A 30-year career turned into a meme overnight. It's the incredible story of Andy King, American events producer, known for his involvement in the disastrous Fyre Festival. Ahead of his appearance at BIGSOUND, he talks Lauren Baxter through "that damn documentary and that stupid effing cheese sandwich".
“I literally drove home, took a shower, I drank some mouthwash… And I got to his office, fully prepared to suck his dick.”
It was the scene that launched a thousand memes. Andy King, the celebrated event producer who has hosted events for the likes of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the America's Cup, was potentially the only person to come out of the Fyre Festival failure a hero - outside of beloved restaurant owner MaryAnn Rolle. His loyalty and unbridled enthusiasm endeared him to the 20 million households that streamed Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened on Netflix in its first month.
King remembers being at the premiere in New York City, sinking into his chair thinking, “Oh shit, here we go,” when in fact the scene was met with cheers and a standing ovation.
“It wasn't until that moment that I realised that my life was going to change overnight,” he shares. However, losing anonymity wasn’t something he was prepared for. King tells us he felt “naked” but is thankful that “being one of the most popular memes in culture today you get that exposure” and now wants to use it for good.
“I'm really lucky because most memes are kind of negative criticism and mine is not, thank god. You know, Ellen loves my meme,” he laughs. “‘How do you want to pay for it? American Express, Visa, MasterCard or Andy King?’ Could be worse right?”
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While there’s still the one percent who drive by him in LA and yell, “'Oh my God, Andy King. Will you suck my dick?'”, King says for the most part everyone from the TSA at airports to wait staff are kind and respectful.
“I think I had a little PTSD for a while, it was pretty difficult, what we all went through,” he reveals. “I had to get smuggled off that island and I would probably still be there today if I hadn't been pulled off by private jet after dark with palm fronds over me in the back of a truck. But I do feel like I'm blessed to have gone through all that. And I'm blessed now to have this platform to share positivity, and I'm hoping I can really make a positive change with social media today.”
“I get up on stage whether I'm in Moscow, or Berlin, or Australia, and I say, ‘I'm the biggest visible failure in pop culture.’"
Since the release of the documentary, King has spoken at conferences across the world, passionate about inspiring others to learn from their failures. It’s something he plans to do during his keynote at BIGSOUND - an appearance he confirms he will donate his earnings from to “get everybody paid back in the Bahamas as quickly as possible”.
“I get up on stage whether I'm in Moscow, or Berlin, or Australia, and I say, ‘I'm the biggest visible failure in pop culture.’ That damn documentary and that stupid effing cheese sandwich,” he jokes.
“I get up there and say, ‘Listen, there's no hiding.’ Everybody knows who I am - on every street corner, in the grocery store, in restaurants and bars - because of the reach of Netflix. I just say, ‘I'm the biggest failure in pop culture today.’ But guess what, you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes. And I just say, ‘You know what, kids, don't take the job with a big company, sitting in a cubicle with a job you hate. Take a risk and follow your heart and be passionate about it.’”
While the failed blowjob story is now synonymous in meme culture with a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality, many saw Fyre founder and now felon Billy McFarland’s request as homophobic workplace sexual harassment. King says he went into Netflix and “voluntarily shot several commercials”: “Hi, this is Andy King. If this happens to you at your workplace, it's not ok.”
While calling himself “a proud gay man”, King is quick to assert he is “not a flag-waver”: “I don't mean to make light of anything but I say, ‘Listen, Billy asked me to go suck one dick, he didn't ask me to go sleep with nine vaginas.’ I mean, I'm a gay man. Actually, this wasn't the biggest punishment.
"With the #MeToo world and everything else, I'm well aware that the gay community really hasn't been given the credit that it should have,” he continues. “Women are stepping forward, but most gay men are too embarrassed to step forward for some reason to say all the compromising situations that they've encountered, but I hope that I'm empowering them to go, ‘Well, you know what, it's ok.’
“That's one of my biggest things that people took away,” King says. “There's this guy. He's the only guy with grey hair. He's in his 50s; he's not 20. He was asked to do this incredible thing. And he just said, ‘You know what, ok, this is what I need to do. Let's get this done, finished. I'm going to go on to my next project, and I won't talk about it.’ And I'm not insinuating that I think the gay community or any community resort to sexual favours to get things done but my message to kids today is if your heart is filled, and you're passionate about a job, a career, a product or something, and you might have to do something you've never dreamed of doing? Ten all-nighters? Borrow money from your friends or your parents? I don't know what it is. I think my blowjob, failed blowjob, inspires them to say, ‘You know what, if I need to go the extra mile, I should do it.’”
King is now turning his attention to throwing his own festivals, using his learnings from Fyre Festival to change an industry he calls “totally broken”.
“My focus now is trying to inspire young kids to do the right thing today,” he says. “And my music festival, all of them are going to be as close to zero waste as possible focusing on social-environmental impact. But as you know from drug use to waste and garbage, I mean, the music festival world is broken. So it's time to try to look at it and say, ‘How do we still make it totally cool? How do we make it so kids still want to go? Make it sexy? But inspire kids when they get there. How do you do that?’ Well, we're going to feature local farmers. We're going to feature local chefs, local music. We’ll feature big-name music as well. We’ll feature composting and recycling, we'll do activations on how do you eliminate plastic from the oceans? We'll do a lot of amazing things like that.”