In mid-February, class of 2011 alumnus Ian James Walters uploaded a vocal rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” (from the musical Les Miserables) to the popular video-hosting website YouTube. Despite having to contend with a near-infinite sea of covers, karaokes and lip-syncs, this modest four-minute cover quickly racked up a 1 million-view count, attracting the attention of online viral entertainment hub Buzzfeed along with countless other fans.
Walters’ stroke of inspiration was to sing the emotionally charged number through the persona and vocal stylings of Gollum, the ghoulish hobbit-creature most well-known from Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. While this odd combination may have made for a dubious comedy pitch, it was aimed straight at the internet’s appetite for bizarre humor.
“It isn’t often that I do something actually funny,” Walters said, explaining his frame of mind when stumbling across his talent a few months ago. “It started out as a joke between me and my friend.”
After both singing along to the Les Mis soundtrack sung by Anne Hathaway in anticipation of the recent film, Walters broke into the unnerving style of Tolkien’s fantasy character, at which point his friend urged him to record it.
The first video, which is now more than halfway to reaching 2 million views, started trending heavily while Walters was away on a climbing trip in Oregon. After returning a week later, he was surprised to find he’d become a verified internet celebrity. Soon after that, he was approached by Buzzfeed to make a similar but higher-quality spoof of a popular Top 40 song — in this case, “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift.
Walters enlisted the help of a few of his friends, including fourth-year technocultural studies major Damien Verrett, to film the video on a rocky beach north of San Francisco. Verrett assisted with the shoot and provided the background music. He later filmed and scored a longer skit with Walters, in which Harry Potter (also portrayed by Walters) encounters Gollum and mistakes him for a friendly elf.
As of now, both are planning to work together on new skits as well as the pop music covers.
“Right now we’re working on an original skit,” Verret said. “I think the idea is to branch off from the whole Gollum thing and start making 100 percent original content. I’m excited. It’s hilarious to me that these things are getting a million views when really they’re just videos being made by my friends.”
Daniella Devera, who graduated from UC Davis the same year as Walters, helped film and edit some of his videos.
“It’s just Ian being Ian, but I find it heartening that so many people enjoy that,” Devera said. “His energy can be infectious like that: through the screen, you get to feel like you’re in on his joke, like you’re part of the club, and it’s cool.”
Uninitiated viewers can also be cool and join the club by visiting the Ijameswalters YouTube account, the home of Walters’ creations.
ANDREW RUSSELL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.