Danny Duncan wants to know how much he’ll be fined for throwing a cake off the stage. It’s 8:30 PM on Friday, July 27, 2018, at Manhattan’s Gramercy Theatre, and the YouTube star is celebrating his 26th birthday. In the past few hours, he’s had a flurry of bad news: Not only did he forget his slip-on white Vans on his tour bus in New Jersey, but the venue has strictly prohibited the use of water and fire—which means, much to his constant annoyance, no water guns or sparklers. He’ll have to pay upward of $2,500 for any spilled liquids (he’s repeatedly inquired what the fee would be), and the New York City Fire Department, citing the fire code, has barred any and all pyrotechnics, no matter how minor. But what about cake? No one has said anything about cake.
“Four-fifty,” someone shouts to Duncan from backstage, over the roars of mainly 15- to-18-year-old boys in the crowd. “They’ll fine you $450.”
That’s apparently a reasonable amount of money for Duncan, because as soon as he hears the number, the celebratory dessert is in his hand—and then there it is, seconds later, flying toward an overhead light.
“I’m the YouTube Steve Aoki,” he later tells me, cracking up.
The security guards, as they will be for most of the night, are not amused. But Duncan’s adoring fans are—and have been for a while. He loves them, and they love him.
After all, this is the 15th stop on the YouTuber’s self-funded, countrywide, 20-city Virginity Rocks Tour, an unrehearsed hour-long mishmash of a performance that includes two little people—Cameron Famularo and Kewon Vines—dancing to Soulja Boy, the latter attempting to seduce a “MILF” from the audience by lip-synching Drake, multiple jousting battles, more than ten boys getting only the tops of their heads shaved, a luchador wrestling match, failed skateboard tricks, crowd surfing, free merch, a shitload of confetti, fake $69 bills with Duncan’s face printed on them, chants of “Fuck Fousey!,” a headbanging DJ nicknamed “Ratchet,” and a singalong to James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.”
When a newly somewhat bald boy named Danny climbs down the stairs back toward the pit, I stop him to ask why he let Duncan do that to his hair.
“Why not?” he says, capturing, in a single shoulder-shrugging phrase, the entire tenor of the evening. “My mom,” he whispers to nearby friend, “is going to kill me.”
Why not, if you’re a member of Duncan’s crew, get a “VIRGINITY ROCKS” tattoo in the greenroom? Why not, if you’re Duncan, stand in the doorway of your bathroom, five feet from the toilet, and aim your piss toward the bowl? Why not name your act, which has nothing to do with “Virginity” or “Rocking,” “Virginity Rocks”?
Because though Duncan is sober, he does have sex—and this show, if it’s still unclear, has nothing much to do with abstinence. Instead, it is what Duncan claims to be the first of its kind—a YouTube channel taken off the internet and translated, however unpracticed and sloppily, into a live rendition.
“I wanted to do something better than, like, a meet-up for my fans,” he tells me, noting that he couldn’t “sing or anything” like that. “No one had any real idea what this was going to be. They just bought tickets.”
While Duncan says he has nothing against those who’ve yet to pop their cherries, he acknowledges that the branding is a little tongue-in-cheek. (When an Oregon student was told she couldn’t wear a “Virginity Rocks” shirt to school this year, Duncan later went to the small town and gave away a bunch of Ts.) He clarifies, though, that he’s not totally kidding.
“If you’re a virgin, I really do think that’s amazing,” he says, sharing that kids will come up to him and reveal he’s inspired them to wait. “I wish I had that self-control.”
It’s hard, on the surface, to take Duncan’s sincerity completely seriously. Over the past few years, he has amassed more than 1.5 million subscribers, and many of his vids have been viewed millions of times. He’s that guy you knew in high school who punched other kids in the nuts for a good laugh—but he never grew up and became a self-proclaimed millionaire because of his refusal to. His hero, he says, is Daniel Tosh, and he is personal friends with Carrot Top. He is a Jackass-esque prankster who’s unbiased with his victims. Duncan’s gags target everyone, from his good friends to people he’s never met. He can be quite generous, like when he fed the homeless with the Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster or purchased his mom a new house. He frequently has minor, inconsequential run-ins with the police. When he bought his sister a new car, he drove her rundown pickup into a lake. After his mother needed a new mailbox, he installed one shaped like a large wooden dick, and when the local news interviewed him about it, he wore a suit and tie and told them his name was “Gary Winthorpe.” He enjoys wheelies on his dirt bike (sometimes indoors), crashing his car, and hoverboarding. (“I love sports,” he tells me.) He often carries large stacks of money around, on film, because he says it’s “funny.”
