A figure with a walker steps off the sidewalk and into the street. It’s a man, dressed as a woman, complete with hot-pink pumps. He shuffles his feet slowly as he crosses, his body slightly hunched over. Then, after a few steps, the figure goes sprawling across the asphalt. Passersby fly to his aid. They struggle to raise him from the ground. He takes another tumble. They attempt to right him again. He retrieves his fallen wig from the pavement before scampering off.
If you’re not familiar with this kind of video, you might take pity on the seemingly elderly woman, but such pranks are the bread and butter of video streaming sites and social media — person walks into a public place; cue outrageous, over-the-top pratfall.
What makes this viral video different? It was shot right here in Pittsburgh. The author of the prank is none other than Norman Freeman, an up-and-coming comedian and internet personality whose videos have garnered millions of views. (A video of a similar stunt in a McDonald’s has more than 33 million views on Facebook.)
But there’s more to Freeman than just internet pranks. For the past two years the 23-year-old makeup artist has been donating his services to cancer patients and others suffering from illness in the Pittsburgh area. To date he’s given makeovers to dozens in hopes of lifting their spirits.
“I think I’ve inspired a lot of people to just do them,” Freeman says. “I’ve brought some light to this city.”
Freeman feels a special connection to patients who have lost their hair due to cancer treatments. He was struck with alopecia at the age of 5, and over the years his hair has either grown in patches or fallen out completely. When Freeman attended University Prep school in the Hill District, he says, many of his fellow students believed he had cancer, but it didn’t stop them from teasing him mercilessly.
“I got picked on a lot. The kids were very cruel,” Freeman says. “It was very hard, but I’m glad I went through it because it made me very strong.”
This experience is what got him into makeup. He first attended Empire Beauty School to learn about styling hair, but after taking a short makeup class, he was hooked by how he could transform himself.
“I was very insecure. I really wanted eyebrows and eyelashes. I really wanted cheekbones,” Freeman says. “I started with video tutorials and I just got better and better. It made me love myself more.”
The first person Freeman gave a makeover to was his aunt who raised him. Her hair fell out after she began receiving cancer treatments, and Freeman immediately noticed a change in her.
“Her hair was very long and it all fell out. She was very depressed, very insecure. She didn’t want to go anywhere,” says Freeman. “One day I did her makeup and it changed her whole demeanor. It’s transformational.”
Freeman says he notices a change in the mood of the people he helps almost instantly. But 13-year-old Chyna was different. Freeman said that even though the teenager was dealing with cancer at such an early age, she remained positive.
“She was a very happy child. You really couldn’t tell she was sick, and doing her makeup just enhanced her beauty from the inside. It was amazing,” Freeman says. “She really inspired me, because for her to go through all that and still manage to keep a smile on her face, why can’t I? I’m not dying from not having any hair, as opposed to her, who lost her hair through chemo.”
In addition to his career as a makeup artist and his online activity, Freeman has also performed in live comedy shows. And he donates his time to those dealing with illness for the same reason he enjoys being a comedian.
“I love that I can make people laugh,” says Freeman. “Comedy is really a stress-reliever for me. It helps me get through the day. It’s really fun. When I’m going through something it diminishes all the negativity.”
Now Freeman is preparing to take his talents to a new city. This week, he plans to move to Atlanta. But he says he won’t be gone for good. He still plans to visit Pittsburgh and help those in need.
“I need to grow. I need a bigger city. I need a faster city. I need more to do,” Freeman says.
“I’m really trying to take my career to the next level.”