Matthew Silver: What Happens When a Human Being Goes Viral? - OZY | A Modern Media Company


Because if a guy is willing to brave New York City in his underwear while declaring, “Life is a paradox, so LOVE NOW!” you might want to take a listen.

By Ilana Strauss

“What’s your most adventurous memory?”


… declares a scruffy-looking, bearded guy who’s making squawking sounds and telling people to live in the now. Not an unusual sight in New York City. So why is a viral video of the exchange attracting so much attention?

Well, the individual spouting advice is unusually eloquent, for one. And he’s not asking for change, at least not the kind you keep in your pocket. Plus, the music from Inception that plays in the background gives his speech a “Fanfare for the Common Man” call-to-action kind of urgency.

Street performer Matthew Silver didn’t set out to make a viral hit. He’d been a struggling artist for nine years before he got noticed. Once, he appeared on America’s Got Talent … as one of the joke contestants who gets eliminated for laughs. “They just made me some crazy person,” he says.

On the day he became a star, Silver was just doing performance art in Union Square, and a passing high school student took interest. The student shot a video, added music and uploaded it with the title “Words of Wisdom From an Unexpected Citizen.” Other sites started ripping off the clip, and one changed the title to “Inspiring Advice From a Mentally Insane Person.” And that’s when the thing went viral, which probably isn’t a good sign for our culture, but it worked out pretty well for Silver.

Silver spreads universal, end-of-book type messages without sounding clichéd or preachy.

Since then, more of his videos have spread like wildfire, and he’s built up a serious Facebook presence, with almost 50,000 followers. The publicity translated to bigger audiences for his performances and events, such as the recent International Wackadoodle Love Awareness Day in Union Square, when everyone is called on to act wacky and wear only underwear in an effort to spread laughter and love. Silver now gets recognized on the street, and he recently received a Franklin Furnace grant, which will allow him to focus on his art.

In person, Silver is not that different from the character in his performances. The wild hair, the insistent voice, the ideas, even … all the same. He doesn’t write scripts before performing. He says he’s tried, but he prefers to let whatever happens happen.

Silver was a struggling artist for nine years before he got noticed. 

It’s hard to categorize “Words of Wisdom From an Unexpected Citizen.” It was never supposed to be filmed, but it’s become a YouTube sensation. It’s not a joke, but it’s not completely serious. It’s not who Silver is off camera, but he’s not exactly playing a character either. Whatever it is, it’s connected with people in a big way, big enough that they’re choosing to spread his advice — like “Don’t judge people, because you can’t be free if you judge people!” — along with the cat videos.

Which may help Silver realize his goal: to make the whole planet laugh at the same time. “I’m trying not to take my small little life for granted,” he says.

Here, I think, is what makes Silver stand out: He spreads universal, end-of-book type messages without sounding clichéd or preachy. To the contrary, he sounds like a child discovering each message as he delivers it, and he appears just as surprised and delighted with his revelations as his audience. He’s odd and entertaining, a funny and intense performer, and maybe someone to admire.  

Silver plays with his voice and outfits, but his message is always the same: “People need to slow down and connect with each other,” he says. “We’re here for more than our careers. We’re here for magic.”

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