WINNIPEG — Momhead was just a fun video Johanna Stein made with a friend to promote the book she’s been flogging for months — and then the GoPro-shot, child-narrated take on motherhood went crazy viral.
“It’s bananas. … I’m just kind of gobsmacked,” the new mommy favourite said Thursday. “I just had no idea it was going to hit like that.”
Stein, a Winnipeg girl who ran to L.A. to make it big, has taken an unusual path to fame, but the phone was ringing off the hook at her house Thursday as she fielded interview requests and did live interviews with the likes of CNN.
Her YouTube hit, posted Monday, had well over 800,000 views Thursday, and a story about it posted Tuesday charted at the top of BuzzFeed, with more than a million clicks.
Something about her daughter’s sweet little voice struck a chord — a funny one — with more than the moms of the world.
“Are you going to make yourself pretty today, or are you gonna look like you always do?” the seven-year-old voice says as Stein’s GoPro-highlighted eyes roll slightly. “Your breath smells like a fart.”
They’re direct quotes from Stein’s child when she was a brutally honest preschooler, and from Chapter 17 of Stein’s parenting book, How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane.
“That’s only half of what’s in the book.”
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The reaction from parents has largely been startled and hilarious recognition of one of the most mortifying yet funny stages of childhood, but those without children have occasionally expressed horror that her daughter wasn’t reprimanded, Stein said.
“She’s honest and observant and wants to share,” she said, sounding slightly defensive.
Stein herself was amused, so she wrote it down and put it in a book with other tales of motherhood — including the titular story, in which she amuses her child with a barf bag puppet, then decides to put on a whole show and (spoiler alert) shoves her hand into a used bag.
Is it any surprise she has just one child? Well, maybe.
“One of the chapters in the book, it’s called, ‘One is enough — or is it?’ I love being a mom,” she said, but added an understated, “It’s not always easy.”
When Stein graduated from St. John’s High School in Winnipeg’s notoriously rough-and-tumble North End in the 1980s, she had no idea YouTube would exist, never mind a plan to incorporate the video site on a climb to stardom.
WATCH: Johanna Stein plays Stairway to Winnipeg, written to impress a boy when she was a Winnipeg high school student.
She did know she wanted to be a performer, though, and went to the University of Winnipeg to take theatre and English.
Stein said she misses the creative community she was immersed in while at the university, saying then professor (now vice-president) Neil Besner once suggested she become a writer and she dismissed the idea, and reminiscing about performing in Winnipeg Fringe and mime shows with the likes of Rick Skene, still a theatre professor at the downtown school.
“My husband every now and then will just stare at me and say … ‘I can’t believe I married a mime.’ ”
She moved to L.A. for film school and to see where her love of performing could take her.
“A lot of the people in the entertainment community are from somewhere else,” she said about her adopted home. “There’s this irrational optimism we all share.”
She’s been a script reader for Dreamworks and done a lot of behind-the-scenes work in L.A., but it took a funny YouTube video to shoot her to fame.
But Stein is deeply rooted in Winnipeg, with visiting The Forks and local legend the Bridge Drive-In — an ice cream spot she calls the BDI like the local she is — among her must-dos.
She bemoans the fact the BDI will be closed for the winter when she comes back for a book signing at McNally Robinson Booksellers Nov. 25 and a talk at the University of Winnipeg Nov. 26, but hopes there will be snow — although some Winnipeggers might not appreciate that.
Her parents still live in the city and she’ll continue to visit regularly, despite the YouTube hit she and a friend unwittingly created.
Of course, the friend works for Ellen. Yeah, that Ellen, on that show.
But still, it was just a fun idea Stein had, prompting her to call for help, saying, in her own words:
“Come on over. I’ve got a GoPro and a kid who wants to insult her mother.”
© 2014 Shaw Media