f you posted on Craigslist about a job opening in New York City during the year 2007, chances are Kevin Allocca, BC ’06, responded. After graduation, you could find him among empty ramen cups, blanket over his head, searching for a plan. As a salmon swims upstream, post-graduation Allocca flocked to the Big Apple to make it like the Frank Sinatra song. He laid the groundwork to have a joint birthday party every year with his roommate, Kevin Armstrong, BC ’06, called “KA Fest,” given their twin initials—but in terms of a career he was winging it.
“The eclectic tastes and varied interests, I think, were something he had to figure out,” Armstrong said.
Allocca, interested in everything from acting, directing, and teaching, to writing, documentary-making, parody, and the University of Miami football team (which Armstrong calls his fatal flaw)—kept poking around.
“There was this weird listing for like this humor-satire site,” Allocca said. “I remember I was either going to be an unpaid intern at The Onion or a paid intern at this other new website.”
Allocca decisively took the paying job.
He found himself an intern at a joint venture into internet entertainment with IAC and Huffington Post, called 23/6, at a time when internet entertainment was a nascent idea, not the gold mine for fame and profitability it is today.
“It was my dream job. I was like this is the thing I wanted, I came to do,” Allocca said.
Allocca starting dabbling in writing with his humor column for The Heights, which made him a self proclaimed C-list celebrity between Co-Ro and Commonwealth, and through which he sent messages to his freshman sister’s imminent suitors, saying “I won’t print her name here because she’s probably embarrassed I mentioned her, but, I mean, we have the same last name, so if you’re feeling a little Sherlock Holmes with the Agora it shouldn’t be too hard to find her. I also want to point out that if you are not a woman and I catch you trying to talk to her, I will strangle you with my Ethernet cable.” (Very 2006, no?)
“He really took the craft seriously, like it wasn’t just a college hobby for him,” Denise Ekenstierna, his Heights editor at the time, said.
Previously the lone comedy writer among marketplace and news writers in The Heights’s McElroy offices, at 23/6, Allocca was surrounded by real, seasoned comedy writers—some of whom flocked from The Daily Show, Letterman, and Conan. They taught him how to write jokes, and, because it was a website instead of a printed newspaper, there was no limit to what Allocca could post. He photoshopped pictures and made videos—a timely pursuit given the ’08 election’s plethora of material. Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John McCain, and Sarah Palin were a part of one of the first elections to have 24/7 news coverage (because of the internet) and also the first election to have 23/6 coverage. Allocca made mocking mash-ups of people, including politicians—and had minor heart attacks whenever they were shown on TV. After showing one video on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann called him someone with “too much time on their hands.” Much of what Allocca did, one would find all over social media today, but back then social media as a concept was just beginning to hatch.
“I remember sitting around when Twitter launched, and the other comedy writers just ripping into it so hard, like ‘Who the hell—what is this, like, micro-blogging website where people just post a status like that they just had a sandwich?’” Allocca said.
Allocca thought a lot about how traffic moves around the internet, calling it the “subtext” of the things he was doing at the time. While Allocca was starting to feel at home in the big city, shooting with names like Eugene Mirman and H. Jon Benjamin, he was watching contemporary household names like John Mulaney and Aziz Ansari perform in comedy clubs.
“New York has this sort of energy about it which I just really loved,” Allocca said.
Armstrong notes that there never was and never will be any taking Allocca out of New York City—his veins had already morphed to match subway routes, and his alarm clock had already been replaced by the noise of sirens and screeching tires in the morning. Allocca’s confidence skyrocketed. He was living the life he wanted to, the life that he never realized he could make a career out of.
“So then we all got laid off two years later,” Allocca said.
orn in Hollywood—Hollywood, Fla.—Kevin Allocca attended St. Thomas Aquinas school, which had a heavy emphasis on its elite sports program—but Allocca loved to be on the stage, even if no one was watching. Allocca markedly didn’t manage to elicit a High School Musical–esque shift of focus from the basketball courts to the theater. Instead, in a High School Musical 2-esque manner, Allocca pulled a Gabriella and went his own way, heading for Boston College.
