As a cross between Raleigh’s unofficial mascot and a never-ending internet joke, “Drunktown Guy” has enjoyed the past seven years as an anonymous poster child for excessive drinking – forever frozen in the middle of the ass as he stabilized himself against a lamp post.
But now Jeremy Markovitchlongtime NC journalist and podcaster, scored an exclusive chat with the star of Raleigh’s notorious 2015 anti-alcohol ad campaign, which survived its political moment but endured as a meme.
On this week’s episode of his NC Rabbit Hole sub-stack, Markovich reunites with the Drunktown ad model, revealing his identity only as NC State University graduate Mike, and tells the story behind the iconic snap. .
Almost a decade later, Mike tells Markovich he did it strictly for the money.
Beer money, ironically. But everything turned out beyond expectations.
“If I had known the ad was going to look like this,” Mike said, “then maybe I would have said, ‘Yeah, now here’s your money. Go find some other assholes. Right? It’s not something that I personally agree with, but in the end, you know, it is what it is. I was not devastated.
What is the story of “Drunktown”?
A bit of context:
By 2015, downtown Raleigh had fully emerged from decades of dormancy. Long queues stretched outside its bars and clubs, and patrons had a reputation for occasionally teetering on the sidewalks, leaving portions of their evening meals behind.
The ad appeared in The News & Observer, featuring Mike on his lamppost, accusing then-councillor Mary-Ann Baldwin and her “goons” of kowtowing to bar owners and asking, “Do we want to really want downtown Raleigh to become DrunkTown?
Markovich sought out Mike because Raleigh only recently created a “social drinking district”, where alcohol can be consumed outdoors, as people stroll from place to place.
“I’m here to catch you up on a little political mess that turned into a niche local meme that spawned an insider nickname for our beautiful capital,” Markovich wrote for the uninitiated. “You may have laughed at Drunktown once. DRUNKTOWN WAS A PROPHECY.
Turns out Mike was an NC State student who applied for an internship and then a consulting job with Campaign Connections, which created the ad. After he finished the job, a photographer asked him if he could help as the subject of an upcoming ad.
“It was a few hundred dollars,” Mike told NC Rabbit Hole. “I think, for an hour’s work. It was just easy money. And I thought to myself, sure why not? … He didn’t give me all the details of all that would entail. He said it would come out in some kind of announcement. Like, obviously, it was about drinking.
The ad is supposed to make it look like the bars just emptied at 2 a.m., but Mike remembers it was shot in the early evening. And although it is intended to recreate the town centre, Drunktown’s location is on Edwards Mill Road.
At one point, Mike told NC Rabbit Hole, he stuffed his mouth with mushroom soup or clam chowder and vomited it onto the sidewalk, then tidying up.
Months passed before the ad went viral, and Mike had no idea he’d be playing memes alongside Wolfpack basketball coach Jim Valvano anytime soon, or stumbling into a snowy Raleigh street in an even more famous weather meme.
“My dad was obsessed with all the memes,” he said. “I think his favorite was this photo during the winter when this car is on fire. He wanted to have that one printed.
Mike is never recognized except for a few times when he posed as Drunktown Guy for Halloween and a few politically savvy people stood out. It hasn’t traumatized his life, he told Markovich, and for the record, he supports the new social drink district to liven up downtown.
Given a chance to identify more, adding dimension to his Drunktown heritage, Mike told Markovich he was a regular guy who didn’t so secretly shoot for his alter-meme-ego.
One last thing:
“I can hold back my alcohol.”
This story is part of our regular “On the Bright Side” column. Do you have a suggestion for a story that will make our readers smile? Email Josh Shaffer at [email protected]
This story was originally published July 14, 2022 2:28 p.m.