Los Angeles, CA
When Peter Martin, who performs as Petey, noticed that he was getting popular on social media, he was pleased but confused—he couldn’t quite figure out whether the seven-digit numbers beneath his videos had any real-world corollary. He remembers thinking, “Are these bots? Are these people? What the fuck is this?” Petey lives in Los Angeles, and although he spent three years working in the mailroom of a talent agency, he never really thought that he might get drawn into the city’s star-making industry. His first real celebrity experience came last year, in Mendocino, the Northern California beach town, where he was approached by a woman in a coffee shop. “I’m way too old to be on TikTok, and this is embarrassing, but I love your shit,” she told him. Petey responded with thanks, and with empathy. “I’m way too old to be on TikTok, too,” he said. Petey is twenty-nine, skinny, and recognizable (though hardly anomalous) in California coffee shops because of his stoner-Jesus beard and long hair. His videos last about a minute, and he typically plays multiple characters, all of them expressing different degrees of certainty or perplexity as they carry on an inane conversation. In one of his clips, the discovery of tiny handprints on a cement walkway inspires escalating conjecture: Petey No. 1 (in sunglasses and a baseball cap): Must be some sort of fossil . . . Petey No. 2 (crouching near the handprints, wearing a different cap): Baby-hands fossil. Petey No. 3 (strolling up, hatless): Strong baby . . . No. 2: You’ve got to penetrate this hard rock—you’d have to be a strong baby. No. 1: Incredibly strong, scary baby. No. 3: Strongest baby ever, maybe . . . No. 2: I can’t even make a dent in this rock, and I’m a full-grown man. No. 1: Babies were a lot stronger back then. No. 3: Back when? No. 1 (authoritatively, lighting a cigarette): Back when fossils were made. By the time the minute-long video is over, you may feel, rather pleasantly, as if you had wasted an entire afternoon with these three Peteys. It has been watched nearly ten million times, drawing an audience far larger than the audience for the work that these videos were originally meant to promote. Before Petey built a big fan base with his comedy, he was building a smaller one with his music, which might strike some of his new fans as surprisingly earnest and, perhaps, surprisingly enjoyable. One of his best-known songs is “Apple TV Remote,” about a guy whose ex is mainly—but not completely—gone. “Apple TV slide show / Yeah, we can never find the remote,” he sings, softly. “See, I don’t need ya anymore / Check the couch, man, check the floor.” In a few weeks, Petey is setting off on his first-ever tour—a music tour, although he knows that his TikTok fame helps explain why the tickets disappeared so quickly. Not long ago, Petey was living in a homemade tent in his friends’ back yard; now he has two successful entertainment careers, even if he is not sure exactly how they relate to each other.