Elijah Daniel has owned the internet over and over again.
There was a time when he started a petition calling on the US government to "party in the US." the National anthem. And the time when he, as the temporary mayor of Hell, Mich., Declared heterosexuality illegal. Oh, and the time when his erotic short story about President Donald Trump shot to the top of Amazon.
Mr. Daniel's satirical stunts and entrepreneurial ventures target people in power, be they politicians, social media influencers, or tech managers. Picture him when Sacha Baron Cohen meets Mark Cuban for the TikTok generation.
"I'm always seen as anti-whatever," said 26-year-old Daniel. "On TikTok, I'm on Anti-Straight TikTok or Alt TikTok. When I was on YouTube, I was the anti-YouTuber. When everyone was doing vlogs about Gucci, we were doing drag queen things in the dollar store. In marketing, I'm an anti-marketer. I don't ask people to buy Facebook ads. I look for unconventional, fun ways to do things. If it doesn't make me laugh, I don't care. "
His career could be viewed as a blueprint for success in today's digital media landscape if you're ready to piss a few people off in the process.
For someone so online, Mr. Daniel had a rather disjointed childhood. Growing up in Michigan, he was homeschooled and his parents restricted his TV and Internet use and access to secular music. (They were very religious.)
His mother ran a Christian newspaper in which Mr. Daniel wrote a weekly column that made Bible verses available to children. "I would take a Bible story and rewrite it, minus the murder and rape," he said.
In middle school, he turned to marketing the newspaper. Calling and pitching local businesses got him excited, and he began studying marketing techniques on Coursera, an online educational platform, while working on finishing home schooling.
When he was 14, he secretly set up a Twitter account and started posting jokes. He noticed that spoof accounts were popular and made some of his own, which put him in a loose social circle of spoof account administrators.
They exchanged tips. Mr. Daniel learned that breaking news and celebrity gossip performed well online. He faked the @BreakingNews Twitter account and later set up a fake celebrity news site.
"We just made up fake news and made fun of people," said Daniel. Sometimes his made up stories were written by real celebrity news outlets, which he found very funny.
Even so, he didn't like the way parody reports rely on other people's concepts. He wanted to be known for himself and for his own good ideas. When he was 15, he set up a personal Twitter account.
"I thought," I literally made the wrong people famous, "he said." I'm going to start making myself famous. ""
Shortly after Mr. Daniel's 18th birthday, Taco Bell flew him to New York to star in a prank-based Valentine's Day ad. It brought in half a million views in a day, an enormous feat by 2013 standards. Mr. Daniel was already known for his stunts and comedy but made a name for himself as a marketer, first for an EDM apparel brand and then as the founder of his own company.
At the time, the tech scene was all about apps, and startups in San Francisco and Los Angeles were looking for help to get attention online. But Mr. Daniel was frustrated by the way leaders opposed his advice.
"I was fine, I advise all of these brands, but they don't listen," he said. “I might as well apply that to myself and turn myself into an influencer. I know how to do branded business right. I'm not just going to say, "Hey guys, I love this matching tea, wipe it up!" I will do stunts, but in a profitable way. "
In 2016, Mr Daniel's content became increasingly political. He's openly gay and has always been wary of conservative politicians, but he felt that Donald J. Trump posed a new kind of threat. That January, Mr. Daniel got drunk and high and tweeted that he would post a "50 Shades of Gray" but with Mr. Trump as the protagonist.
Within a week, he published Trump Temptations: The Billionaire and the Bell Boy, a fictional account of Mr. Trump and a male lover, on Amazon. It exploded before it was turned off. At that point, Mr. Daniel posted it for free on Wattpad, a self-publishing website that focused on fan fiction and had been viewed 2.3 million times.
"I went on Fox News to talk about it and was wearing a weed leaf Christmas sweater as they tried to pass California's recovery laws," Daniel said. "The people on the internet ate it up."
