Mike Tornabene, class of 2010, is not quite what people have come to expect from the typical Tisch Film school graduate. He hasn’t made any independent, artsy films, or interned with production companies in the city. Rather, he’s spent his time appearing at clubs and parties up and down the East Coast–and becoming YouTube-famous along the way.
This is all because of Dom Mazzetti, a character Tornabene and his high school friend Gian Hunjan brewed up. Dom, played by Tornabene, is an Italian American college student who appears on Youtube to talk about such relevant topics as Four Loko, the behavior of drunk girls, and Casey Anthony. The video series has become a massive success on YouTube, where it has been viewed over 13 million times. NYU Local had a chance to talk to Tornabene about his budding career, the origins and future of Dom, and fond memories of beer pong in Palladium.
How was your time at NYU?
NYU was great. I was never part of any comedy groups and never did any performances, while I was there, as I was more interested in writing then performing at the time and so I spent my time mainly on writing scripts. But I spent a lot of my time at NYU partying. Freshman year I was in Third North with five other dudes, so we spent a lot of time playing Halo on our filthy back-to-back TVs, two Xbox’s set up and once we figured out that the deli nearby was the key to getting booze so it was 40oz bud heavies pretty much nightly. From there it was nightly beer pong during my sophomore year at Palladium, the wonders of bar hopping on Bleecker Street my junior year, and hitting up the classy places our senior year, pretending we were living the life of important New Yorkers. My experiences at NYU definitely have helped us come up with ideas for our sketches.
How did you meet up with with your co creator Gian?
I actually met Gian in second grade. I had some dope Nike’s at the time and he was feeling them, so we went into business right then and there. Senior year of high school we worked at a restaurant together, and at the end of the night Gian and I would entertain the staff with our comedy pieces while they ate dinner. That restaurant was filled with savages and criminals- it was straight comedy. I would say the restaurant was the true start of our comedy partnership.
When I left for NYU, and Gian for Temple University, we continued pursuing comedy. Freshman year we started writing out first script; a comedy about the restaurant we worked in. Throughout college we wrote a television pilot script, two television specials scripts, and a feature length comedy screenplay. We did nearly all of our writing over video chat.
The beginning of our senior year, on September 5, 2009, we officially went into business as Mike & Gian Comedy (which means all we did was make a Facebook page). We made a website and started uploading sketches to YouTube to promote our comedy/writing. Our first was a series of videos called “The Intern”, in which Gian acted as the live-in intern for my father, who runs a small business out of his home. Our videos always got good feedback but really nobody was watching.
After you graduated from NYU, did you pursue a career in comedy or did you follow more traditional paths for film majors?
Gian and I both graduated in May 2010 and the plan was for both of us to permanently move to the city and push our new screenplay and continue writing. We spent the summer stuffing mailboxes with flyers advertising our willingness to do any job for extra cash to “fund our dream.” We did some pretty strange work that summer, including picking up an autistic kid from camp and driving him home or taking him on trips. We took him to the Shore, we even took him to Denny’s. At the time I was also studying to get my personal trainer certification so I could work at a gym in the city for my day job. All of which had absolutely nothing to do with what I went to school for. In October 2010 we moved to the Upper East Side, where we worked day jobs and did the comedy thing at night.
How did you come up with the idea for Dom Mazzetti? Was it at all inspired by your time at NYU?
Dom Mazzetti originally started out as this middle-aged, dumb, Italian character that we wrote into a sketch about cooking. We had planned to film the sketch with me as Dom but it never ended up happening. Then close to a year later we had this idea for a sketch based around the UPS bomb scare in 2010. We thought it would be funny to use the Dom character in an interview to satirize the process of dealing with a bomb scare. We got great feedback on the video and on the character so we decided to use Dom in another sketch. This time we wanted to make fun of the way people talked about getting completely wasted off Four Loko. We had Dom recount his night of mayhem after drinking Four Loko with his boys. We put the video out right at the time Four Loko started to catch a lot of heat and was being banned. The video started to spread on Facebook and slowly went viral. After that we started putting out Dom Mazzetti videos every couple of weeks, and when the views kept coming in we decided to run with the Dom Mazzetti character. We started to focus more on aspects of college life, and that was where Dom Mazzetti was definitely influenced by my time at NYU.
How do you go about coming up with an idea for a sketch?
When it’s time for a new sketch Gian and I discuss what we want to talk about in the video. We think about what topics are relevant, what topics we have good jokes for, and what topics people want to see. As we have gotten deeper into the series we try to find topics that are fresh yet still appeal to a wide audience. Once we settle on a topic we sit down, usually with a few beers, and start taking some notes, which generally is just an outline of hit points for the video along with a few key jokes. Then usually sometime later that week we set up the camera (again, with a few beers) and film it, using the notes as guidelines and improving the rest. It usually takes about two hours to complete the shooting, but all the best moments really comes together in the editing, where we get some of our best material using quick cuts.
What its like working on a platform like YouTube compared to more traditional methods of video and comedy?
The biggest upside to YouTube is you have complete control over your content and it is great for getting exposure. More and more people are turning to YouTube as a main source of entertainment, which is very good for people like Gian and I who make a living off of YouTube and are also looking for bigger opportunities through our work. It seems
What are your plans for the future with Dom Mazzetti?
We plan to continue producing videos on YouTube and growing our audience and channel. We are also looking to expand the scope of Dom Mazzetti either through college visits or expanding the videos in general. Building on our merchandise is also in the plans. As writers we are always seeking opportunities in the film and television world, whether it’s taking Dom Mazzetti to the next level or just growing the Mike & Gian brand.
Have you noticed any changes in your life since the rise in your popularity on the internet?
It’s weird seeing yourself not being yourself on the internet and people knowing you for it, if you follow me. There starts to be a strange alter ego/split personality dynamic. I’m always Mike but sometimes I just feel like I am going to snap into Dom. It gets even weirder when the character you play and are known as is the creation of two people. And then all the people wanting pictures with you is also pretty surreal. And Free drinks and parties are also pretty cool.
What advice would you give to aspiring film/TV majors?
While the rise of YouTube has made it easier to get discovered, the downside to anything on the Internet is it is very easy to get tossed into the fad category. When you live on the Internet, or really anywhere now in the entertainment industry, you have to stay relevant and always be on top of your game or people will forget about you.
In your videos, Dom mentions many infamous locations around NYU such as the bars Still and Pacha. But what would be the first thing Dom would say if he transfered to NYU?