One of the most fascinating people in the Los Angeles stand-up comedy circuit is a man named Atelston Fitzgerald Holder the First, aka Mr. Pregnant. He's primarily known for his YouTube channel, where he's amassed 60,000 subscribers. His three most-viewed videos, "Big Girls Don't Cry" (six million views), "Big Belly Man" (five million views), and "MANBOOBS" (two million views), all involve him being shirtless, wearing fake teeth, and making the viewer very, very, uncomfortable.
If you look at more recent videos on his channel, you'll notice a sharp increase in video length and a massive decrease in views. The new videos follow a strange path wherein Holder has lost the fake teeth, put on a shirt, and begun engaging in long, philosophical monologues, the type that use a whole lot of big words without ever quite going anywhere. These videos are fascinating despite—or maybe because of—the fact that you can't quite figure out what the hell he's talking about. Others, such as "A Comedian Called Me Weird and Mentally Retarded," find him crying to the camera, telling himself, "Be a man, man!" They, too, can make the viewer feel deeply uncomfortable, but in a totally different way.Years before I began doing comedy, I had seen a couple Mr. Pregnant videos, loved them, and forgot about them. Much later, upon moving to Los Angeles, my roommate at the time took me to an open mic at this space called Echoes Under Sunset. After a procession of white guys got up on stage and talked about being sad and jerking off (in my experience, this is pretty much the only thing you see at open mics in Los Angeles), Mr. Pregnant took the stage. An eccentric man with a thick West Indies accent, he enthusiastically told strange, bad jokes like "I watched the Today Show… yesterday!" Another bit involved him unscrewing the top of the microphone, then exclaiming, "Now that's what I call an open mic, man!" to silence, then yelling, "WHY ARE YOU NOT LAUGHING, HUH? That's a funny joke, man! That's a clever joke!" I was crying laughing. There was something enigmatic, almost Kaufman-esque, about his whole schtick.
Mr. Pregnant is a comedian's comedian's comedian. You're never totally sure if you're laughing with or at him as it's not quite clear whether he's a brilliant comic or a deeply unstable human being. Mr. Pregnant describes his work as satire, couching his arguments in rhetoric so thick and intellectual that it's sometimes hard to figure out what the hell he's actually talking about. At first, it seems like he's full of shit, but the more you think about it, you're forced to wonder if Mr. Pregnant is on to something. Even after talking to him, I'm still not totally sure. But that's what I love about him. He's never boring and he's always confusing, and that's what makes Atelston Fitzgerald Holder the First a goddamn genius.VICE: Would you label yourself a comedian or an internet personality?
Mr. Pregnant: In the context of mediums, yes. But it's really the same field under the same umbrella. But it's real satire, sarcasm, slapstick, also sketch. I mean it's really the same as stand-up under the umbrella encapsulating comedy. It's just different branches of humor.I remember seeing you on Best Week Ever.
On VH1, right?Yeah.
A lot of networks, a lot of networks!Are you still doing Mr. Pregnant stuff?
I do it periodically, but I've branched out into different avenues.With Mr. Pregnant, you were usually shirtless.
Yeah, usually shirtless. None of these ideas were actually preconceived. It's not a predetermined scenario where you see—let's say lonelygirl15, she was like one of the prototype. She was probably one of the conception of YouTube celebs. All of these things were just inadvertent stages where I didn't have a t-shirt on so I'm topless. So that's the kind of ingenuity by itself. And then the fake teeth were because I had a gold cap.
I took the teeth off years ago. I was self-conscious so I put the Halloween teeth over it. And the part was just me in my idiocy. The epitome of idiocy!Did Mr. Pregnant affect your real jobs at all?
Well, I never actually had a real job. My situation is very peculiar. I get jobs by people seeing my work: these news sites, these corporations, venture capital firms, private equity firms, huge investors. They see my work online and they come and offer me contracts. So this is why I started with all of these news sites, by me writing for myself.
