He Makes What He Loves and Then They Consume It
YouTube phenom Jon Cozart is more than just Ariel/Belle/Jasmine/Pocahontas
Question: What do Adolf Hitler, Harry Potter, and Disney movie heroines have in common?
Answer: Jon Cozart.
Jon Cozart is the University of Texas sophomore whose recent "After Ever After" video on YouTube – featuring four simultaneous versions of himself singing as four of Disney's major cartoon heroines as if they were displaced to the real world – has gone, as they say, viral. To the tune of more than 10 million views and counting.
(If you haven't seen the video, we recommend that you do: It's not a sensation because it's yet another goofy-ass cat video or some outrageous slapstick spectacle; rather, "After Ever After" has gained worldwide acclaim because Cozart, this tow-headed maestro who's currently studying his cortex to a cinder in UT's Radio-Television-Film Department, is nigh on brilliant here: at writing lyrics, at staging and editing video, and at using sharp piano skills and his expressive, Tiger Beat-adorable mug to complement a fine singing voice.)
But, wait. What's this about ... Hitler?
"Well, when I was still in middle school," says Cozart, "one of my first videos – my first or second video – was, ah, it was maybe a satire? I played a child version of Hitler with a Myspace page, and really made fun of Hitler throughout the five-minute video. I was really proud of it. And, to this day, no matter what I make, that's my family's favorite video."
And the Boy Who Lived came much later.
"I started out writing my own songs," says Cozart. "They weren't parodies, back in middle school – I'd write these really elaborate love songs, with girls in mind. And of course that's ridiculous, but that's how I started out writing music. And then, in high school, I started writing more comedy-centered things. And then I graduated, and that's when I uploaded 'Harry Potter in 99 Seconds' – which was the first thing I did that went viral."
Cozart's covered other topics, too – ex-girlfriends, his high school principal, The Lord of the Rings, movie villains, and so on – and now here he is with his biggest hit so far, the sardonic parody that's galvanized fans across the globe and garnered praise from Disney's own multiple-Oscar-winning songsmith Alan Menken. All this from a guy who auditioned for, but was rejected twice by, Glee.
Some casting agent is crying into a beer right about now, we reckon.
What we're doing, though, is smiling into a cappuccino and asking this talented performer a few questions:
Austin Chronicle: I hear that you want to create a full-length musical, maybe a parody of The Hunger Games, while you're at UT. What about projects beyond college, beyond that musical? You have anything in mind? Blue-sky kind of things?
Jon Cozart: Ideally – I'm in film school – I'd like to direct a feature. But that's not how Hollywood, how L.A. works. People start at the bottom and work their way up. Right now I'm making short films, dabbling in that, and I think I'm decent at it. But I have to learn how to be great at it. But I guess, yeah, blue-sky would be directing a feature.
AC: And is there something in particular you have in mind?
JC: OK, so I come from a really religious background. My dad, he was a pastor; now he's a professor of biblical studies. So I've always been fascinated by the biblical apocalypse, and I know that sounds really dark and dramatic – but it's a story I don't think has been told a lot. And if there are a billion Christians in the world, then I think it should be portrayed on film. Plus, there's a huge market for Christian cinema – if it's done right. The Passion of the Christ is the number-one, top-grossing R-rated film of all time. So, yeah: I wanna do something biblically apocalyptic.
AC: The Revelations of St. John the Divine?
JC: Yeah. There we go.
AC: Would you stick close to the biblical accounts, or ...?
JC: I think I'd like to adapt them – they're fantastical, and I'd like to adapt them to be more centered around realistic things. You know – natural disasters, political wars, things like that.
AC: So the bright and cheery persona of Jon Cozart that's seen on YouTube is a small portion of you, and there's this other, darker side?
JC: Yeah, I'd say the version I portray on YouTube is me eight years ago. I mean, it's still here, it's still a part of me, I still understand that part of me. But it doesn't come out very often; it's not very useful in everyday life. It's more or less a persona.
AC: What kind of pressure does that exert, the idea that many people, 8 million people, are following what you do? You're doing these things that are popular, but, it seems to me, you aren't pandering; you're just doing a damned fine job of homage-slash-parody. But do you ever feel like, "Oh, this is a hot property, maybe I should do this, because people will like it, instead of ...."
JC: For a long time I was considering doing "Twilight in 99 Seconds," because that's what my audience wanted. And I started watching the first film. And I got about maybe 15 minutes in, and I turned it off and decided that's never gonna happen. And, yeah, there is a lot of pressure from the audience – they demand things, they want things from me. And I'm now choosing not to give it to them. Which is new. Because, before, I sort of answered to them. Like, the audience is right, the customer is always right? No! I make what I love, and then they consume it.
AC: Bwahaha! That's ... that's beautiful!
JC: Oh gosh, I'm gonna sound like such an a-hole.
AC: No, no, you're not.
JC: No, I will.
AC: I'm gonna check and see – before you can trademark this phrase you just came out with –
JC: [Laughs] Oh no!
AC: I'm gonna have T-shirts made, sell 'em to everybody! "I make what I love, and then they consume it."
JC: [Shakes his head, laughs]
AC: But, OK, and you chose to get political, all issues-based, with this new video?
JC: Politically I'm a very, like, "you do you" kind of person. I'm an independent person, and I don't force myself or my opinions on anybody. I don't think I necessarily took a stance in "After Ever After." I just think it was common sense. [Frowns] Then again, a lot of people support the wars, and, you know ... [shrugs].
AC: No, I agree with your "it's just common sense" comment. But, see, Alex Jones would say the same thing about his stuff. [Makes lame attempt at Alex Jones voice] "It's just common sense!" And, ah, how does your family feel about the YouTube situation, this whole viral thing?
JC: They're glad I'm making money; that's about it. The fame thing's a little weird.
Let's Get 'The Show!' on the Road
Sunday, May 5, 8:30pm, Spider House Ballroom, 2908 Fruth
Question: What do Jon Cozart, Jennymarie Jemison, Scott Rice, Johnny Walter, and Carley Marissa have in common?
Answer: They're all film-industry people who'll be presenting short works at Ben Snyder and Valdemar Gameiro's The Show! at Spider House Ballroom on Sunday, May 5, at 8:30pm.
"What kind of sets The Show! apart is that we have live comedy mixed in," says Snyder. "Last time we had Lashonda Lester as host, so it was her and Byron Brown talking about the film we showed, and it was great; it was magic. I like the dynamic of the different people we have for this one, with Johnny Walter from Boneboys hosting, and sketch comedy from the Tastemakers – and we'll be filming the whole thing for the new FLM.TV channel."