“Wait, are you going to write my answers in human talk?” a man wearing a grey cardboard dinosaur head asks me. His hands are covered in what looks like metallic duct tape, and I can see a microphone secured to the bottom of his cardboard snout.
He switches back to his online personality, which is based on a robot T-Rex named Grimlock from the original Transformers cartoon. On the Internet, the voice of “FAKEGRIMLOCK” is written in all caps with caveman syntax. In person, it’s an artificially low growling voice that struggles to misuse pronouns.
“THAT HOW DINO TALK. HAVE TINY BRAIN,” he says.
Nobody knows who FAKEGRIMLOCK is, but in some circles, he counts as famous.
It’s the Saturday of South by Southwest Interactive, and he has been called upon to promote a startup called Shelby.TV by chatting with tech influencers invited to meet a “mystery celebrity.” The video startup’s plan is to post the resulting reactions online. My curiosity about who would persistently impersonate a robot dinosaur and how this could come to constitute celebrity, combined with a miscommunication surrounding the word “interview,” has landed me a reluctant starring role in this production.
I ask him why he adopts a dinosaur personality in blog comment sections, his own site and on Twitter.
“TWITTER BEST PLACE WHERE ANYONE BECOME ANYTHING,” he says. “ONLY PLACE WHERE SOMEONE RAPIDLY GAIN FOLLOWERS BECAUSE OF WHAT SAY, WHAT DO, INSTEAD OF WHAT ONE IS.”
FAKEGRIMLOCK, who says on his blog that he works in the IT department of a small Midwest startup, first started getting noticed a couple of years ago in the comment section of the technology blog TechCrunch. Most blogs have anonymous commenters they call trolls, but what FAKEGRIMLOCK does is a bit different. His comments, despite being written in robot speak, are usually on-point and insightful rather than purely malicious.
Occasionally he doles out compliments, and he has a habit of phrasing them like the Dali Lama’s Twitter account: “IF PARTNERS NOT AGREE ON WHO ARE TOGETHER, IT NOT PARTNERSHIP, WILL FAIL.” Or, “BEST TIME TO BREAK WORLD IN HALF IS WHEN IT SHOWS UP TO STOP YOU.”
“At first he was annoying and now I can’t help but look for his nuggets of wisdom,” wrote former TechCrunch writer Steve Poland on recommendation site Jig.
Fake Grimlock, who refuses to join Facebook, started focusing on other blogs’ comment sections when TechCrunch switched to Facebook comments.
“Celebrity” might be a stretch when describing the robot dinosaur’s status. At South by Southwest, I informally polled about 25 startup founders, VCs and others who are deeply involved in the tech scene on whether anyone had heard the name, but failed to get a positive response. What FAKEGRIMLOCK has cultivated, however, is respect from a bunch of very smart people.
“I’m a huge fan of FAKEGRIMLOCK, occasionally commenting on his comments, but often laughing out loud or smiling with recognition of their brilliance when I saw them,” Feld wrote on his blog.
Despite having a relatively small following (about 7,000 on Twitter), FAKEGRIMLOCK was able to raise more than $22,000 from just 300 backers on Kickstarter who wanted to see his cartoons in print.
An excerpt from FAKEGRIMLOCK’s guest post on Brad Feld’s blog.
As he becomes more well-known in entrepreneurial circles, FAKEGRIMLOCK sees his role as an inspiring one.
“ME BE ON TWITTER NOT FOR ME, FOR EVERYONE,” Fake Grimlock tells me. “FOR HELP EVERYONE BE MORE AWESOME. THAT WHY WRITE BLOGS, WRITE GUEST POSTS, WHY MAKE POSTERS. IT TO INSPIRE PEOPLE TO DO BETTER, TO DO MORE. TO NOT LIMIT SELVES. SELF HAVE NO LIMIT, ONLY LIMIT PUT ON SELF.”
The “be yourself” line is hard to take coming from someone wearing a cardboard robot head, but somehow it also seems sincere.
Who is Fake Grimlock? Even Shelby.TV’s founders, who brought him to SXSW, say they failed to get a real name out of him. It might be that nobody, anywhere, actually knows — and wouldn’t recognize the name if they did. That, as far as I can tell, is his point.