Before he made the videos that came to define game day in Ann Arbor, Pat Stansik wasn’t really sure what he was doing.
In time, he would become known for showcasing the most comical revelry Ann Arbor had to offer. And as his videos spread, so did his cult following.
But before all that, he was a transfer student. He lived at home with his parents, looking to find his way after his varsity lacrosse career had come to a close. In its place, he built his life around videos.
If you haven’t yet seen an episode of “Pre-Gaming with Pat,” here’s the gist: For two seasons, Stansik walked around Ann Arbor on football Saturdays interviewing tailgaters. Most, if not all, of them were drunk. Stansik was stone-cold sober.
Add in music that was ahead of its time, and the result was a series that students could count on to accentuate their game day. Now, the videos are a time capsule — a way for those same students to look back on memories they had forgotten, or perhaps couldn’t remember to begin with.
Looking at all he accomplished during his time in Ann Arbor, it’s easy to see why, three years after he moved to Los Angeles, Stansik invokes a quote from Andy Bernard, a character on “The Office.”
“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days,” Bernard says, “before you’ve actually left them.”
Even though “Pre-Gaming with Pat” was born in Ann Arbor, its story traces back to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Penn.
There, Stansik had been a college lacrosse player in need of a change. He was discovering he wanted to major in film, and with that realization came another — he needed to go home.
He was born in Barrington, Ill., but Stansik grew up in Ann Arbor. So when he decided to transfer to Michigan to study film, he was going back to familiar territory.
When Stansik arrived, one of his earliest video projects was called “Pre-Gaming with Pat: Mustaches for Michigan.” It was meant more as a one-off endeavor.
Soon, though, Stansik began making a video blog with his teammates on the men’s club lacrosse team. Looking back, it’s easy to tell by the familiar cuts from silly interviews to action footage that these are the origins of the eventual tailgate series. But when Stansik graduated in 2011, that possibility wasn’t really on his radar.
Instead, he moved to Boulder, Col., where he worked for the summer at an advertising agency. When that was finished, Stansik decided to come back to Ann Arbor, and then the modern pregame videos were born.
Armed with a significantly upgraded set of camera equipment, Stansik took to the streets of Ann Arbor for a much more professional version of the show. Naturally, he entrusted his new Panasonic camera — a graduation present — to his gym buddy, Aaron Peterson, who was by no means a trained cameraman.
“At the start I would just tell Aaron, just make sure the red button is on and it’s recording,” Stansik said.
As the program’s reputation grew, Stansik made his mark. People would refer to him as “Pre-Gaming with Pat” as if it were his name, and when he arrived at their parties, they wanted to be interviewed by him.
Many of the show’s iconic moments were random and authentic. But some of the most memorable involved recurring stars who took on more regular roles.
The most famous was Lucas Brody, whose character Da’Quan ended up spawning his own series of YouTube videos. Zach Schwinder was “handles guy,” a character who always had two half-gallon bottles of vodka in his hands. Peyton Morris proclaimed her talent for pre-gaming.
These cameos added some consistent sources of humor, and for the guests, even occasionally led to some recognition. Morris was asked if she could teach people to pregame, and Schwinder recalls admirers wanting to buy a drink for the “handles guy.”
Even while they now have very real adult lives, those reached for this story were far from embarrassed about their roles on the show.
“There’s one scene where he’s interviewing me, and then he cuts to someone else, and then he’s going through a music montage, then you see me with my back turned towards the crowd, with two handles up, just going at it,” Schwinder said. “I look back at that, and I’m like, yes, maybe that doesn’t give the best perception of myself. But at the same time, I wouldn’t trade that for the world. If I run for president one day, and they bring that up, I will only be proud of that moment.”
It’s a funny sentiment, but there’s plenty of truth to it. In creating the videos, Stansik set out to portray a largely undocumented part of the Michigan experience. Most everyone knows about the football games, but for students, what comes before is nearly as important.