“I 100 percent make the best videos on YouTube,” Duncan tells me, crediting his cameraman and DP, Alex Martinez, who’s shooting a documentary of the tour. He doesn’t follow many others in his field either. “I watch Justin Bieber paparazzi videos,” he says. “And Bryce Harper getting mad at shit.”
Watch anything Duncan has ever put out on the platform—you don’t have to be too selective—and you’ll immediately get what he’s all about. Take one of the more recent additions, “Being an Asshole!” In the 11-minute clip, he insists that though some commenters call him an “asshole,” he’s actually a “great guy”—so now, because they said that, he’s actually going to be an asshole. Here are some of the ways he accomplishes that: He screams at children when they run into the shot; he stops his car at a red light and beeps at people walking on the crosswalk; he points a camera, with a stalker-length lens, in strangers’ faces until they notice him; he arrives at an event and starts fiddling with the audio equipment; he imitates accents; he puts on a fluorescent vest, and with the aid of an orange cone, directs traffic; he jumps onto the back of a motorcycle that’s not his; he tries to grab someone’s cellphone in the middle of a call; he hurdles over toddlers; he asks a guy, not very politely, if he can fuck his dog.
“A lot of people tell me not to do certain things,” he says, referencing words like “pussy” and his not infrequent use of them. “But I never really cared. I just do what I want.”
Duncan was born and raised in Englewood, Florida, and says he moved to Los Angeles when he was 22 with $20 in his pocket—the amount, he often jokes, that’s now his per diem from the venues where he performs. When he got to the city, he was helping train professional athletes, one of whom was Jason Lee, the skater and My Name Is Earl star. He encouraged Duncan to pursue Instagram and YouTube and, ultimately, acting. Prior, he had no intention of chasing an entertainment career.
“He thought I was funny,” Duncan tells me. “And that I should try it.”
A few years on, he’s never looked back. He wants to put out this doc with Martinez, and then he hopes the future is—you guessed it—film and television.
He hasn’t, though, forgotten his origins, and like Adam Sandler, Duncan says he wants to work only for himself and just involve his friends in his endeavors. Like, say, Kevin Amarillo, who Duncan met when he first moved to LA and who has become something of his sidekick. (He has “Danny Duncan” tattooed on his ass.) Amarillo tells me he was skating in Southern California and sleeping in the back of cars and, with no other real plans, was going to join the Navy. Before he fully committed to enlisting, however, he says Duncan made a wager with him. The two were playing basketball, and Duncan insisted that if he could sink a full-court shot within five tries, Amarillo would stay in LA. He took the bet. Duncan made the basket in his last attempt.
“It’s the one thing,” Amarillo says, “that changed my life.”
He’s thankful, clearly, and hearing him narrate the tale, it almost sounds as if Duncan intervened in his life like some sort of omniscient god. Amarillo had, minutes before he shared that story with me, let Duncan attempt to shove a condom over his head. It didn’t work, so he tried a second time. It didn’t work, so he tried a third time. It didn’t work.
Duncan’s humor is built on this distinct antagonism—not unlike Johnny Knoxville fucking up a rental car and trying to return it. It might not land for everyone. The condom might not always fit. But what he shares with the king of MTV’s hit series is how he can, seemingly without effort, bring a dedicated group of deranged pals together and inspire them to do what he says. And never have to endure (indeed the often humorous) abuse he subjects.
“Danny just DMed me on Instagram,” Vines tells me, when I ask how they got together. “And here I am. I love this Jackass-type shit.”
Whether it’s Kewon Vines or Kevin Amarillo, Cameron Famularo or DJ Ratchet, they recognize the madness inherent in Duncan’s videos and live shows is all in good jest. (Catch Duncan whipping apples at his DJ’s stomach.) And, maybe more importantly, what else are they supposed to be doing? Well… why not?
At the end of the show, Duncan announces that he’s heading downstairs, to the merch table. He’ll take a photograph with whoever, as long as they can all clear out by 10 PM. It’s 9.
I’m standing behind the partition, between the stage and the floor, watching everybody clear out, when a woman from New Jersey, Kristen Monteleone, approaches me. She wonders if I’d hand her a few $69 bills for her son, Colin, who’s already bolted to wait for his photo op.
“There,” I say, giving her three. “That’s $207.”
I wonder if she approves of Duncan and what he does. She smiles.
“Whatever gets these Fornite-playing little shits off their asses,” she says, “I don’t care.”
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