What's the measure of a true Pittsburgh celebrity? It's when he gets a beer named after him and his face on an Eat'n Park Smiley cookie. The star of "Pittsburgh Dad" achieved both last year. And Tuesday, the 100th episode of his popular comic Web series posted on YouTube.
For those who aren't acquainted with the character, Pittsburgh Dad -- played by actor Curt Wootton -- is the classic Pittsburgh father, cheering on his favorite teams at high volume and yelling at his kids in fluent Pittsburgh-ese. ("You kids are gonna be in the Olympics someday?! Well, we sure as hell know it won't be curling cause that would mean pickin' up a broom.") The short videos post every Tuesday on the Pittsburgh Dad YouTube channel.
To mark the 100th-episode milestone, series creators Chris Preksta and Mr. Wootton invited viewers to submit videos of themselves doing their best Pittsburgh Dad impression. They were encouraged to don the same goofy out of style clothing and glasses that Pittsburgh Dad wears and cultivate their best Pittsburgh-ese while reading from a script of Pittsburgh Dad zingers.
Twenty-two people -- including one little girl -- made the final cut. The episode posted Tuesday morning. Within four hours, it had more than 3,000 views.
Episode 100 "is pretty mind-boggling to us," Mr. Preksta said. "We didn't expect to be doing episode one, let alone 100. We kept saying we'll keep going until either it's not fun anymore or until people stop watching. Fortunately, neither of those have happened."
"It's just something we did purely for fun that caught on, and we're happy to continue it," Mr. Wootton said.
For Mr. Wootton, seeing others do impressions of his character was "kind of weird. But it was a lot of fun watching people really get involved with the character and [their] wanting to imitate the character is really flattering."
Many had the Pittsburgh accent "down pat," he said. Others veered a little toward Southern and East Coast. "Doing regional dialects is really hard. If it's not part of who you are and where you grew up, it's hard to duplicate.
"I've always been pretty good with dialects," said Mr. Wootton, who grew up in Greensburg. "Growing up and hearing it everywhere you go, it's easy for me to slip into that." The character is a mix of several elements: his impersonation of his father, his grandfather's voice, some of Mr. Preksta's grandfather in the mix and a dash of exaggeration.
Mr. Preksta, 33, who grew up in Munhall and now lives in Baldwin, is creator of the online sci-fi series "The Mercury Men," which ran for one season on the SyFy channel's website. Mr. Wootton, 35, of White Oak, was cast in that series.
They made the first few episodes of "Pittsburgh Dad" on an iPhone as a joke for friends and family. The first episode launched in October 2011, and "Pittsburgh Dad" quickly became a viral part of local mythology. They were "easily shocked" by the audience response, Mr. Preksta said. "We had no idea this would turn into something. Curt was living in Los Angeles when the series took off. I remember calling him and saying, 'I think you might want to consider moving back.' "
After 100 episodes, the series is still shot on an iPhone. "It allows us to be a bit more nimble. And it's part of the show's charm, the fact that it looks like it was shot in your own home as opposed to a film set," Mr. Preksta said.
Another part of the show's appeal is the way it brings Pittsburgh Nation together in a common bond, Mr. Wootton said. "It makes people who are homesick who live outside of Pittsburgh feel closer to home."
At least 50 percent of "Pittsburgh Dad" viewers live outside Pennsylvania, Mr. Preksta said. "A lot are kids of parents who grew up in Pittsburgh but relocated before their children were born, kids who have never been to Pittsburgh. But they recognize their parents in the show."
"A surprising amount of fans are non-Pittsburghers," he added. They're the ones who watch the series and post comments designed to bait Steelers fans on the show's sports-themed episodes.
Whether non-Pittsburghers can relate to the humor is hit and miss, Mr. Preksta said. He's shown episodes to out-of-towners "and it's just a blank stare. That's the blessing of being able to produce these online. If you're on TV, you have to make something that everyone on Earth can hopefully laugh at. But online you can tailor things to specific audiences."
Pittsburgh Dad has taken on a life of his own. Now, 300 to 400 people turn out at his public appearances. Last year, North Versailles-based Full Pint Brewing launched 3-2-1 Win! Beer and Eat'n Park introduced a Smiley cookie with Pittsburgh Dad's face rendered in icing to raise funds for Children's Hospital
They're famous, and "Pittsburgh Dad" has become a full-time job. The show is sustaining itself with a combination of revenue from the ads that run before the videos start to play, sponsorships and merchandise sales. "Most people are going to assume Pittsburgh Dad is rich," Mr. Preksta said. "We're definitely not rich. But it at least permits us to do what we love."
The "Pittsburgh Dad" YouTube channel has more than 49,000 subscribers, and the series itself has drawn more than 15.5 million views. Most of the traffic comes through Facebook. Most of the viewers are in the 35- to 55-year-old range.
The most popular episode is "Watching the Steelers," which drew more than 500,000 hits and brought in a lot of new fans, thanks to being shared on Steelers social media.
Social media has played a big role in building a following. Before the first episodes posted, Pittsburgh Dad already had Facebook and Twitter accounts. Now he's on all the major social sites, including Instagram and Vine, and posts status updates almost daily. "It gives more of the story between episodes," Mr. Preksta said. "We can comment and make jokes in character much quicker than we can turn around an episode."
"I don't think the character would have survived without the advent of social media," Mr. Wootton said. "You can make him accessible 24 hours a day to your fans. You can respond to your fans, which makes it more of a personal experience. Without those venues, it would have just been something we were doing for fun."
They're at work on a feature-length version of "Pittsburgh Dad," which they hope to shoot this summer. They're also hoping to organize a tour of Steelers bars around the country next fall.
To mark the occasion, "Pittsburgh Dad" creators Curt Wootton and Chris Preksta invited viewers to submit video of themselves — as Pittsburgh Dad. They were given a script of classic Pittsburgh Dad lines to read. The results are online now on the Pittsburgh Dad YouTube channel.
Adrian McCoy: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1865. First Published February 18, 2014 11:05 AM