You've probably been living under a rock if you haven't heard of Merton, the funny piano improv guy on Chatroulette. I wanted to put his first video up as Video of the Week the minute I saw it because : one, it's hilarious and two, it's music, and funny music to boot. But then I figured, since everybody's probably seen it, it would be a better idea if I had something else with it...like maybe a Q and A. So in the off chance that I could get some information about the mysterious piano improv guy, I send him a message on YouTube :
Love your video. Can I feature it on our site with a Q & A? P.S. How many pervs did you encounter? I admit, I'm kind of scared to try it since I tried a similiar video chat eons ago and the first stranger I got pointed the camera straight at their balls. Got me scarred for life xoxo Cristina.
Elated, I receive a message back from Merton the same day :
Honestly, if you go on ChatRoulette, you are very likely to see some balls. On behalf of the male half of the species, I would like to apologize.Yes, that would be great to have a featured video on your site. I am also happy to answer some questions or provide some (true) background info.But I want to protect my anonymity for now, so I don't want to give my name or very specific details about my life, etc. - Merton
I happily send my questions in. I waited. The video went on to get 4 million hits. A few weeks later, just when I thought I wouldn't get a response, I got this in my inbox. Here now, is my Q and A with Merton, the ChatRoulette Piano Improv Guy -
First up, you really have talent :)
You remind me of my uncle who used to play piano at a hotel lounge - he can play any song by request.
It's not that I've taken the time to learn a lot of songs, most of the requests I play are songs I have never played before. In fact, I don't know how to read music. But I am able to play pretty much anything I have heard once or twice.
Have you been playing piano for a long time?
I started playing piano when I was about 9 years old. I took a few lessons, but then dropped that and just played by myself from then on.
Have you written your own songs (aside from your improv ditties) or are you part of a band?
I have never written a piece of music. I only make things up as I go.
I was in a few bands in college, but now I just play solo acoustic instruments.
How did the idea of doing a piano improv on ChatRoulette come about?
First I did a Chat Roulette session with a couple friends, just talking to people. Then I had the idea to go on and do piano requests. Then a friend suggested I make up songs about people, and when I first did it I knew I had something special.
How many people did you end up singing to before coming up with that video in YouTube?
I did about 6 hours of Chat Roulette and made two 5-minute videos from that. Most of the interactions you see in the videos were much longer than the final edited version. I frequently have very long conversations with people.
How come you hide behind your hoodie and thick framed glasses? Are you hiding something ...or are you going for that mysterious guy effect?
I'm only trying to maintain my anonymity, so that my personal life is not affected by all of the attention my character receives. I would be perfectly happy if my own name never receives any recognition for all of this.
Can't blame you though, girls like mystery...as well as guys that play music and are funny . I'd imagine, you probably got a few phone numbers from girls during your Chatroulette round (assuming you asked for them).
Lots of marriage proposals, but no phone numbers. It's a bit tortuous sometimes, having a very personal interaction with an attractive woman who is probably living in a completely different part of the world. I've learned to be intimate on-screen, but to not try to extend it into a real-world meeting.
I know you value your privacy, but to all the people out there wondering - can you give a short answer to the always present question of 'Who the heck is this guy?'
First off, I'm not a famous person. It's not like once I'm unmasked everyone will realize that they already know me. I'm just a dude who rides a bike instead of driving, who likes nature more than cities, who plays piano alone most nights.
I saw the Ben Folds 'Ode to Merton' video, did you have any idea that he was going to do that? What was your reaction when you saw it?
I did not know he would do that ahead of time. He sent me a message afterwards, letting me know it was a tribute and not a ripoff. I liked seeing someone else's interpretation of the concept, and he's obviously very good at spontaneous songs and lyrics.
Last but not the least, what can you say about your instant rise to internet fame?
It is pretty far removed from my everyday life. Nobody has recognized me when I'm walking down the street, no photographers are waiting outside of my house, etc. But then all of these people on the internet tell me I'm famous. But internet fame is fleeting, so I'm having to decide if I want to extend into other realms or just keep making these fun videos for a limited audience and be happy with that.
It actually took me two weeks and three emails to get this Q and A - and in the small amount of time that the video went viral, Merton was able to get a PR manager to help him sift through all his requests for interviews (thanks Carrie!). That's when you know when you've hit it big ;)
From here, I honestly don't know what'll be next for Merton. There will be more ChatRoulette videos for sure, but as it stands, he's definitely made a mark in internet history. I just don't how he feels to be in the same rank as Keyboard Cat and TechnoViking. (For me, it's an honor for sure)
And to Merton - I still haven't tried ChatRoullete yet, I may never. Though the thought of getting you or Ben Folds to sing a song about me is tempting (in my honest opinion, you were funnier) - still, pervs scare me.