Far from his little town sandwiched between Miami and “almost Miami” (Fort Lauderdale), Allocca saw Boston and snow for the first time at a Harvard University public speaking invitational and fell in love with the city and the seasons. Ready to get out of south Florida, with what he saw as its superficial perceptions of wealth and success, once Allocca set foot in Boston as a new part-time resident, he was enamored with its intellectual culture.
He started classes at BC as a Hardey resident with a biology and theatre double major. Remarking that such a combination does not make sense, but rather, was the crime of a heavy hand at registration, Allocca decided to study communication and film.
“On paper I studied communication and film, in college—but I really studied comedy and entertainment in a way,” Allocca said. “That’s how I spent all of my free time.”
Allocca also entertained the masses in Fulton 511 as the director of Hello…Shovelhead! It was in this role that he says he got the most raw professional experience of his life, balancing the spin cycle of other’s creative visions, his own recaps of the three-hour Braveheart in 60 seconds, and rejection.
“It’s really hard to tell someone their jokes aren’t good—it’s a very complex thing,” Allocca said.
The allure of performance exposed Allocca to the process of creation—and he soon found himself constantly wanting to create things. He took classes in screenwriting, directing, and filmmaking. His college experience was marked by intense intellectual curiosity, proved by his writing of three theses—one of which was about was about female comedians.
“It was a blessing and a curse, [for Allocca], being talented and having a variety of interests,” Armstrong said. “He wasn’t going to settle for anything that he wasn’t passionate about.”
Allocca’s expanse of pursuits has resulted in him being an interesting subject of a Google search—nowadays, there’s no one in the world with a more interesting LinkedIn than Kevin Allocca. He had an internship (around the time YouTube first launched) at a publishing company paying college students to write books for the summer. After hearing about it at a Career Center event, he applied, got it, flew to Colorado, and came to learn everything about said company.
“If you go to Cracker Barrel and you see those books on the shelf—they write those books,” Allocca said.
Next, fresh off Linden Lane, he produced documentaries about Russian history, spending a summer in Siberia. After making a film about Biloxi, Miss. after Hurricane Katrina, and having formed a close bond with John Michalczyk, a film studies professor, Allocca received the social justice project grant and set out.
“Literally during graduation, I’m at some awards ceremony or something, and [Michalczyk] taps me on the shoulder and is like, ‘Do you want to go to Siberia this summer?’” Allocca said. “He was like, ‘Yeah I need a student to come with us to work on this documentary, would you like to come?’”
“I had known [Allocca] for a couple of years … and I very much enjoyed him as a student and a friend, and if there were any opportunities that came around, he would pick them up and do them,” Michalczyk said.
So Allocca unpacked his jackets from storage and put away his swim trunks: He was headed for the Arctic Circle. Hands tingling from imminent frostbite, he refined his story-telling skills. Filming, especially abroad, was an experience that Michalczyk said gave him an instinct for media and visual communication.
When he returned to America he headed for New York, first to work at 23/6, then at Mediabistro, a news site that wasn’t as well known as the New York Post, which Armstrong had just stopped working for—prompting Armstrong to donate a “New York Post” notebook to Allocca.
“I was like this will lend credibility to your name, start bringing this around people and it might scare some folks,” Armstrong said.
“Kevin’s mind essentially is the internet—it can be very distracting, it can be very informative, it can be stuff that's useless, it can be stuff that's prescient." Kevin Armstrong, BC '06.
Then, Allocca applied to a “random” job at YouTube that was based in tracking trends. YouTube, thinking that it would further legitimize itself as a platform, wanted to find a way to see more of its videos shown on news sites. Given that Allocca understood both pop culture and the news, he was the man for the job. Armstrong wasn’t surprised when Allocca landed the job at YouTube, given that he had an extremely forward-thinking mind.
