Welcome to the first in a series of recurring columns where we take a look at some of the more obscure, slightly stranger corners of the entertainment world. To start things out, I want to tell you about Featureman.
A prolific YouTuber who has been uploading almost since the platform’s inception, Tom Willett is best described as either a modern-day Renaissance man or one of the most captivating examples of the power of self-promotion you’ve ever encountered.
A look at Willett’s Wikipedia entry and IMDB page reveal an incredibly detailed bio and screen credits. That’s because he most definitely wrote them himself. It’s great.
In addition to his music and comedy background, Willett has an extensive history as an extra or bit actor. He’s often credited as “Pedestrian,” “Guest,” or “Patron.” He portrayed Lincoln in Happy Days, The Drew Carey Show, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. So at least in that way, he is like Daniel Day-Lewis.
My friend who introduced me to the Featureman channel theorized that Willett was excluded from more prominent roles because he was so tall — like Honest Abe — and difficult to sort out blocking on set. I’d just like to posit that fan theory, which seems pretty solid.
Willett’s most substantial screen role somehow features zero dialogue. Appearing as a regular on the Judd Hirsch sitcom Dear John, Willett’s role required him to never speak.
“I have to admit I have the easiest job in the world,” he told a reporter in 1990. “I wish I could say, ‘Oh, it’s really hard to just sit back there and do nothing.’ But occasionally I want to laugh.”
Then came Featureman — Willett’s YouTube channel.
Having grown tired of keeping quiet on camera, Willett uploads videos regularly, the best of which feature him preparing a meal in the least appetizing method possible and recounting his show business exploits. Somehow, it’s captivating.
Of particular note is the video titled “Cheap Fried Hot Dogs and Vic Morrow Story.” Let me walk you through it.
Willett begins by slicing three hot dogs, but not in the way that anyone from Earth would ever use a knife. Instead he slowly drags the hot dogs lengthwise across the admittedly dull blade.
Remember when Ariel from The Little Mermaid didn’t know what a fork was? It’s like that.
Next we see Willett fry his hot dogs alongside some massive hunks of potato. I mean, these are huge knuckles of potato that he removes from the stovetop way too soon. These things are barely kissed with heat.
Skipping ahead, Willett takes the time to edit himself magically teleporting into his dining area to eat raw potatoes. Of note, there is a 2-liter of root beer, which he will drink directly from for the remainder of the video. In fact, there is always a 2-liter of root beer in all of his videos. It is the silent supporting character of his cinematic universe. It is the “Tom Willett” of his videos.
Also, Willett decides to eat his hot dogs directly from the skillet. Because there’s no need to dirty up a dish.
Accompanying this meal is Willett’s own salad recipe. It consists of cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, relish, mayonnaise, and — you guessed it — ketchup.
Incredibly, Willett only puts mustard on his hot dogs. Save the ketchup for salads.
Willett then recounts — in incredible detail — his experience working alongside actor Vic Morrow. Morrow infamously died on the set of 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie during a catastrophic helicopter stunt that also claimed the lives of two child actors.
Also of particular note in the Featureman catalogue is “Frozen White Castle Taste Test and Unusual Octopus Story.” In this video, Willett samples some microwavable sliders and describes the craziest damn story with absolutely no emotion whatsoever.
Shocked that the mainstream media won’t cover it, Willett informs viewers that he read about an expedition of Russian scientists in Antarctica. This crew drilled two miles below the ice to discover a preserved lake. In said lake, they found a giant octopus.
But this wasn’t your regular subaquatic, Antarctic squid. It was more aggressive. And more intelligent.
Allegedly, one of the octopus’s severed tentacles later became self-aware, tracked the scientists, and murdered several of them. Now Putin and the Russian government are working to weaponize the octopus, and, as Willett explains, drop them in enemy “swimming ponds.”
Something about these videos with Willett captures the authentic experience of speaking with a grandparent. Even down to the fake news story that they managed to fall prey to.
Of course, the evil octopus isn’t real. Although a few news outlets somehow blasted it across the internet, it was cooked up by a former writer for The Weekly World News.
But that doesn’t diminish Willett’s retelling of the story. Something about it is so harmlessly familiar. It reminds me of attempting to follow along with whatever the hell my wife’s grandfather was saying about the old ice factory. It’s like when I got home from school to find my grandfather waiting by a pot on the stove. It was a suspicious scene.
My grandparents married young. My grandfather once told me about their early days — the time he returned home from work to find that my grandmother had burnt the fried chicken and buried it in the backyard out of embarrassment. He prepared dinner that evening, but by the time I was born he rarely spent time in the kitchen.
“What are you heating up?” I asked, only for him to lift the pot lid to reveal a dangling string of carefully tied alphabet blocks.
“Alphabet soup!” he said.
The bastard got me. But that’s show business.