The man behind Lil Mayo, the most savage alien on the 'gram, shares the story of how a silly movie prop changed his life forever.
All images courtesy of Alex Martyn
He dresses better than you. He makes more money than you. His groupies are hotter than anyone you'll ever land. His name is Lil Mayo, and he's enjoying the rarefied lifestyle of an elite social media influencer. He's also a rubber alien doll.
There's a good chance you've already encountered Lil Mayo, even if you're only now learning his name. Whether smoking a blunt, kitted out in limited edition streetwear, or ordering bottle service in the VIP section of a club, his opulent—yet somehow relatable—existence has been shared and re-memed across all social media platforms, netting him more than 1.5 million Instagram followers, his own clothing label, and opportunities to party with A-list celebrities.
For the first time, the man behind Lil Mayo—the name, a play on the "ayy lmao" meme—is stepping out from his puppet's three-foot shadow to publicly share the story of how a love of dank memes and an alien doll changed his life forever.
By the age of 24, Alex Martyn had all but resigned himself to a comfortable but boring life in his hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Though at one point he'd been a sponsored skateboarder, his childhood dreams of going pro had fizzled. After graduating high school, he took a stable and pragmatic job at his father's architectural company. He was making a decent living, but ennui was beginning to set in.
"I had no idea what the fuck I wanted to do when I grew up, so I just went with the flow and kept working at the shop," says Martyn. "Fast-forward to 2014. I was 24 years old, vice president of the company and accepting that was my golden ticket to a successful life, so I stuck with it. But all I thought about while I was at work was skateboarding and the next time I'd be filming or editing something."
Like any creative stuck in a boring office job, Martyn made it through the long workdays by goofing around online and covertly working on passion projects. In 2014, he created the Instagram meme account @ayylmao.memes, a page of original extraterrestrial-themed image macros all based on the original “ayy lmao” meme. The account got more than 20,000 followers in a matter of months. Though he was gaining fans, Martyn worried about his ability to keep producing content that would sustain the page's growth.
"I would search far and wide for alien photos online to make memes with until I'd literally used all the meme-worthy photo of aliens on the internet," he says. "Then, one day I thought, If I just had my own alien, I could take my own photos and make more dank memes."
After doing some research, Martyn decided the funniest alien for this new venture would be a specific rare and pricey vintage movie prop. Though his father and co-workers thought he was crazy for even considering dropping $750 on a doll, Martyn was convinced of its potential and placed the order in April 2015.
Inspired by his new muse, Martyn began churning out new content.
"I made him a Snapchat and started taking snaps of him opening beers, chilling on the couch, smoking out of a bong and skating," says Martyn.
One day, while again bored at work, Martyn compiled a montage of those snaps, set to the Future song “56 Nights," and posted the video online. The supercut gained instant traction, being shared by Blac Chyna, WorldStarHipHop, and a number of other comedy pages, netting him millions of views and inspiring a pivot away from still images to the sort of hybrid of rap and skate videos that would become Lil Mayo's signature form of content.
Martyn poured all his free time into creating Mayo videos and growing the alien's popularity, taking him out on the town where local fans could snag and share selfies with the doll. Like so many meteoric rises to celebrity, this hard-partying lifestyle eventually caught up with Mayo, and, only a few months after purchase, he was so beat up that Martyn was forced to start looking for a replacement.
"Sometimes I don’t even want to touch him after a night bringing him out to parties," says Martyn. "I don't know what grosses me out more, the beer and whatever else people pour into his mouth thinking he’s actually drinking it, or girl after girl making out with it. Probably the chicks making out with him... I’ve woken up and looked at him on the floor of my living room after a night of partying, and he would have actual coke stuck in his nose from people trying to give him key bumps."
Learning from the mistakes of his first Lil Mayo, Martyn resolved to take better care of its replacement, installing an armature to assist with posing and only bringing him out for content creation.
Brands eventually began sending Mayo free clothes, and after Martyn posted an appreciative video of Mayo unboxing and repping their products, the clothing brand RIPNDIP approached him about a potential merch collaboration. During the subsequent visit to LA to design and shoot photos, Martyn realized he'd have to make a permanent move to Tinsel Town if he was going to take his alien to the next level.
Stuffing only Mayo and some clothes in a duffel bag, Martyn made his way out to LA, leaving his family business and hometown behind, and committing to the alien as a full time job. After he arrived, RIPNDIP threw a party to celebrate the launch of a RIPNDIP x Lil Mayo collaboration.
"The party was one of the craziest things I’ve ever been a part of," recalls Martyn, noting that he had never before been surrounded by so many Lil Mayo fans. "It was my first taste of what his IRL clout was."
With the clothing bringing in funds, Martyn ramped up the production value for his Mayo vids. He says that, because he was plugging Lyft and Postmates on Lil Mayo's social accounts, he was pulling in "a decent-sized check every month" for supplemental income.
Martyn eventually made the decision to launch a clothing brand of Lil Mayo's own, launching Succ with Dog Limited founder Andy Paz in March 2017.
"Now, ten months later, Succ has launched in [skate fashion retail giant] Zumiez and has turned into a full-time job," says Martyn. "Me and Andy got our own office space in downtown, LA and business is booming. I can’t believe I have my own office in LA because of Lil Mayo. Still mind blowing to me."
But nothing could have prepared Martyn for the event that launched the alien into a new echelon of celebrity: an invitation to party with Rihanna.
"I thought the email was fake when it said she was requesting Lil Mayo to be at her Fenty holiday party," recalls Martyn. "I Immediately called the contact number in the email and spoke with the manager over the phone."
The invitation was legit, and one of the biggest pop stars in the world spent that evening playing and selfie-ing with a lifeless movie prop.
Looking to the future, Martyn says he hopes to "ride this wave for as long as possible" and only sees more doors opening up for Mayo and himself.
"My goals are to pop off a Lil Mayo TV show, work with artists and make Lil Mayo a music producer or DJ, do festivals like Coachella and make him the next Marshmallow or DJ Khaled type," muses Martyn with the unbridled but understandable ambition of someone who's somehow leveraged a doll into a successful career and glamorous lifestyle. "I see a lot of potential in so many different avenues for Lil Mayo. We’ll just have to see. Maybe even Lil Mayo for President in 2020."
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