Have you always written?
Yes, but on a much more mediocre level. Once I started to do research, I began to realize that there were things that I was doing instinctively… not instinctively, intuitively. I realized I had these ideas in my mind but I never put into consideration to put these things on paper.When did you start doing stand-up?
I've been doing stand-up my whole life. I stopped doing stand-up when I migrated to the United States.Where did you move from?
From the West Indies. I grew up in different places. I grew up in the West Indies, in London. So I lived in different places. When I came to the US in my mid-20s, I started doing stand-up and I was naïve. I didn't have the a mainstream mentality. The audience would laugh at me, so I took it personally.I honestly believed that I was not legitimately funny because people were laughing at me. I didn't realize that this is a profound gift in itself because every comedian aspires to have that capacity to evoke laughter. I was unaware of this. My naivete had convinced me that I wasn't capable of being funny. So I dropped comedy completely, and for over a decade I did everything else but stand-up.
So when was that?
Probably between 1999 until 2008. For at least eight years. That whole gap was all sorts of comedy but stand-up. And then one day, someone very close to me told me, "You need to be yourself. Stop trying to hide it. Be you. Be what you are."And you're very much yourself. You do something that's very polarizing.
Yeah. So me doing comedy was me coming to terms with who I am because I know I'm eccentric, I know I have a kind of weird, goofy personality. I know I'm perceived as a character. So I stopped hiding that.You can be a little abrasive if people don't like a joke, which I love.
Yeah. I just embrace it. I just say, "Listen. I need to be honest with myself." So I prepared myself. I knew when I came to LA and I knew when I started doing stand-up work again that I would be perceived as a character. So I made my mind up to accept myself for who and what I am.It's a situation where you're so much more self-aware than they might perceive, and that's a testament to the strength of the character.
The reason I'm perceived as a character is because I've traveled…I've been to 45 US states. I just came from London.What were you doing in London?
I was on a business trip.What was the business trip?
Oh, that was related to the private equity firm.Have you done that your whole life?
No. This is a fictional scenario now. Yes, it's really a fictional scenario.What does that mean?
Meaning that, when you share this story it sounds unbelievable. It sounds like a scene you would read in a movie. So I have these billionaire philanthropists. They'll call me up and they'll say, "Hey, can you come to this country? We have a project for you. We need some ideas. We need some brainstorming ideas. We need some concentration." So they'll pay for all that stuff and what I do is just sit in a meeting for an hour or two among a bunch of philanthropists.
What do you do at the meetings?
Well, in terms of the ideas of what we discuss, the intricacies of what is being discussed, that I cannot disclose. So that's just one tiny area of what I do. And then I write for all these news sites.What are the news sites that you write for?
I write for the Harlem Times. The Harlem Times is based in New York. I write for an international news site called NewsBlaze and I write for a site called Ask a New Yorker.Is it weird being in an important business meeting with somebody who has seen you shirtless with fake teeth, like shaking your man-boobs?
I think that's the number one reason I get all this work. I could transition from discussing atoms, meteorites, and all of these different intricacies in this complex field and then transition to something that is perceived as slapstick but it really is not slapstick. So that's where I come in. They say, "This here is the idea. We need philosophy. We need psychology. We need language, power of persuasion, or we need rhetoric." So that's kind of where I come in sometimes, to infuse these devices.What do you have going on after this?
Today? Uhhh, in terms of entertainment? Comedy?I mean like, after this interview. You said you wanted to do it before 9:00 AM.
Oh, I have a project to do for the Harlem Times. I have a research development to do for the Harlem Times and then I have to write an "About" page for two startups, two entrepreneurial programs that are about to be launched under the umbrella with an investor. So I'm doing some writing for them, like their About pages and some basic stuff—just kind of putting what they're trying to do, their portfolio, that sort of stuff. And once that is done, comedy yo! Back to the comedy! Don't forget to mention I kill onstage.Follow Brandon on Twitter.