The anger of Charlie Green is transfixing. On YouTube, where Green goes by the name Angry Grandpa, he yells about politicians, the IRS, the cable company, the pope, his ex-wife, and any number of other things that stick in his sizable craw. His voice splits the difference between Yosemite Sam and a high-strung Tom Waits.
When Green gets really mad, he smashes things. In five years of making online videos, Green has destroyed eight computers, a television, an entire set of kitchen appliances, armloads of groceries, and more cell phones than he can count. "I've been wild all my life," Green says. He's sitting in his mobile home at a kitchen table, which is in much better condition than the one he obliterated with a hammer in a recent video, and from all appearances, he is calm. No one can sustain the kind of fury that Green displays in his videos, and surely part of the Angry Grandpa character is an act. My mission is to find out exactly how much of it is an act.
What is clear is that Green's fury draws a crowd. His main YouTube channel, The Angry Grandpa, has more than 164,000 subscribers and 48 million views. How did we get to a place in our society where we applaud a 63-year-old man for calling Pope Benedict XVI a dickhead? Why can't we look away as he breaks plates and yells incoherently at the management of a CiCi's about deep-dish pizza? Whatever the appeal, it has earned him some shockingly devoted fans.
"I get underwear in the mail every week," Green says, cracking an impish grin. "I got women writing to me and proposing to me every day." Green isn't trying to make a career out of this. He won't divulge exact figures, but he says the income from YouTube ads isn't enough to live off of. Instead, he leads a modest lifestyle, collecting Social Security checks and helping to raise four grandchildren in a sparse but nicely appointed mobile home. He has held jobs as a firefighter, a snack bar owner, a flea market merchant, and an apartment maintenance worker, and he says he used speed and acid as a younger man. In his living room, a Civil War painting with a prominent Confederate flag hangs over the TV, where Green's youngest grandson Jimmy is watching Dora the Explorer.
"I get a lot of criticism. I'm considered white trailer trash," Green says. "If you're from the South and you live in a trailer, you're trailer trash, right? I don't care. I laugh at 'em." Some YouTube commenters have pointed out the Confederate painting in the background of his videos and accused him of being a racist, but Green does not abide racism in YouTube comments and video replies. More to the point, Green sees himself as teaching a few valuable lessons to his fans, whom he calls "my young'uns," or "Grandpa's Army" when they're fighting for a cause.
"See, I take up for the gays. I don't like people to put down anybody," Green says. "The color of your skin doesn't matter to me. I have a lot of black young'uns, and they take up for me, too, because I get hollered at that I'm a racist a lot."
Green asks that I not reveal the location of his trailer. Previously, when he lived in North Charleston's Trailwood Mobile Home Park, a few obsessed fans tracked him down and knocked on his door. Suffice to say he's living north of where he once was, in a quiet neighborhood with potholed streets but generally well-maintained mobile homes. When he's out in the front yard, wielding a hammer and looking fierce for his City Paper photo shoot, a neighbor drives by in a Prius and smiles while shaking her head, laughing at the village angry man from the other side of the glass.
I want to ask Green about how important the Angry Grandpa Show is to him. He has already mentioned how, 10 years ago, he was an 800-pound alcoholic and a distant father. Gastric bypass surgery and some major lifestyle changes helped him on his way, but he says making the videos has been an important part of his new life. I begin to ask, "If you were born 50 years earlier and you didn't have this outlet —" but he cuts me off.
"I'd've done died," Green says. "I wouldn't have cared about my health, and I wouldn't have had an outlet to do anything, and I probably would have died."
For a celebrity, Charlie Green has not led a charmed life. Growing up in the Sherwood Forest neighborhood of West Ashley, he says his father used to beat him with a coat hanger, and when he stole a cigarette at age six, his father forced him to smoke an entire pack. The family struggled for money after Green's father was paralyzed in a car wreck, and kids at school mocked him for being poor, Green says.
"That's when churches were churches, and they cared," Green says. His parents attended Ashley River Baptist Church, and Green remembers church members constantly coming over to the house to give money and offer assistance. "We lived in a glass house," Green says. "Everybody knew our business. You don't accept help from people and they don't find out about you." I point to the camcorder on the table and mention that he still lives in a glass house. "But I put myself there," Green replies. "I don't mind being in this glass house."
