Entertainment » Celebrities

"Uber-fabulous" Liam Kyle Sullivan

by Padraic Maroney
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Sep 29, 2008

Being able to take something as basic as shoes and turning an ode to them into an internet sensation is tough feat. But that's what Liam Kyle Sullivan did when he created the character of Kelly. Winning the 2008 People's Choice Award for the "Shoes" video cemented both his and Kelly's popularity. To parlay his success, Sullivan is currently on tour with Margaret Cho in support of the "Beautiful" tour.


Creating Kelly

The comic, who credits actor Liam Neeson with helping to bring their collective first name into the national consciousness, has been living in California for over a decade. It was while working on creating characters for his show, aptly titled "The Liam Show," that Sullivan came up with the Kelly character.
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"I kind of pictured myself with braces. It was kind of like a female version of Butthead - you know how his lips are curled back and his teeth are exposed - and a little ’Napoleon Dynamite’," Sullivan explained about the character’s origin. "Kind of bored and everything sucks, except for shoes! Shoes - yea, that’s amazing, that’s where it’s really at - and tops and texting and talking to your friends; things that can provide some high drama for this character."
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While the character came easily, getting used to the idea of actually dressing in drag to be transformed into the character was a new experience. Initially he was surprised by how feminine he looked in the outfit. But more than just being able to not look like a guy in a dress, it was his ability to pass for a female mentally too.
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"The first time I did Kelly live I kind of knew I had something because this girl came up after and gripped my arm - a vice like grip - and was like how’d you know that’s what’s in our heads," Sullivan recalls with a laugh. "It’s silly and doesn’t make fun of women. Really, it just illuminates that high drama going after shoes."
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The drama comes, not from a nemesis but rather her family and the situations that come up. In the four minute clip, Kelly must thwart her family’s horrible birthday present and the naysayers who try to keep her from getting the ever important shoes that she wants.
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"Shoes" started the nation’s love affair with Kelly, but it the YouTube success happened unexpectedly. It wasn’t Sullivan who posted the clip, but rather an excited fan wanting to share the video with everyone. In fact, when he discovered that the clip was a success on YouTube it caught the actor off guard.
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"I’m very pleased with it, but also very surprised. Before YouTube and the Internet, I was struggling; I didn’t have anything going on really. I had some commercials out there, so I was paying bills as an actor which felt really good. But I wasn’t really breaking," Sullivan said, "then YouTube happened and it was like bam! I had distribution. Before I needed someone, a studio, a producer, somebody to come along and say I want you in my thing I’m going to distribute."
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With a character so obsessed with getting the best shoes, you’d think that shoe manufacturers would be beating down Sullivan’s door to supply shoes to his fictional muse. Not so, said the actor who believes it’s due to major company’s lack of embracing the Internet.
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"If people talk to 10 year olds or 12 year olds, they’ll realize that YouTube or Internet and TV are the same for them. There is no difference. Someone on the Internet who is big, is the same as someone on TV who is big," Sullivan explains about the shift happening in the media.

Photo: Liam Kyle Sullivan as Kelly.


A Huge Gay Following

Based off of the success of his videos, he has fully embraced the power of the Internet because it allowed a direct relationship between him and his fans. Among other ways that he has used the web to his advantage is by successfully independently releasing an album on Itunes by Kelly. The album has sold over 7,000 copies while title track "Shoes" has over 200,000. Having the back and forth also allows for a quick audience response, which is all that it took for Kelly to become a hit. However, the success had its pros and cons for the then struggling actor.
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"It was both awesome and nerve-wracking because it was like I have to capitalize on this. This isn’t going to last, so let’s make the most out of it. I was pushing really hard, getting my shit out there as quick as I could," Sullivan explained.
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Among the things that he has put together, along with the CD, is additional videos and now Kelly even has her own Myspace page. All of the videos can also be viewed on own website.
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All of the popularity has led him to him gaining a huge following among gay men. What might surprise some fans though, is that he is actually straight.
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"I’m a different kind of straight guy. I think there are more of us than you would know. I don’t think you can call us metrosexual. It’s like I’ve got a different attitude about gay men than most straight men ever have - most straight men get freaked out, or beat you up. They don’t want anything to do with it. I’m not scared of gay men. It’s like I don’t think, ’oh, they are going to rape me.’ I don’t care." Sullivan explains about his take on things.

However, he adds, that it is a little frustration that he is heterosexual because, "I think if I were gay, I’d be having crazy sex. Like wild, tour sex."
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He won’t be able to have wild tour sex for much longer because he is engaged to a woman he met while dressed as Kelly. Their initial meeting had to overcome more than just the typical awkwardness since her friends were convinced he was gay. But she didn’t listen and love has prevailed.
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"It was very, very different. It was actually perfect for me because most times when I meet women I get all googly and nervous. But when I was playing Kelly, you know Kelly is bold and confident and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her, so to play that character while talking to a beautiful woman was really great," Sullivan admits. "She can see through the make-up and shit."
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Sullivan is currently touring with Margaret Cho - making stops in Philadelphia on October 3 at the Merriam Theater and in New York on October 4 for a show at Radio City Music Hall. Cho, a longtime friend of Sullivan’s, has appeared in Kelly videos. Despite being friends, it’s the perks that come with being on tour with the outspoken comic that Sullivan enjoys.
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"Touring with Margaret is awesome because she always likes to stay in really nice hotels. I get to stay in them too because if I am at a cheap motel far away they have to pick me up, so they just put me in the same hotels. It’s uberfabulous," Sullivan said, with his native Massachusetts accent peaking out.
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The pair began to work together, not because of being friends, but rather through her husband. Sullivan had contacted her husband, Al Ridenour, to help with a costume for the "Shoes" video, but at the time the actor didn’t realize with whose husband he was working. After the shoot, Ridenour passed the tape on to Cho and it was off of that video that the two began collaborating professionally.
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Being that both of them have appeared in videos together - and both Margaret and Kelly are feisty - the question needs to be asked. Who’d win in a fight between the two?
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"In a verbal fight, Margaret would destroy her. Kelly can go shut up, what the hell, or fuck you. But in a physical fight, Kelly is bigger than Margaret," Sullivan admits. "Kelly has had to fight her twin brother, who is an athlete, all her life and they physically get down to it. So I think she could take Margaret."

For more about Liam Kyle Sullivan, visit his website, The Liam Show.

Click below to watch Sullivan’s video "Shoes"




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