Carnegie Mellon students creep their way to fame
Rarely do college students take center stage in national debates about artistic plagiarism, but that’s exactly what happened to Carnegie Mellon first-years Joe Reilly, a CFA student, and Sean Hoffman, an H&SS student. Their video “What is The Creep” made national headlines after Saturday Night Live released a digital short, “The Creep,” that eerily echoed some of the elements of the Carnegie Mellon students’ video.
Reilly and Hoffman first developed the “Creep” dance at the beginning of the year. “So, it really all started Orientation week,” Hoffman said. “It actually started off as Joe Reilly’s idea. He was telling us about this comedian who once made this joke about how creepers usually walk with their arms out to the side and their hands like claws, and so what he started doing was following us around campus without us knowing, and [he] did a little dance.”
“For most of the semester, it was just an inside joke for fun,” Reilly said. “And then we were like, ‘Yeah, we could make a video,’ but everyone had work. And near the end of the semester, we were like, ‘We really should make a video,’ and we got a lot more time near finals week, so we started shooting then.” The two then posted the video on YouTube in mid-January. The video, titled “What is the Creep?”, features Hoffman and Reilly dancing the Creep at various locations around campus, creeping on unsuspecting students, and occasionally wearing a velociraptor mask, all to Justice’s song “Waters of Nazareth.”
Approximately a week after Hoffman and Reilly posted the video on YouTube, Saturday Night Live released a digital short called “The Creep” on its show. Although SNL’s video was of a higher production quality and contained an original song featuring Nicki Minaj, there are still some uncanny similarities between the two videos. In it, the Lonely Island trio sings about creeping while walking about with bended knees, clawed hands, and creepy smiles, similar to the dance in Hoffman and Reilly’s video. A Tyrannosaurus rex mask also makes an appearance near the end of the video.
“Our first thoughts were, ‘This is eerily similar,’” Hoffman said after seeing SNL’s “The Creep.” “We can see the claw thing going on, the bending of the knees ... and then, near the end of the video, we saw the T-rex head, and that’s when we were like, ‘Oh my God, there’s no way that this is just a coincidence.’ So, from there, we all got on our YouTube accounts and started looking up wherever the video had appeared, and started saying, ‘Hey, this is a rip-off of our video.’ But then the next morning we woke up and were like, ‘Well, we kind of overreacted a little bit,’ and we started removing our comments, but by that time other fans had seen it and started doing the same thing that we did, and our views started to go up.”
The duo’s fans were not the only ones who noticed the similarities between the videos; the magazine Rolling Stone took notice as well. Reilly’s mother had been high school friends with the artistic director at Rolling Stone, so when his mother posted the students’ video on Facebook, claiming that SNL had copied her son, the artistic director took notice.
“Sean and I were in biology [class], and I get a text from my mom that says, ‘Hey, call me soon, Rolling Stone is going to call you for an interview and I want to talk to you about it first,” Reilly recalled. “We were both just like, ‘What are you talking about?’ That was the longest last 20 minutes of that class ever.”
“We were shocked that it had grown from this small incident — this ‘mini controversy,’ as they called it in Rolling Stone’s article,” Hoffman said. When asked whether he had expected any major media to notice the similarities between the two videos, Reilly said, “We kind of hoped in the back of our minds.... That night [when SNL released its video] we sent out some things, we posted a couple of things on the Internet.... It was just kind of hopeful, like ‘maybe somebody will notice.’”
Soon enough, Saturday Night Live took notice of the mini controversy as well, releasing a statement to Rolling Stone saying, “We wrote and recorded the song over the summer, and [Nicki] Minaj recorded her part in November 2010, well before that video was made... That’s crazy that they have a T-rex head as well! I guess great minds really do think alike. And by great minds we mean ours and theirs. We enjoyed their dancing and hope they continue their creeping ways.”
“I was surprised with some of the stuff they said, like ‘Great minds think alike,’ and by minds, talking about ours and theirs,” Hoffman said. “I was shocked that they had even taken the time out of their day to even watch both of our videos, so it was pretty cool.”
When asked whether or not he believed SNL’s claim that it was all a coincidence, Hoffman said, “At first, after the article, we had thought, ‘Yeah, it was just a coincidence,’ but then other people in our dorm would come up to us and ask us, ‘Well, why didn’t you ask when the actual video was filmed?’... If they filmed the video in January after ours was released, you know, they could have rerecorded some of the audio or whatever [to incorporate the dance]. The song isn’t what we were debating over, it was the actual dance.... That was one of the questions we wanted to ask them but didn’t think of until later.”
Reilly said that he thought SNL’s response was “sketchy, just a bit.” He continued, “What they said about the song could be true, but it was weird because they didn’t mention the dance at all, or when that was created, so I guess that a possibility would be that they recorded the song, but then to look for ideas on how they should do in the skit exactly, they might have seen our video.”
The comments on Hoffman and Reilly’s YouTube video are indicative of how torn viewers are on the controversy. One user, edmundroessler, commented, “Dude they totally ripped you off ... it’s not like those guys had to do all the work as all these people seem to think it would take them so long ... gimme [sic] a break — they have a professional camera crew and sound guys and all that stuff ... and their version sucks anyway ... they aped you big time. Sue!”
Another user, shirey20, disagreed, commenting, “No doubt you guys do awesome moves, but the SNL skit looks nothing like this. They are imitating weird guys at a club, completely different from what you guys do. Both are funny, but they’ve probably been planning this for a while; I doubt they looked at this video and decided to copy it. Creepy guys have been around a while.”
Whether or not Saturday Night Live gleaned inspiration from the students’ video, the students have certainly benefited from the controversy: As of Sunday, their video had gained over 24,000 views on YouTube, and their follow-up video, “How to Creep,” had over 11,000 views. “We’re shocked that it even got that many views,” Hoffman admitted. “We were surprised [at the beginning], like, ‘Dude, we got 500 views! That’s so awesome!’ And then now, it’s like, ‘Hey, 20,000 views...’ We never knew it was going to be that big.”
These videos are not the end of the Creep, however. “In our next video, we really want to see if we can get some professors to do [the Creep],” Hoffman said. “We never were just going to stop at two videos. We have other ideas in the works.” Their videos are not going to be limited just to creeping; they are also thinking of creating a Tron-inspired video with students dancing on campus and in downtown Pittsburgh. “We have a lot of ideas,” Reilly said. They are planning on releasing at least one more video by the end of the semester. As Hoffman said, “This is just the beginning.”