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The Bootleg Files: Snack Boy

BOOTLEG FILES 711: “Snack Boy” (1998-2001 online video series starring Terry Crummitt).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Long-forgotten pioneering production of online-exclusive entertainment.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely at all.

Did you ever stop and ask yourself: where did the concept of an online video star begin? After all, we are currently overburdened with characters who have become rich and famous by making wacky videos for YouTube. But there had to be a time and place where this show business phenomenon actually took root, yes?

Well, as luck would have it, I was there at the beginning of the online video star concept – not on camera, but behind the scenes helping to publicize one of the first personalities who found an audience via the Internet.

In 1998, I was running a public relations agency out of New York City and one of my clients was The Sync, a webcasting outfit founded by Carla Cole and Thomas Edwards and based in Laurel, Maryland. Among the programs presented on The Sync was “Snack Boy,” a five-minute offering shown weekdays at 3:15 p.m. Eastern Time.

The star of “Snack Boy” was Terry Crummitt, a 25-year-old blonde actor, and the show’s title came from Crummitt’s one-time job as the beleaguered cashier of a snack bar. In each show, Crummitt would recall an outlandish anecdote from his life – usually involving catastrophic dilemmas from his various work experiences, and often involving a family that he described as comically dysfunctional. Much of the show had the camera capturing a reclining Crummitt in close-up, with cutaways to crudely-drawn cartoons by Crummitt that illustrated the zany tales he would relate.

Yes, it sounds rather limited when compared to whatever Jake Paul is throwing online. But “Snack Boy” was the perfect show for the then-primitive Internet – remember, back in the late 90s many people were still on dial-up and accessing cyberspace via AOL and CompuServe. Due to the limits of the technology, The Sync had to make the program available at 28.8, 56 and 112 kilobytes per second so people with any of those three modems could watch. Unlike today’s highly sophisticated YouTube videos with multiple cameras, intricate editing and ultra-high budgets – say, where does Mr. Beast get all of that money to give away? – “Snack Boy” was a shoestring effort that relied entirely on Crummitt’s exuberant charm. And, boy, did he have charm to spare.

Crummitt didn’t just relate a story – he framed his tales as if the fate of the world depended on his raconteur skills. The people he recalled were never quotidian – they were always the loudest, strangest, scariest bipeds to storm the planet. And his encounters with these folks were always just one degree removed from cataclysm, with the astonished narrator usually getting the last laugh from the encounter.

Crummitt had the most extraordinary command of the language, injecting acidic pop culture commentary into many of his tales. In the episode “Crazy Duck Woman Laundromat,” he recalled washing machine encounters with an eccentric lady described as “more interesting than the Grand Canyon” who is “kind of Stevie Nicksesque but crazier.” In “Homage to Cheers,” his melodramatic tribute to the NBC sitcom is brushed with a tsk-tsk acknowledgment to “the blonde Shelley Long – she left ‘Cheers’ to be a huge star and ended up doing ‘The Brady Bunch Movie’…for a song.” In “Judge Judy Dream,” Crummitt recalls seeing a swimsuit photo of the television courtroom icon by recalling her “having a grandma’s head plastered on this hot toddy body.”

Some of the best “Snack Boy” episodes found him barbecuing his relatives. He recalled his mother’s sister in “Aunt Jane House Sits” as someone who “asked me for cab fare to get out of her own daughter’s wedding.” “Day Trading Grandma” found Crummitt’s mother and grandmother getting into an argument over online stock trading, with Crummitt exaggerating an ancient female voice to duplicate the granny’s warning “I think you should put your money on Intel.”

Back in 1998, when people were beginning to get hooked to the computer screen, “Snack Boy” caught the imagination of the first wave of Net surfers. As the publicist for The Sync, I had no problems getting media coverage for Crummitt – he did TV and newspaper interviews and was featured in Entertainment Weekly in its first-ever round-up of the new Internet stars. He also received fan mail from across the United States and overseas – one viewer in Australia airmailed him a box of cheese curls, which he ate on one of his episodes.

So, why is “Snack Boy” barely remembered today? Well, the dot-com bubble burst at the start of the new millennium, and The Sync was among its victims. “Snack Boy” disappeared from the Internet in 2001 when The Sync ceased its webcasting, and Crummitt never found a similar vehicle to stay in front of the Internet audience. (YouTube didn’t launch until 2005.) Crummitt would work in a few films and television commercials under the name Terry McCrea, but his full potential was never achieved. Crummitt was killed in an automobile accident in 2004 – he was only 31.

There is a YouTube channel where a “Snack Boy” fan gathered many of the episodes for unauthorized postings. The visual quality is mostly poor, betraying the pixelated nature of the early Internet webcasts, but the sound is great and Crummitt’s vocal prowess can easily be appreciated. Some of the better episodes are not online, most notably “Colonel Klink” that involved Crummitt and a pair of mischievous cousins who seek the aid of their bellicose Aunt Jane when a prank on a weightlifter goes terribly wrong.

Although I did the publicity for The Sync and “Snack Boy,” I only got to meet Crummitt in person once. But that single encounter was memorable and I was greatly impressed with him as a person and a performer. And, hopefully, the angels and the dearly departed in Heaven are enjoying Crummitt’s humor and playfulness – if there is someone that you’d want to spend eternity with, it is the late great Snack Boy himself.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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