“It’s not all of what college was about, not all of what the University of Michigan is about, obviously, because there’s a lot more to it,” Schwinder said. “But it does bring me back.”
Now, the videos serve as a sort of time capsule for everyone at Michigan in 2011 and 2012. And for Morris, the importance of that capsule is even greater than nostalgia.
A friend of hers had been in many of the videos, but she has since passed away, leaving “Pre-Gaming with Pat” as a window back to her life.
“That’s kind of the only real way that we can see her in the flesh still,” Morris said.
Perhaps the most surprising sign of the mark the show made on campus came from the University itself, possibly the only institution on campus that might have had a gripe with the videos. As Stansik’s time wound to a close, the University’s official Twitter account (@umich) sent its respect.
“Farewell #PregamingWithPat,” the tweet read. “We can’t condone you, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t secretly enjoy your videos. Deuces.”
There is a certain charm to the “Pre-Gaming with Pat” videos that makes it easy to forget that, to Stansik, the series was more than a celebration of inebriation. While his career goals revolve around comedy writing, those videos gave him an outlet he could throw himself into.
The nights before game days, Stansik and Peterson would often sleep at Stansik’s parents’ house, an unusual thing for two 20-something men to do. For noon games, the goal was to be out and filming at 8 a.m.
He was so dedicated that he would often edit the video while watching the game to get it posted as soon as possible. It wasn’t the classic college game day experience, but he made them anyway. They made him happy.
“Especially once my athletic career was over, I was devastated because I was just like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to fill this void,’ ” Stansik said. “Obviously I knew it was going to end eventually, and as it turns out, I mean, doing (video) is arguably better. It sounds crazy, because, I can tell you, ‘Oh, the rush of releasing a video,’ (but) it sounds so corny. The rush of uploading a YouTube video, it sounds so stupid to say. But I really enjoy doing it. I love making stuff.”
Soon, what had started out as a side project was putting him on the map.
More recognition came when his popular YouTube account shifted into more traditional comedy. His videos “I’m 24” and “Bros vs. Hipsters” both got over a million views. “Positive Decisions,” a music video with his friend Dan Henig, represented a notable uptick in production value. He even did videography for one of Hoodie Allen’s tours.
And then the videos stopped coming. When Stansik took a job at a Los Angeles talent agency, his time for some of his personal creative projects dwindled. He has since left that job, giving him the perhaps necessary space to again focus on the short-form comedy videos he enjoys so much. He has worked on longer projects, too, though the hurdles to production on bigger-budget creations are notably larger.
In other words, Stansik has been experiencing what most creatives do when faced with the realities of making it in Los Angeles.
“It’s been difficult in terms of the time off, because I had no plans of stopping, I had no plans of taking a job that was going to make it really difficult to film stuff and write stuff,” Stansik said. “…This time that I’ve been off, I guess I just want people to know it wasn’t by choice.”
By the end of the year, Stansik, now 28, plans to be in pre-production for his next videos. It’s a return that has been a long time coming, and Stansik seems more aware of that than anyone.
But while Stansik seems to feel a certain degree of dismay over the fact he hasn’t posted in years, others are just excited to see more of his work.
“I think … the self-deprecating nature of Pat’s humor kind of manifests itself in real-world consequences,” said Stansik’s friend Devin Rossinsky. “I think he maybe is a little too hard on himself, and puts some undue pressure, because he had this past success with ‘Pre-Gaming with Pat,’ that he wants to deliver good content, and he already has built up a subscriber base and wants to do right by them and also wants to do right by himself.”
But if all goes according to plan, the uploads portion of Stansik’s YouTube page won’t be dormant much longer.
“I think that he’s excited and has a newfound spark to really get back into the production of sketch videos and musical parodies and the like,” Rossinsky said. “Because it’s what he loves to do, and I think enough time has passed.
“It’s about damn time.”