Starting with a couple of humorous rants against a pair of Nintendo games, the Angry Video Game Nerd and his home website, Cinemassacre, has become an internet phenomenon. And though the Nerd is the man on the screen, he doesn’t work alone.
On multiple occasions, the Nerd has been joined on screen by many characters including cultural icons such as Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, Bugs Bunny, and the Joker of Batman fame. All of these guest characters have been played by Mike Matei, the real life best friend of James ‘The Nerd’ Rolfe. But Mike’s contributions to the show have been far more than guest appearances.
Mike’s contributions began with James showing what would go on to be the first Angry Video Game Nerd episode, a review of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Mike would go on to loan James the cartridges for his next two reviews; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Karate Kid. Mike fondly remembers being mildly lampooned by the Nerd in Jekyll and Hyde when the Nerd remarked “Who spent 89 cents on this?”
“At that point, James thought of the Nerd videos as a trilogy and was resistant to making any more. I saw a lot of potential for more that could be done with it, so I kept bothering him to do more. Eventually, he gave in and asked me to choose a game. I chose Who Framed Roger Rabbit on NES.”
After being convinced to carry on the series with Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on NES, the series began to gain steam. With the growing fandom, Mike’s contributions slowly evolved into shaping the idea that was the Angry Video Game Nerd.
“The first few videos were entirely from his mind. I really enjoyed what he was doing, so I decided to start helping him with HIS idea,” Matei says of Rolfe. “Really, I’m just there to help motive him in creating the concept that he began.”
Helping in Rolfe’s ideas eventually turned into guest appearances as game-related characters, but because he doesn’t consider himself an actor, Mike greatly prides himself on his artistic and technical contributions.
“I do illustrations for ‘You Know What’s Bullshit!?’, help maintain the Cinemassacre website, and manage our YouTube channel and various social media outlets,” says Matei. “The main thing I do for Cinemassacre is, and always has been, video editing. Right now, I mainly edit ‘James & Mike Mondays’ and ‘Monster Madness.’”
Other contributions over the years have included drawing each episode’s title cards, helping James pick out and study the game before writing the script for a Nerd episode, and portraying the “cheating bastard” Motherfucker Mike in the Board James series. The character, an alter ego of Matei, eventually crossed over into game reviews as well.
“Motherfucker Mike was only supposed to be a character I played on Board James because I was a cheating bastard. I started to become known by that title though, so when I first started making solo videos I called myself by that handle,” says Matei, although the real Mike Matei eventually took over as he began to make more serious, less comedic videos such as a string of ‘Top Ten’ moments in video games and some good, old fashioned game reviews; many of which are homebrews, hacks, or rarities.
“I love talking about hacks and other obscure gaming stuff. That’s what it’s all about for me,” Matei says with great pride, for a scroll down the comments of any of his videos yield far more signs of approval than disproval. “I think there’s a lot more interest in retro games now than there was when we first started doing this, without a doubt.”
While Mike’s solo videos began to appear long before production began for the Angry Video Game Nerd Movie, Mike’s contributions helped fill the void during James’ many absences during the film’s production and satisfy hungry fans. Of course, the interim was not without controversy.
“There was some backlash, as was expected. I can totally understand visiting a channel for a long time that featured only one face, then suddenly getting another and being like WTF!? I don’t think too many people realized at that point that I had always been there in the background. At that point, they only knew me as fictional guest characters. They had no idea I was there helping James all along. It took some time, but eventually people understood who I was.”
The advent of Mike Matei as a public figure on Cinemassacre has allowed for a broader variety of shows, lessening the pressure on Rolfe. In fact, one of the most popular shows, James & Mike Mondays, was the product of Mike’s creative contributions.
“What you’re seeing there is essentially the same process we always did while coming up with ideas for AVGN episodes. Except, when we do it for AVGN, we sit there with a notepad and write down time codes for specific parts of the game where something funny stands out,” says Matei in regards to the James & Mike Mondays.
Originally meant to act as a means of adding more content for the fans to enjoy while new episodes for popular shows such as Board James, You Know What’s Bullshit!?, and The Angry Video Game Nerd, are being produced, James & Mike Monday’s has become a major hit for the duo.
And so, riding off the wave of success that has become of the site in recent years, Matei and Rolfe have been hard at work writing new episodes for You Know What’s Bullshit and The Angry Video Game Nerd. The latter of which featured a Christmas special, ‘The 12 Days of Shitsmas,’ in which the Nerd eviscerated 12 of his most requested “shitty games,” but that was 2014 and Matei promises the fans even more surprises, among them will be the return of Board James, and if this fan gets his wish, another battle with the Nerd’s old nemesis, the Nostalgia Critic. For now, Matei simply says; “There are lots of classic board games we still haven’t touched upon,” says Matei. “And when we last left off, Motherfucker Mike and Bad Luck Bootsy were killed! What will happen next? Stay tuned!”