Craig Rowin went on YouTube a couple of months ago and asked for someone to give him $1 million. Rowin then boasted that someone had stepped forward to present him with the money, and put on a live show last night at the UCB Theatre in New York City, complete with a raffle (giving away DVDs, a steak dinner and more), live music, reading of negative YouTube comments by Hannibal Buress, and even an appearance by Matthew Lesko (the guy from Washington, D.C., who wears question-mark suits on infomercials telling you how to get free money).
All leading up to this…
So. Yeah. It was a complete hoax. He got a half-million views for his "success" video and mainstream press from the New York Daily News and ABC News to around the world to buy into it. A TV crew from Germany showed up last night to cover the check-signing.
The Comic's Comic talked to Craig Rowin backstage after the show for this exclusive interview.
At what point did you decide to go the route that you did? "It was after the third video, and people around the theater, around UCB, were like: 'Are you going to get $1 million yet? You get $1 million yet? You get $1 million yet?' I was like, it's not going to happen. If it didn't happen yet, it's not going to happen. But there needs to be a conclusion. This is a webseries. I want it to end awesomely. And people want something to happen. So I was like, let's just make it happen! Let's just make a show of it. And continue the storyline. So it was like, before New Year's, let's do this, and I talked to Will (Hines). I talked to Adam (Lustick). I talked to Jim, who directed the show, Jim Santangelli, and of course Avi (his manager, Avi Gilbert), and some other people and asked, is this a good idea? And I pitched it to Anthony King, the artistic director here at the theater, and he said, 'yeah, that's a good idea.'"
Was there anybody who said, 'Craig, don't give up.' Maybe there's somebody out there who'd actually give you the million? "No. I don't know. I realize it's a shot in the dark to get a millionaire to come, so, when I did start, I was slightly optimistic. But after a while I realized, this probably won't happen."
So when you put out the success video, obviously, I congratulated you. "Yes, you did. You were very nice."
You probably got lots of other messages. "Yes. I've got about a million other emails that I haven't replied back to yet, because I didn't want to lie."
And we saw that you got coverage in the Daily News. What was going through your mind at this point? "Well, which breakdown happened first? It was hard. I realized. I debated back and forth. Is this too big? I didn't expect the response to be this big. Honestly. Thinking back, I think we might have been a little foolish, with how big we thought it would get, and it just exceeded that. The first day, I just felt swamped and was like, is this a terrible idea? But then I had some friends and people involved who said, 'No. This is a good idea. Just believe in it. Commit to it. And it will be worth it.' And I remembered when I started the idea, I thought it would be cool and funny and everything that I wanted it to do. And then in the hard moments, I thought I just have to follow through."
"So many things get out into the open. You make a video and you're like, 'Well, that happened! See you next time. Try again soon!' And then do another video. Care about it a lot! Nothing. It's not satisfying. At the very least, there's a satisfying ending to this. It may not be what people expected. It's certainly not what I expected when I started the first video, but I hope everybody enjoyed the show, and enjoyed the ups and downs of this, like I did."
Have you thought at any point of what you would do if you did receive $1 million? "I still have never thought about that. When it happened, I first talked to my girlfriend and said, we have to pretend we're going to make $1 million, and we were like, 'Yeah, we'll go on a trip!' Just like in the first video, I haven't really thought about it. I'm not getting $1 million from this. In fact, I've lost money. So I should think about ways to make money."
There was that steak. "Yes, there was that steak. That was a real Old Homestead steak. And she enjoyed it."
Have you already decided what you want to do now? "I want to make a billion dollars. (laughs) I don't know. This was awesome. This was such a great experience. It's great to do something that people react to. I want to keep…I don't want to keep fooling people, but I want to keep doing funny stuff like this. I don't have anything big coming up. But I will be appearing on Vh1's Top 40 Pranks, at the very least. So that's this week. And then next week, we'll see."
So is this a more satisfying ending than actually having the money? "No. At anytime. We talked about this. If a real millionaire actually came onstage at any point in the middle and said, 'I'm going to give you the million dollars,' then that would've been the show. That was always, in the first incarnation of the show, if somebody steps forward, I'll take the million dollars, cancel the show, and go to wherever."
And go into hiding? "Go into hiding, in the bunker."
Because I'm sure you got a lot of people asking you for money. "Yeah. Tons of people asked me for money. Tons of people who I know. Luckily, no close friends were asking me. Nobody was like, 'Craig. Help me. Help me out.' No. A lot of people reacted to it. I think that's really interesting, though, people's reactions to money. I read a ton of emails, and those YouTube comments, it's weird to see how people react to it. Sure. I mean, I don't deserve it. I don't deserve the money. But, you know. A lot of people are rich who don't deserve the money. It's just an interesting…I don't want to say it's a social experiment, but I learned a lot about people through it."
What did you learn about yourself? "That it's hard to not look your friends in the face when you tell them lies. I learned that sometimes things can get bigger than you. You're on Italian news, Japanese news. People calling from across the world. Japanese people wanting to do a five-day documentary about you. In a million years, I would not have expected that. Things you create can somehow get out of hand. And this did, in a very cool way."