Two strangers walk up to each in a white box, knowing they're being filmed, kiss, in the hope they'll fall in love. The premise of the show is so forced it sounds like the beginning of a weak joke, but this is 2016 and here we are. While many of the incidents caught on camera for Love at First Kiss have been deeply awkward, none was as memorable as those involving Josh Basili, a 27 year-old, self-professed nice guy who had never kissed anyone before he came on the TLC reality show.
Josh's appearances on Love at First Kiss has turned him into a viral hit: Though his first smooch on the show, with Annalisa, was a toothy, close-mouthed encounter, and his second, with Emily, was so painful it was labeled "Cringe at First Kiss," the third act was the climax, as in any classical tripartite piece of drama. Josh's third kiss was "magical." In this clip, he tips Roxanne's neck back and holds her elbows in as she bends uncomfortably backwards. The look on Josh's face is pure concentration, hers desperation (perhaps just because she needs to swallow): Their bodies are shoulder-crunchingly tense. There is no music during the kissing segments, and the slicks and slurps of wet mouths fill the white production stage, making you wonder why humans ever came up with the idea of putting their lips together in the first place. It's amazing, and I'm obsessed with it.
Specifically, I'm obsessed with Josh, as the rest of the internet was in the fall of this year (his abortive kiss with Emily has more than 2.6 million views on YouTube, and the one with Roxanne has nearly 1.3 million). I love his infectious enthusiasm, his whooping positivity about his success in having finally managed a kiss. There's no bluster; it's all so vulnerably, excruciatingly real. Of course, the finale of Love at First Kiss is equally childlike in its simplicity: Josh proposes to Roxanne, in the same stagey set where they met, now lined with rose petals and candles.
Since the show, Josh has reveled in his new role as the meme-world's most awkward kisser. He takes any opportunity to make a joke at his own expense, and even sells self-deprecating merch. While 2016 has been a terrible year, Josh at least reminds us that it was still full of people who got married, graduated, landed their dream job, or, yes, finally experienced their first kiss. We caught up with the happy-go-lucky cringe-inducer to reflect on his year and talk about how we can all get through 2017.
BROADLY: How was 2016 for you, Josh?
Josh Basili: It was kind of like a rollercoaster, I guess! I went from being the worst kisser in the world to getting engaged on the show, so I think it was a cool redemption story. The good parts would be Love at First Kiss—getting that first kiss out of the way, and then having a successful kiss at the end with Roxanne.
How has your love life been since the show?
I think everyone wants to know what I'm doing, and whether me and Roxanne are still together. Things didn't really work out, but we're friends. Apart from that, it's been pretty quiet—nothing much has gone on.
You seem to really enjoy your meme status—not everyone would be able to laugh about how people have talked about you in the same way you do.
It's pretty funny: Growing up, I was pretty negative. The way I see things is that if I'm a positive person, that's all I can control—I can't control other people being negative, so I just try to make everyone smile. If I can make someone laugh today, then I've done my job.
I think there are some things that people in my position might not enjoy—being made fun of or whatever—but if people are seeing my face and I'm getting out there, to me, that's good. I want people to see me and know me!
I like to make fun of myself, so if other people are going to do it, I'm like, "Well, I already made those jokes, so it's not going to bother me." If other people are going to make fun of me, why don't I just be the first to do it?
Why not see Josh kiss more girls? I think America would love that.
Why do you think people are so interested in your story?
I think they've never seen it before. People have never seen someone go 27 years without a first kiss. They don't think that's real—but that was me! I've got a couple of people who have messaged me telling me I'm brave, and that they're the same age, or even older. I think that's amazing: I thought I was the only one!
Do you think that you came across as yourself on the show?
I don't really play a nice guy, but that's how I am, so that's how it came across. I think it was great, because it just showed my personality—the nice, innocent guy. People think this can't be real, but it is!
What other hopes and aspirations do you have for 2017?
Hopefully, I can book a role on a TV show or a feature film. I hope people see more of Josh Basili in supporting or lead roles—that'd be great. I definitely want to get verified on Twitter—in 2017 I hope that happens, because there's been fake accounts, and people mimicking my accounts. People need to know if it's me! Also, I've written and produced a horror short. It's called "Room 109." I'm going to submit it to some festivals.
I've also seen your campaign to get yourself on The Bachelor.
I think it would be amazing to go from who I was on Love at First Kiss to The Bachelor. Why not? Why not see Josh kiss more girls? I think America would love that.