Almost all young comedians have feet, and even more of them are desperate for a break. I may be generalizing here, but these are two facts you can pretty much count on, especially in the early days of a comedy career. That was certainly Patrick Coppolino's deal when he first met fellow stand-up comic Frankie "Trixx" Agyemang.
From one Canadian comedian to another, you'll hear the line, "Trixx got me." This isn't a punchline, really—it's a nod to an open mystery that's hung over the Canadian stand-up scene for several years involving dozens of comics, and yeah, their feet. What began as chatter between friends exploded into a now-infamous Facebook thread last year, sparking personal beefs, podcast apologies, and at least one crowdfunder aiming to animate the whole drama as a short film.
Exactly what happened is still under some dispute, but the hard-to-answer question is this: why did Trixx promise dozens of comics TV roles, prizes, and personal favours in exchange for what participants understood were videos of their feet? The short answer is exactly what you think it is, but underneath the obvious is a deeper set of questions about fetish, communication, and consent.
For Coppolino it started nearly five years ago with discussion of a TV role. Trixx told the Hamilton-based rookie comic he had a script nearly ready, and a Zach Galifianakis-type part with his name on it. "He asked me to do these auditions, he said it was going to be strange and awkward—to show you're OK in an uncomfortable situation," he told VICE.
Right away, Coppolino was taking off his socks in front of his own webcam. Over Skype, he was asked to lie on his stomach facing away from his laptop, with his feet aimed toward the camera. According to Coppolino, Trixx would also ask him to do "toe snaps"—flicking his big toe back and forth against the one beside it. This lasted a couple minutes. They went separate ways, and Coppolino waited for more info on the part.
Coppolino had thought Trixx got the "screen test" he needed, but the foot-centric auditions didn't end there. "I would do the audition thing, the foot thing, and then a day or two would go by, and he would tell me, 'Oh, I lost the footage, we need to do it again.' So I would do it again," he said. "He probably got me four times before I started to realize something was going on."
For years, Coppolino tried not to think about the role that never came. Somehow he suspended enough disbelief not to question why his audition didn't require lines delivered from his Galifianakis-bearded face. "I knew it was weird, and my buddies would joke that he's got a foot fetish, that it was a sexual thing. But I didn't think it was that strong of a possibility," said Coppolino. "I really got my hopes up for this gig."
He says career desperation kept him from confronting the situation head on. "I was new to comedy, just over a year into stand-up, a little naïve," he said. "My girlfriend was pregnant, so it was a big deal for me, and made me kind of see past any of the weirdness."
Coppolino didn't know dozens of other early-career comics were having the same set of conversations with Trixx, but with different variables. Sometimes Trixx said it was a scavenger hunt, and offered to split prizes if they won. Other times it was a guest spot on a show, or another professional favour. "I started to find out more and more of my friends also had it done to them," said Coppolino. "The same excuse—the video didn't work."
Jordan Foisy, a Toronto comedian and frequent VICE contributor who went to school with Trixx, remembers feeling jealous of his friends that were in on the weird project. "This is the kind of desperation he was playing on," he told VICE, "I was like 'How come I didn't get asked to record a foot video?'"
In a now-legendary Facebook thread full of unrepeatable feet jokes, comics like Coppolino started to come forward, and share what happened to them. Some asked if this was all some inside joke. Others piled on the memes and gags. But once Trixx came into the picture, things just got more confusing.
VICE reached out to Trixx to get his account, but he declined to answer questions about this whole thing. "It's a closed chapter for me," he wrote in an email. By Coppolino's account he lashed out at the people speaking up and making light of a strange situation. "He was like, 'What the hell? It was just a joke, I can't believe you would do that,'" he recalled.
It would take the better part of a year for Trixx himself to explain, at least in part, what was really going on. "The truth of it was, I had a foot fetish, and I came up with a weird way to appease that fetish," he told Julien Dionne on his Comedy Hour podcast last fall. "I was so defensive and so angry," he said, "because it's a bunch of people all at the same time coming at you."
"I'm not a bad dude, I'm just a guy who fucked up and was fucking up for a while, and I needed this to happen to not only stop, but to see you were kind of a shitty person."
The confession came with some strange caveats—Trixx claims he did nothing sexual beyond looking, and that he never actually pressed record across all those Skype "auditions" and "screen tests."
Because many of the people who were caught up in the controversy have been blocked out by Trixx, Coppolino only learned the details of the admission when I sent it to him last month.
"At the end of the day, I don't hate the guy. I think he made the whole thing worse by trying to hide behind the 'prank' excuse, instead of just apologizing," he said of the confession.
It was only a few weeks ago, when Trixx released a comedy album titled Undefeated and announced he was moving from Toronto to Edmonton, that the wider comedy community revisited the weird chapter. In his pitch to make an animated short called "Defeeted," comic Pat Burtscher says he's still asked about "the foot thing" constantly.
"I like to think there's a whole community of people on the internet who are into comedian feet," quips Foisy.
Coppolino has mostly put the foot mystery behind him, but sometimes he still thinks about what it was, and what it means. He says he doesn't feel "violated" by what happened—it was just his feet—but recognizes that others may feel differently. As some forms of deception are now being tested as a form of sexual assault in the United States, those questions probably won't get any easier to answer. Something about it still doesn't sit right.
"What bothered me the most, was he was taking advantage of naïve new comics, all of them younger, less experienced," Coppolino told VICE.
To his credit, Trixx has made moves to get out in front of all this in a more public way—posting an explanation for his album title choice on Facebook near the end of August. "Last year, right around this time, people learned about my fetish. That wasn't the horrible part, the horrible part was the many comics and people that once called me friend that I manipulated, lied to, and even tricked into appeasing the fetish," he wrote.
"The reason the album is called Undefeated is not to be cocky, it's because with the support of some very amazing friends, comics, and even a few comics that were manipulated, lied to and tricked by me horribly, I was able to own it."
From Trixx's perspective, the mystery is resolved, but others VICE spoke to still carry worries and doubts. Though the situation is equal parts absurd and fucked up, Trixx has made it clear there's at least consensus on one point: what happened was definitely not a joke.
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