His antics continued. He rewrote the Bible in 24 hours, gave Rihanna the role of God, and cast drag queens as her disciples. He started a YouTube channel and gained hundreds of thousands of subscribers. In 2017 he shot a segment for "The Maury Povich Show" with his girlfriend Christine Sydelko and YouTube star Tana Mongeau. In it, Mr. Daniel pretends to be a closed gay man who is cheating on his girlfriend. The clip has been viewed more than 21 million times on YouTube.
In a 2017 stunt, Mr. Daniel was named Mayor of Hell, Michigan, for one day. In that short time he made heterosexuality illegal in the city. In 2019, he pretended to buy Hell for millions of dollars and banned its residents from hoisting American flags – a reprimand for rejecting presidential proposals to hoist flags of pride in American embassies.
"Within 30 minutes of posting about it, I had CNN and everyone hit me for interviews," he said. Mr. Daniel decided to lie to them all. He just wanted to see what they would run.
Mr. Daniel had experimented with music since his youth. He created beats on his laptop and produced mostly for Christian rappers. In 2017, he created a rap alter ego, Lil Phag, supposed to poke fun at SoundCloud rappers, and started releasing his own tracks.
Mr. Daniel's second album "Resurrection" hit several Billboard charts. Thereafter, Mr. Daniel founded 2019 with his fiancé Sam Fishman, who online as Dr. Woke is known to be an EDM pop duo called Adam & Steve. Billboard called them "the gay chain smokers".
Mr Daniel was in the middle of a music tour when the coronavirus began to spread in the United States. On March 10, he canceled the rest of his data and returned to Los Angeles for quarantine.
If his audience education strategies once seemed unorthodox, they are now considered awesome.
"I've never seen a marketer like him," said Jesse Leimgruber, founder of Neoreach, an influencer marketing firm that worked with Mr. Daniel. He described Mr. Daniel's sense of social impact as almost intuitive. "He just sees things as' this is going to be huge," he said.
“The first time you're getting this fame on social media or a bit of virality, the question is, 'OK, what can I do? Should I start acting, going on Instagram or doing YouTube videos or what? Said Lex Morales, 19, a TikTok star with 1.2 million followers. “Elijah has just done everything. He took this platform and just expanded it. "
Among his followers, he is not only considered a master of the Internet, but also an agitator for change. "He's a mobilizer. He speaks for the other kids. He gives voice to people who normally don't have a voice," said Hannah O'Kelley, 20.
This year, Mr Daniel has made more serious use of his platform amid a devastating pandemic and a presidential election that has deepened political divisions.
In March, he founded Cult for Good, a nonprofit that aims to provide food and basic goods to the Los Angeles homeless population. In June, he helped promote a TikTokers-led campaign to fake registration prior to a Trump rally in Tulsa, Okla. He has also openly criticized influencers for violating public health guidelines during the pandemic and is in an ongoing feud with Bryce Hall, a TikTok star who held multiple parties in violation of an order from the city.
That doesn't mean his antics are over. That summer, Mr. Daniel started working with Clash, a short-form video platform built by a former Vine star. To parody the TikTok Collab Mansion trend, Daniel created “The Clash,” a reality show with multiple influencers, including Claudia Conway.
Last week, Mr. Daniel, his fiancé, and former roommates moved with Katia Ameri, a founder who became famous as the Zoom Bachelorette, to a sprawling Hollywood Hills property with a huge swimming pool and an acre of vineyard.
The idea for the house started as a joke. Mr Daniel posted a teaser video in mid-October for Rocketship House, a collab house designed to mock start-up culture and influencer culture. But the idea stayed and the investors were interested. The house, called the villa, will be a content studio and office space for the group that develops brands and brings out products. The first of these will be a line of makeup in the style of Jeffree Star Cosmetics.
Mr. Daniel spends most of his days at his Hollywood Hills estate in the Tuscan style with new ideas, often in bed. He is relaxed, calm and, in his words, "would rather be at home when my dogs chill and things start".
"I hate attention at any level," he said. “All of my stunts are unique. It's massive press stunts, but I never want to be a celebrity. "