But Green is one glass house resident who's not afraid to cast stones. He has taken up more than a few political and personal causes on YouTube, from calling Westboro Baptist Church activist Shirley Phelps-Roper a bitch ("If your god's the living god, then he ain't my goddamn god!") to protesting the not-guilty verdict for Casey Anthony ("Fuck Florida! You goddamn people in Florida, fuck you, you retarded buncha bastards!").
In April 2012, he took up the cause of Trailwood Mobile Home Park, the North Charleston community off of West Montague Avenue where he and more than 400 other families lived at the time. Shortly after the arrival of the new Boeing plant in the area, the park's owner, Truluck Properties, sought to rezone the park to light industrial and sell it to a California developer. In response, Green filmed a man-on-the-street video, interviewing fellow Trailwood residents and publishing phone numbers for Truluck, Boeing, and the City of North Charleston. "Young'uns, I need you to call North Charleston City Hall for me," Green said, his voice unusually level. "I need you to tell them what you think about what they're doing to people. I need you to call Boeing Aircraft, tell 'em they suck."
Green wasn't the only person agitating on behalf of the neighborhood. City Council ultimately voted to deny the rezoning request after 200 North Charleston residents stood in opposition to it at a community input meeting. But as tremendous as the local turnout was, it was dwarfed by the national response. City spokesman Ryan Johnson, who subscribes to the Angry Grandpa YouTube channel, says the City and the mayor's office received numerous e-mails, tweets, and phone calls opposing the rezoning, and he estimates that more than 80 percent came from outside of North Charleston. It's impossible to verify, but Green will tell you that he successfully mobilized Grandpa's Army for the cause.
But as with any unorganized militia, Grandpa's Army employs some questionable tactics. An employee of Truluck Properties says she received more than 100 phone calls after the Angry Grandpa video went online. "All I can tell you on the record is that yes, several of his fans called, and they were very rude, they were very threatening, and it was quite a handful to deal with," she says.
Ultimately, Truluck announced that they intended to move forward with the sale of the property and sent letters to residents telling them they would need to move out. Today, only a few mobile homes remain on the property, and Truluck still has not completed the sale. In a follow-up video from May 2012, Green once again seemed uncharacteristically calm. "Young'uns, I want to thank y'all for what y'all did. Y'all helped us buy time," Green said. "If y'all hadn't have done what y'all done, shit, we'd have probably done got the letters to move."
Whether today's Angry Grandpa videos are a put-on or the genuine article, the one that started it all was raw, unstaged, and more frightening than funny.
On Christmas Day 2007, at around 9 a.m., Charlie Green walked into his daughter's home with gifts in hand, looking every bit the part of Santa Claus with his protruding belly and snowy beard. His son Michael turned on a camcorder and started filming, and when Green found out that the family had opened presents without him, he seethed like a man possessed. "I should have been here for this," Green said, his voice rising. "What is your problem? I'm your dad!" After delivering what would eventually become his catchphrase — "You can all kiss my fat ass!" — he stormed out and slammed the door. In the wake of the tirade, Green's daughter cried on the kitchen floor, one grandchild got buried in an avalanche of wrapping paper, and an infant started to wail.
Michael Green, now 25 years old, says his father had just given him the camcorder as a gift when he made the video. "He was such an asshole around the house all the time that I told him I wanted a video camera for Christmas so I could show him how he acts," says Michael, who goes by the nickname Pickleboy in the videos. After filming the incident that morning, Michael posted the video on the humor website Break.com. Michael says he did it so he could share it with his sister who lived in New York, but the video soon appeared on the website's homepage and garnered tens of thousands of views.
"We're a couple years later, and he still ain't got the message," Michael says. After "Grandpa Ruins Christmas," Michael started posting more videos of his dad and building a loyal worldwide following. He put the videos on Break, eBaumsWorld, and eventually YouTube, and the Angry Grandpa brand blossomed like a pungent and thorny flower. Over the years, Charlie Green has made appearances on MTV, Comedy Central, truTV, and the British TV clip show Rude Tube. He even sells T-shirts with catchphrases on the front. But Michael insists he never set out to make his dad famous. Michael just had the camcorder close at hand whenever they spent time together, and "if he freaked out, I was filming it."
It is almost unsurprising that Michael has a day job as a webmaster for a professional wrestling promoter in the WWE, another world where short tempers sell a lot of tickets. The work-at-home job leaves his schedule flexible enough to crank out a few videos a week on the Angry Grandpa YouTube channel as well as his own channel, KidBehindACamera. He says truTV approached him once about giving his dad a reality TV show, but he turned them down. Michael remembers telling a truTV representative, "I've seen some of your other shows like Hardcore Pawn and stuff like that, but a lot of the scenes are scripted, and Dad's not a good actor. There's no use even trying with him."
