Parry Gripp’s a natural on the red carpet. It’s a fact that might surprise his many friends, but there he was on opening night of the 2011 Santa Barbara International Film Festival: natty, smiling, pointing out people he didn’t know the way the big stars do. Inside the Arlington, some of us were laughing, happy to see him up there on the big screen, projecting the scene outside. An older woman, once a boardmember of the fest, asked me who that man was. I said, stay tuned, this is the guy who wrote the “Megaphone” song for the short film that would run before every feature film in the fest — though I never once dreamed how silly, controversial, and quintessentially Parry Gripp the whole shebang would soon become. “Yes,” said the woman, crinkling her nose and squinting, “but who is he?”
Let me describe him another way.
Not long ago, some of my son’s college friends shyly approached me and asked in awestruck tones if it was true that I knew Parry Gripp. Chuckling, I said, “Sure” — a fact that elicited wonder from them and some semi-shocked tones from my boy.
“How do you know him?” he asked.
“Because I liked his band Nerf Herder,” I said. Eventually, I got to know him because he wrote a rock column for this paper. And later still, we became pals. “For that matter, you know him, too,” I added, recalling several specific meetings with Gripp at movie theaters and restaurants. My son, who lists Gripp’s music as a foremost fave on his Facebook page, thought for a second and murmured skeptically, “That was Parry Gripp?”
This is also very Parry. After all, no mere mortal from Goleta should embody the depth and width of achievement that’s so often attributed to Gripp. To the young and new-media savvy, Gripp is God, mostly by dint of his Web site’s Song of the Week, which he’s been posting for three years now. It’s there that he’s created deathless ditties that naturally migrated to YouTube (and, sometimes, into films like Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story): masterpieces like “Hamster on a Piano (Eating Popcorn),” “Fuzzy Fuzzy Cute Cute,” “Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom” (with more than 12.9 million hits), and the gently damning “Young Girl Talking About Herself.” The kids also prize Gripp’s alt-televisual life, like the G4 tech and comedy show Attack of the Show!, where he contributes poignant videos like “The Girl at the Video Store.” For the superannuated among us (say, those 30 years and older), Gripp was deific as Nerf Herder’s frontman and as the composer of the searing opening guitar riff for television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
And there’s more. In Philadelphia, he was named the “King of Hoagies” after composing a song that became the anthem for the Wawa convenience store chain. Early last summer, Gripp wrote the number-one–selling cell phone ringtone (“This Is My Ringtone”). To little children, he’s the awesome man who penned the fabled ditty about waffles. In the world of superhero animation, Gripp’s renown stems from “Hero Up,” the song for Super Hero Squad, among others.
Back on Mother Earth, dateline our own town, Gripp, who does light design for the Genesis West Theater Company, was featured most prominently at the Santa Barbara Film Fest for a tune he wrote more than two years ago: “Megaphone,” which was a Song of the Week meant mostly as a lampoon of the over-earnest film-fest volunteers, though its humorous intentions were aimed scattershot. As usual, Gripp’s gently ribbing voice managed to both satirize and cuddle up to its subject. “I couldn’t believe Roger [Durling] liked it,” Gripp told me repeatedly. But months before fest director Durling picked the song to kick off the party at this past year’s fest, it was set to Lego animation by a now 16-year-old British “brickfilmer” fan, Harry Bossert. “I love that song,” said Durling, who ended up taking lots of flak from squarer festgoers at first. That is, “Until Roger Ebert wrote about it, and then suddenly everybody loved ‘Megaphone,’” laughed Durling.
Weirdly enough, though, most S.B. people know Gripp as the recently retired president of the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show. His day job is his family’s biz, the S.B. Orchid Estate. Yes, this is all one man — and he’s funny and nice, to boot.
Yet Gripp treads normally on terra firma and is rarely observed surrounded by celestial auras. He’s even a bit dismissive. “I’m what you call ‘Internet famous,’” Gripp explained without a touch of regret as we sat over coffee at Java Station. “I think when people hear my name, they picture a hamster or a waffle.” Indeed, just last year Gripp hosted a music-industry tent sing-along at the monolithic South by Southwest music fest, dressed like a hamster and pursued by a crazy indie marching band. But the truth is that Gripp stands poised between two worlds of fame, both of which he has sampled richly — touring rock star and Internet-obsessed satirist. He’s been called the “Weird Al” Yankovic of new media. But Gripp, who does a more refined version of parodist shtick, is more inventive than Al, creating something new and celebrative about nerd-world culture, which he ostensibly pastiches and teases. He’s not a critical commentator; he’s more like a paradigm of what popular culture has become.
By Paul Wellman (file)