Summer orientation at The University of Michigan remains a distant memory for many upperclassmen. However, a common thread that seems to remain fixed in the memories of many current students and alumni from the past half-decade is The Michigan Transportation Musical. More commonly known as the “Billy Magic” video, the twelve-minute informational video on The University’s blue buses has been shown to large swaths of incoming freshmen for the past few years. Even this past summer, the class of 2024 was encouraged to watch the musical as part of their online orientation.

In mid-2012, then School of Music, Theater and Dance junior Nick Skardarasy volunteered to help write and perform in the University’s newest iteration of the informational transportation video. What he couldn’t have predicted, however, was how his talents in creating the “Billy Magic” musical would influence meme culture on campus for the next decade. Alongside C.J. Eldrid (Class of 2014) as Billy Magic, Skardarasy was cast as The Kid, an aloof incoming freshman who is quickly educated on the University’s bus system through song and dance routines. 

Now a comedian living in Los Angeles, Skardarasy spoke in an interview with The Daily about how he witnessed the musical’s instantaneous popularity among Michigan undergrads: “It spread like wildfire,” he said. “It felt like being like a movie star for a year, which was such a weird transition to L.A. where I was absolutely nothing.” 

But even amid the hustle and bustle of Hollywood, Skardarasy has found ways to remain active in creating humor for communities both big and small. During his time in L.A. he has been deeply engaged in the alternative comedy scene, running shows in smaller performance spaces and even serving as the personal assistant for Eric Andre. “I felt like things were kind of going on an upward trajectory and then it all just stopped,” he said, explaining how widespread isolation inspired his recent stand-up special, “Thin Walls (An Evening with My Neighbors)”.

In the half-hour stand-up special, Skardarasy invites his neighbors down to the courtyard of his apartment building for an evening of socially-distant, heartwarming entertainment. “I have to do something,” he said. “I don’t know when the next time I’m going to get to perform on a stage is. I really would like a career in entertainment, so I had to do it.”

The influence of 2020’s cultural upheavals are blatant from start to finish in the special. Director Jon Zucker elegantly captures Skardarasy’s relationship with his neighbors throughout his various stand-up bits. Intimate interviews display the diversity and warmth of Skardarasy’s apartment community. Multiple neighbors of differing ethnicities and age groups share how their lives have changed because of COVID-19, and how they’ve managed to fight boredom. These are friendships which Skardarasy claims have only gotten stronger over the past few months. “When the pandemic happened everyone just got a lot closer,” he said. 

Skardarasy’s special captures the unexpected intimacy of the COVID-19 era, in which social isolation separates us but also brings us together in ways we hadn’t previously imagined. The special covers everything from managing adulthood, rethinking race and masculinity to peeing while sitting down. Combined with the calming aesthetics of his residential hub turned outdoor performance space, it’s easy to see how the walls between Skardarasy and his neighbors are not only thin, but practically nonexistent. 

The pandemic’s unanticipated length continues to halt the existence of many live performance opportunities. However, Skardarasy’s optimism about the future of art as a whole is reassuring. 

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have a backup plan while you’re pursuing your dreams,” he offered as advice to current students hoping to also go into entertainment. “But I really do believe that if you’re passionate about art and you want to do it, you will find a way to do it.”

Nick Skardarasy is a comedian living in Los Angeles. You can watch his special “Thin Walls (An Evening with My Neighbors)” on YouTube. You can also download it on iTunes and Spotify

Daily Humor Columnist Maxwell Barnes is an LSA senior studying Communication and Media and can be reached at mxwell@umich.edu.

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