Wednesday October 25, 2017

The man behind the mask — Matt Geiler, a.k.a. Dancing Pumpkin Man — tells his story

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To all his fans on Twitter, he's a seasonal hero. Every October, the video resurfaces to mark the beginning of the Halloween season.

Matt Geiler — a.k.a. "Dancing Pumpkin Man" — is the creative genius behind a YouTube video that is both eerie and ridiculous. 

As It Happens host Carol Off called up Geiler to learn more about how he went from local TV news anchor in Omaha, Neb., to the most famous groovin' pumpkin on the internet. 

Matt, what are you doing in this video?

(Laughs) I am joyously gyrating in a black leotard with a pumpkin on my face in a manic celebration in the spirit of Halloween.

And the song is?

The song is the Ghostbusters Theme.

Let's go back to the night when this began. What year did you first do this video?

This was two nights before Halloween, 2006. At the time, I was working as a news anchor, which is absolutely true but probably unbelievable. We had kind of gotten to the point in the evening where we were about to go live but we had about seven minutes left before the show had to be stacked. We were really scrambling to fill up a hole in the broadcast. Since our shows that week were Halloween-themed, just kind of out of desperation, I did that.

Matt Geiler aka Dancing Pumpkin Man

Comedian Matt Geiler aka the Dancing Pumpkin Man was working as an anchor at a local Omaha, Neb., news station when he made his famous Halloween video. (Sick Picnic Media)

You ran out and put on a black unitard and a pumpkin head?

Right. I said to my producer, "Why don't you throw up like a graveyard on to the green screen? I'm just going to dance for like four minutes. Then we can just put that into the block right before weather and it will eat up some time." 

You did this live?

We didn't do it live. The broadcast was live. We did it with probably about five or six minutes before we went live.

But you were the anchor of the news. Did anyone consider this inappropriate?

(Laughs) Right. You know, there was not a lot of oversight at the station. We were kind of left to our own devices, which was kind of inexplicable. But nobody at the time had really anything to say about it. I had a news director and also a general manager there but they were kind of more concerned with the broadcast on our sister station to tell you the truth. 

young Matt Geiler aka Dancing Pumpkin Man 2

A young Matt (Dancing Pumpkin Man) Geiler pictured in some of his lesser-known Halloween costumes. (Matt Geiler)

Now had you had to cover this much airtime before in some way?

Oh yeah, I mean we had a nightly broadcast that was 22 minutes, every night, seven days a week. When I was hired the news director said, "You'll have to borrow camera people from the other station because there's not a designated photographer for this program."

So even from the get go — like a lot of times I would just film myself doing "man on the street" pieces where you can literally see my arm up holding the camera on myself. It was crazy.

It gives a new meaning to the word shoestring.

It was beyond shoestring. You just had to kind of fend for yourself. 

Matt Geiler 5

(Matt Geiler)

This video is kind of a staple of Halloween now. There's even versions that run for hours that you can play at your Halloween parties. Was it an overnight sensation? Were you instantly famous for doing Dancing Pumpkin Man?

No. Actually it was probably the day after we did it, the guy who managed the YouTube channel at the station threw it up on the YouTube channel. I think it sat there for about three years with maybe a couple of hundred views.

Nothing happened with it until a guy at, I believe it was Buzzfeed, featured in it in 2009. He was like, "This is the greatest Halloween video the internet has ever produced," or something like that. And so that's when it first started to kind of gain it's viral traction, I guess.

Right now the original is sitting at like 6.5 million views. There's hundreds and hundreds of people who have mashed it up with different songs and stuff so I think the last time anybody checked, I think if you count all those, it's probably closer to like 10.

 young Matt Geiler

Matt Geiler says he still doesn't know what he'll be for Halloween this year — but maybe he'll bring back some of these looks from his youth. (Matt Geiler)

Now, you're no longer a news anchor. You're no longer at that station and you don't even do the news anymore. But do you still do Dancing Pumpkin Man, or is that sort of in your past?

It has been in my past for a while, up until America's Got Talent called this year and was like, "Hey, can we get the Dancing Pumpkin Man on?" Really I'd only ever done it that one time. It wasn't like a thing I toured around or anything. In my real life I'm an improvisational comedian. I tour a lot and I do a lot of colleges and clubs. So yeah, it's not something that I do live really. 

Do you have a costume for Halloween this year?

(Laughs) I don't. It's weird. I do so much work in TV and live performance where I'm in costumes that I very rarely think about the Halloween costume. I need to get on it because it's fast approaching.

You do. There's not much time left to invent that and a lot of people are going to be out there as Dancing Pumpkin Man.

I know. I've had people get in touch with me. The mask is that part that always hangs them up. They're always asking like where did I get the mask. That's where I kind of can't help them because the original mask was just a decoration from the lobby of the news station that I very quickly kind of fashioned into a makeshift mask.