“I never thought I would work at a tech company—that doesn’t align with anything I told you before about myself,” Allocca said.
llocca started racking up frequent flyer miles, so he and Armstrong’s (who was also traveling a lot, working for Sports Illustrated) apartment often went unoccupied for weeks—and the vagabond roommates had to meet up for dinner in San Francisco one night instead of in their lonely kitchen on the East Coast. Alloca launched YouTube Trends, which (“surfaces popular videos in real time, and analyzes phenomena within the YouTube community”) in 2010, and now he is the head of Culture and Trends at YouTube.
“Ultimately the thing that I realized I was most interested in is why people like things and how entertainment works,” Allocca said. “And there are few things you can do that are at the scale of YouTube that answer that question.”
Since then, YouTube has grown to have billions of users. Allocca says that the success of YouTube, and every major technology platform, is due to a combination of chance and the right decisions at the right moments. He thinks Flash (which allowed videos to play on any site, without leaving the site) is what enabled Youtube’s success and growth. In the early days, its success was seen in the passing around of videos like “The Evolution of Dance” and “Charlie Bit My Finger.” Now, its unparalleled success is seen in the masses of people who use YouTube videos to get careers, like Justin Bieber, comedian Bo Burnham, and Dude Perfect, and regular people who have created cultural moments, and built huge audiences on YouTube, like David Dobrik and Logan Paul. YouTube has democratized media, allowing its creators to also be its audience. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie now share the spotlight with untrained entertainers who populate the web and garner the undying love and affection of their fan bases. Allocca sits at the crux of this moment in popular culture.
“Kevin’s mind essentially is the internet—it can be very distracting, it can be very informative, it can be stuff that’s useless, it can be stuff that’s prescient,” Armstrong said.
Media and technology impact all aspects of the human story. Though Allocca admits that media is still absolutely flawed, he believes that it acts as a mirror to humanity—it’s flawed because people are flawed. Allocca thinks a lot about what it would be like to grow up now, in an age where iPhones are more plentiful than Tamagotchi, and the importance of understanding the ethical implications and quandaries of media—from the spread of incorrect information to the restriction of dangerous content.
“The ultimate challenge is one that goes beyond any piece of technology. … It goes to how we interact with one another,” Allocca said.
Allocca says his real job is watching YouTube videos all day, and, given that fact, he seems to be the person best suited to do what he did in his talk for TEDYouth. He explained why certain videos go viral among the millions that don’t—and chalks viral success up to three factors: tastemakers, communities of participation, and unexpectedness.
Allocca’s favorite video of all time is “Yosemitebear Mountain Double Rainbow 1-8-10”
in which a user by the name of “Yosemitebear62” commentates enthusiastically about the appearance of a double rainbow in the sky.
“For me that’s like a metaphor of what I love about media: One person who is really passionate about something and wants to share that experience with other people, and other people finding it and engaging it on their own,” Allocca said. “It’s also really funny, and it makes me laugh to this day, and if I show it to someone that’s never seen it before and they laugh too, I think there’s a real power in that.”
Besides the funny, Allocca loves the uniqueness of YouTube’s ability to connect millions and be reflective of a diversity of societies, passions, and interests. He marvels at the fact that he can watch something made by someone in a remote village of the Philippines, and that the audience has a participatory role in creating culture—and he recently wrote a whole book on it, called Videocracy.
One of the standout trends he highlights in his book is one that he found impossible to wrap his mind around at first. During one of his YouTube-marathon workdays, Allocca came across a plethora of videos of people filming elevators. The topic seemed strange to Allocca, but the fact that these videos had a crazy amount of views was even stranger. When writing his book, Allocca got in touch with a guy from a popular elevator channel. As it turned out, the man has Asperger’s and estimated that a majority of his audience was composed of people with autism around the world. He explained that there are aspects of elevators, and the hobby of exploring them, that attracted people whose brains work differently, and all those people found each other and created a unique and thriving community through YouTube.
“I think that that idea of something that makes no sense to me, that makes no sense to the mainstream media, but is very meaningful to the people who are watching it is what, I think, plays out every day in much more trivial, as well as much more serious ways,” Allocca said.
Photo Courtesy of Kevin Allocca
Edit by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor