LINCOLN PARK — Blake Grigsby is Chicago's lovably awkward and totally nerdy positive prankster.
The 20-year-old actor and comedian earned that reputation blowing up YouTube with a string of viral videos that are so cute you can't help but smile — and cringe a little.
Grigsby's biggest hit, "Kiss Me I'm Desperate," was part comedy bit and part social experiment that begged the question, "Will a stranger make out with me purely out of pity?"
The answer, of course, is yes. And it's a video you can't help but watch all the way through.
In fact, it put up bigger YouTube numbers — nearly 14 million views — than Chicago gangster rapper Chief Keef's popular homemade video for his song "I Don't Like," which got about 12 million views.
"I'm a lovably dorky dude. I do things that make me happy and usually make other people smile," Grigsby said. "Our secret to viral videos is the more smiles we get in a video the more people we will get to smile when they watch it. It's very positive and uplifting.”
The DePaul University junior grew up in Naperville and got the performance bug at an early age.
Grigsby, whose mom was an actress who had a bit part in the "Untouchables" TV show, was bit by the acting bug when he was a kid.
"I think I've always been a performer. I've been a professional magician since I was 9 years old, when I would perform for customers at Famous Dave's restaurant," Grigsby said. "I'm sure I caught the performance bug from my mom.”
And mom's still a big influence. In fact, she came up with the idea for his latest positive video prank video, "Hugs for a Dollar," where a crew filmed Grigsby as he sweetly paid strangers a buck to give him a hug at Millennium Park.
So far, more than 130,000 people have watched that happy video packed with smiling Chicagoans.
And last month, Grigsby's "Driveby Compliments" video — which showed him driving around the city yelling compliments at strangers on a megaphone — scored nearly 1 million YouTube hits and more national attention.
"The secret to our success with viral videos is to get as many smiles on camera as possible. The more smiles we get in the video the smiles we get when people watch the video and share it with friends," Grigsby said. "Our brand is very positive, uplifting, in a sense.”
And they're more than just a lovable and funny way to waste time at work. Grigsby says his video comedy bits have taught him that strangers — and the city he lives in — aren't as scary as you might think.
"People are scared to interact with strangers, but I think that strangers are people that you should be interacting with comfortably. If you're positive, and you can get over that little part of your brain that says, ‘You're crazy, stop doing this,' you can connect with a lot more people," he said.
"And Chicagoans are surprisingly upbeat and positive and rather open-minded compared to how a lot of the media portrays our city to be, which is dangerous and dark with evil lurking around every corner.”
Grigsby says he plans to keep pulling positive pranks on folks to delight people via YouTube and further develop his ever-changing alter ego that makes his videos special.
"In real life, I'm a lot quieter than most people would expect. I don't have a girlfriend, but I'm not desperate to have one," he said. "In every video my character changes a little, but it all comes from a place inside me that's honest and true. People can relate to that.”
And, once he posts the finished products on YouTube, millions of people just can't stop watching.
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