In 2012, Pittsburgh musician Weird Paul (real name: Paul Petroskey) began uploading a small portion of the massive collection of home movies that he made as a child. A 1984 video featuring a 14-year-old Petroskey reviewing a McDonald’s breakfast became a mini-sensation, likely because it resembles many aspects of today’s vloggers but from 30 years prior. Since then, Weird Paul has been consistently uploading videos from both his ’80s backlog and the present day, discussing E.T. collectibles, vintage candy wrappers and other relics from the era — not to mention music videos from his massive library of original music.
Will Work For Views, a new documentary about Petroskey’s prolific vlogging career, will be released by filmmakers Eric Michael Schrader and Joseph Litzinger in the coming year. With that in mind, City Paper caught up with the local icon to discuss his career and where he sees it heading.
What was growing up like for you?
I grew up in Bethel Park, very suburban area. I was picked on in school a lot, ’cause I was always very small, skinny, didn’t weigh much; you know, the proverbial kid who gets picked last for the team. I would talk and babble into [cassettes] for hours. It was a way you could listen to yourself, if nobody else was going to listen to you.
Where do you work outside of YouTube?
I work at Spencer’s. My dream is to [never] be working somewhere where I’m not fulfilling what I feel is my life’s work, which is making art and also trying to archive things that are being lost to future generations. When I’m spending time not doing that, it feels like I’m wasting my time.
What made you, all these years later, decide to put up these videos you made as a kid?
All the content that I created — that’s what they call it now — was all made for people to see, even though at that time it wasn’t really possible. I’ve always been a little behind everybody else, technology-wise. I have no money to go out and buy the next thing. So, once I got what I needed to be able to put stuff on YouTube, by that point it was 2012.
Did you make the connection when you started seeing vlogging explode on YouTube?
After a while I started to see the similarities. I got something in the mail, and I took it out of the package and I showed it to the camera. I played a video game all the way to the end and filmed it. So, people start saying, “You’re the original vlogger and you oughta call yourself that.”
How big a part of your life is YouTube now?
Right now, it’s almost all of my life, [but] I’ve seen it start to become less functional for people like me. YouTube is now using a bot of some sort to decide which videos should have ads on them and which shouldn’t. Some people call this “jumping the shark” or whatever, but there’s some sort of era that we’re moving into.
What do you think is the importance in archiving all of this?
Who’s to say that one event is more important than another? Everything has shaped the present day in some way. When I was growing up, I would see interviews with musicians, and they’d have all this information about what’d they done, you know, “I did this because of this.” I always said, “I’m gonna save everything so I can do that someday,” and people will say, “What inspired you to do this?” and I’ll say, “Well, here look for yourself. I still have it.”
What was the filming process like for Will Work For Views?
They filmed pretty much everything. [It’s] very focused on the YouTube and how hard it is to survive in a world where originality and art aren’t always appreciated. There was another documentary about me that came out in 2006 [Weird Paul: A Lo Fidelity Documentary], and that was just about my music.
Most people haven’t had two documentaries made about them. Why do you think people are drawn to you as a subject?
I found out I’ve done some things that almost no one has done. I mean, not everybody has written and recorded 800 songs, put out 60 albums, been making music for over 30 years, been making videos for over 30 years. I wrote this song called “Delusions of Grandeur” a few years ago, and it was because every time something happens, I feel like, “This is it. I’ve finally gotten famous.” It’s not one thing; it’s not just gonna happen. A couple of weeks ago, I was on the Funny or Die website, and this time I said to myself, “This probably won’t do anything, it’s not gonna make a difference, but it’s pretty cool.”
This interview has been edited for space and clarity.