Despite a career as a news anchor in several different cities, Scott Walker may always be known as a YouTube star. Well, one by association.
“I’ve probably been seen on YouTube by more people than in all the news casts I’ve ever anchored in my career,” Walker says.
The current WDSU anchor was working at Mobile, Ala.’s NBC affiliate WPMI-TV in 2006, and one night he just happened to be on the desk as the network aired a story that would become a YouTube sensation with, five years later, more than 17 million views. The story was of a leprechaun that residents say makes a yearly appearance in a tree in the Crichton part of Mobile. Crowds of people, wielding camera phones, binoculars and — in one guy’s case — a special flute, await the site of the elusive creature, who may or may not actually be a crackhead.
Walker says the reporter and photographer from the station who covered the story had no idea what they were getting into.
“Basically it was this crowd gathering outside Mobile in Crichton. People were gathering around, blocking traffic — it was kind of creating gridlock out there. So people called our newsroom and said ‘Something’s going on out here, police are here, there’s big crowds,’” he says. “The reporter and photographer went to check out the scene, and people were talking seeing a leprechaun in a tree, and it kinda snowballed from there.”
Soon after the broadcast, the video spread like wildfire, inspiring a slew of YouTube remixes, merchandise and parodies by shows like South Park. The video, like the recently popular “Bed Intruder” video and other viral newscasts, does get laughs at the expense of the residents depicted: There’s the crackhead line (“It could be a crackhead who got a hold of the wrong stuff and it told him to get up in a tree and play a leprechaun.”), a man saying “To me it looks like a leprechaun to me” and another scene shows a man directing traffic to the site and holding a “special Leprechaun flute” and items supposed to “ward off spirits.” Perhaps the most memorable part of the video shows the endearingly simple “amateur sketch” of the leprechaun drawn by one of the residents. But Walker says the Chrichton community has embraced the attention nonetheless.
“From what I remember they all loved it, they loved the publicity. The guy with the blue hat on backwards in the video (the one who says the “To me ...” line) is on T-shirts, South Park did a take off on him … they’ve kind of soaked up the publicity,” Walker says. And as for the “amateur sketch”? “He came to station one day to bring us the amateur sketch and we auctioned it off to charity — I believe NBC news channel was the group that bought it for like, $1,000. So someone paid $1,000 for that amateur sketch. It’s probably up on someone’s wall somewhere.”
Five years later and still with millions of hits, Walker is amazed by the popularity of the story.
“When it came out in 2006, it was kind of the beginning of YouTube. It was one of the first real big viral videos on YouTube, it was all kind of new back then. I guess I never realized it was a big viral video until years later, when it had millions of hits and continues to grow,” he says. “It seems every year, especially with college-aged kids, it gets bigger and more and more people see it. It’s been five years since this happened, and it seems like it’s bigger than it’s ever been.”
And Walker, who wasn’t even the reporter on the story (Brian Johnson was), still gets recognized for the video — and he’s OK with that.
“My co-worker I was with at the time were in all the remixes, there’s so many different versions where they mix up our words. I’m associated with it, because the reporter who actually did the story never appeared in it — he never had a stand-up in it or anything. So no one knows who he is, and they just associate us with the story, which is kinda crazy to me,” he says. “I run into people all the time who say ‘Hey, you’re the leprechaun guy’ and ‘That was you in that video!’ and I always say, it could be worse. I could be saying something bad that was captured on YouTube, like an F-bomb.”