If you ask Michael, he'll tell you his father's rage is 100 percent real, even if Michael sometimes has to prod him. And Michael is every bit as gifted a provocateur as Viva La Bam star Bam Margera is with his father Phil. In some of the early videos, Michael got a rise out of his dad by hiding his antidepressant and bipolar medications from him. In a recent video featuring 20 fan Q&As, Michael repeatedly claims that Grandpa had a bowel movement in his pants and says, "You are the most revolting person in existence." And yet father and son both say they have a rock-solid relationship. "I love my son," Green says. "I worship the ground he walks on."
Watch enough Angry Grandpa videos, and you'll notice the cracks in Green's persona. It's hard to see for the facial hair, but his lips do curl up at the edges from time to time, and certain props — like the hammer he uses to smash his dining room table — seem to have been planted, not unlike metal folding chairs in a pro-wrestling ring. Extending the wrestling metaphor, it might even be useful to think about the performance art of Angry Grandpa and Pickleboy in terms of kayfabe, the macho-man practice of staying in character at all times.
It's a tidy little theory, but it's complicated by the fact that so many of the YouTube plotlines are real. Angry Grandpa's wife, Tina, made regular appearances in the videos until last year, when the two divorced after decades of marriage.
In one December 2011 video, Tina walks into the kitchen while Grandpa is showing the young'uns how to make "extreme hotdogs," which are stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon. "What the fuck you want?" Grandpa barks. "Did I invite you to my goddamn Grandpa's Kitchen? Get out of here!" Tina replies by raising a middle finger, straight-faced and defiant.
Tina, now Tina Maria Sharp, says her ex-husband never raised his hand to hurt her or the children, and she says she didn't even mind the videos. "Some of them were degrading to me, but then some of them were pretty funny," she says. But when I remark at how calm Green seemed when I met him, Sharp scoffs. "That's a put-on," she says. "He's an asshole."
Sitting at his kitchen table, Green has a laptop, a tablet computer, and a smartphone arrayed in front of him. He's a well-connected man, and he has made a habit of talking with his young'uns individually via Facebook message and the phone. I ask him to put me in touch with a few of the young'uns, and the testimonials come pouring in: A 29-year-old Australian named Heather who suffers from acrophobia and generalized anxiety disorder but gets her "medicine of laughter" from the Angry Grandpa videos. A 15-year-old named Nizar who says he gets relentlessly bullied by a classmate but can always look forward to Green's latest tantrums.
What sort of person delights in this crude entertainment, which combines all the redeeming cultural value of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo with the subtlety of a Slim Jim commercial? When I am honest with myself, I am that kind of person. If I told you how many hours I spent in the office watching his videos, you would marvel at the fact that I am still employed.
I'm a fan, and so is Drew Hayes, a 34-year-old medical student at Baylor University. "Everybody has a crazy uncle, and he just comes across like that," Hayes tells me on the phone. He saw the beauty in the Angry Grandpa videos after attending the Kentucky funeral of his own Uncle Terry, who he says was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and "talked out of his head."
"Fifteen years ago, I was always telling everybody, 'If I could get this crap on tape, people would buy it," Hayes says. "I made some videos, forgot about them, and once I saw [the Angry Grandpa], it was like 'Oh my gosh, it's him.' It brought a lot of joy in dealing with loss, I guess." He says he's even brought the joy of the Angry Grandpa to med school with him. "I've had doctors laughing at it," he says. He does wonder how South Carolinians ought to feel about the way Green perpetuates Southern stereotypes, though, comparing him to Jesco White, star of the documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. "Sometimes you watch it and you feel bad for the guy," Hayes says. "Sometimes you laugh."
It may well be that Charlie Green is a cunning practitioner of modern-day redneck minstrelsy, cursing and spluttering and wrecking his trailer for all the wired world to see — and laughing all the way to the bank. Maybe his rage is real. Or maybe he's like a pro wrestler, ever playing the heel and making his anger pay.
"I'm pretty sure, even in your life, things have happened that you'd like to say, 'Yaaaaaaggghhh!'" Green says. "But you don't do it, because the society that you're in, that's not OK. But see, I don't live in that kind of a world. I live in a world where everything's real. Problems are real. And I react real."