millions of nostalgic gamers across the nation and currently holds the #9 Most Subscribed channel of All Time on YouTube.
What surprises me most about these AVGN videos is how the James Rolfe I met several years ago was the polar opposite of his on-screen persona as “The Nerd.” I mean, James was barely capable of socializing before John encouraged him to show off his movies. The character he plays in his videos is an angry, in-your-face, trash-talking, f-bomb dropping gamer/comedian who is incredibly entertaining.
I admit, however, that his videos aren’t for everyone. I’m a fan because I fit his demographic perfectly. I grew up playing the same video games that he reviews in his videos. I’ve watched every episode — most of them more than once — and I enjoy the feeling of nostalgia I experience when he reviews a game I’ve played before.
The reason I’m talking about him today is because he embraced his passion and ran with it. After many years of making movies as his hobby, James’ Nerd series made him an Internet Celebrity. As a result, he was picked up by a website who wanted to pay him for new episodes. In a sentence, he found success by following his passion.
For a long time now, I’ve wanted to write about how I met James in college. I wanted to describe his journey to stardom, using his experiences as a demonstration as to what can happen if you follow your dreams and live passionately. The only thing holding me back was the fact that I didn’t truly know James, and I couldn’t accurately speak for him.
Incredibly, he recently made his 200th movie — “CineMassacre 200” — a video documentary that he describes as “my own retrospective on how I got started making films and how my hobby evolved.” It was such a fascinating watch that I finally decided to write about James. Everything that I couldn’t say for him, he says for himself in the documentary.
(Possibly Not-Safe-For-Work Warning: CineMassacre 200 starts off with a humorous use of the f-word. There are also some occasional swears later in the film. If you’re at work, make sure to watch your speaker volume level!)
James: Congratulations on your 200th movie! You are an inspiration to a countless number of people — myself included — who hope to find success through their passion. Thanks for sharing your creations with the world. I hope you will find continued success throughout your life as a filmmaker. Cheers.
- The Official Angry Video Game Nerd Website
- The CineMassacre Productions — James Rolfe’s Homepage
- ScrewAttack — Gaming Site that Hosts the AVGN series
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