Even at 4-foot-10, Danny DeVito is a pop-culture colossus. He’s an integral part of the ensemble of two of the most beloved comedy television series of all time. He’s a brother to Homer Simpson, and a friend to Nicholson, Douglas and Clooney. And he’s an underrated auteur whose dark comedies showed that his pursuit of laughs was actually a quest for meaning and purpose. In honor of his turning 78 — in his native New Jersey, his birthday, November 17th, is now an official state holiday — we pay tribute to this short king of (short) kings with a week dedicated to his most indelible work and the cultural footprint he continues to blaze.

In the spring of 2018, high school senior Allison Closs couldn’t find a date for prom. She, however, decided that she wasn’t going to sit it out, or go by herself. Instead, she ordered a cardboard cutout of Danny DeVito from Amazon. When it arrived, she put a tie on DeVito, taped him to a scooter and rolled him into prom like a boss.

In very short order, Closs went viral. She ended up in her local paper and on the local news. Before long, the Associated Press picked up the story, and it became national news. A couple of weeks later, she made headlines again when the real DeVito brought a cardboard cutout of her to the set of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Not long afterward, Closs was asked to be on The Talk for a segment on viral stories. While there, she was able to meet DeVito in person.

All of this, of course, changed her life. She entered college as a semi-famous internet personality who was suddenly beaming with self-confidence about her creative ideas and her self-described “quirky, eccentric sense of humor.” In the ensuing four years, that confidence has allowed her to make significant progress in her long-held aspirations in the film industry, including working on several TV shows and closing in a film deal for a movie called A Tail’s Tale: A Mermaid’s Tale, a spoof of mermaid stories. 

Although Closs’ own drive and talents deserve the lion’s share of the credit for her accomplishments, she does cite Cardboard DeVito with helping her get the ball rolling. 

Closs and Cardboard DeVito on prom night, 2018 (Camera Box)

‘What if I just take a cardboard cutout to prom?’

I’ve always been an oddball. I grew up in a small town that’s pretty close-minded, and I was always considered to be eccentric and quirky. The last time I’d been to a school dance was the Winter Ball of sophomore year. It was a disaster. I’d asked a guy to go with me, but he was embarrassed because I was considered uncool; so he didn’t want pictures with me, and he didn’t want to show up together. I gave him a boutonniere, and he just put it in his pocket — he didn’t even bring me a corsage!

I hadn’t been to a school dance since, but I wanted to go to my senior prom. Nobody had asked me, and I didn’t want to ask someone else and have the same exact experience I had at the Winter Ball. One day, though, I thought to myself, “What if I just take a cardboard cutout to prom?”

I was thinking about different options and narrowed it down to Danny DeVito or Bill Nye. I went with Danny because he had the most choices on Amazon. There are all kinds of cardboard Dannys on there — you’ve got lots of options. 

A lot of people ask me, “Why Danny DeVito?” Part of the reason is because I love Matilda, but I also figured that if I went with somebody like Brad Pitt or Channing Tatum — someone more conventionally sexy — it would be cringe. But with Danny DeVito, people know it’s a joke.

‘This is happening!’

Leading up to prom, I told lots of people what I was planning to do. They didn’t care, but I was so excited about it. When my cardboard Danny finally came in the mail, I was like, “This is happening!” Unfortunately, my dog Izzy was terrified of it. I had to hide Danny in my brother’s room for weeks because he upset Izzy so much.

I found a tie in my brother’s closet. Then I put a boutonniere on Danny. I did, however, have to figure out how to transport him. I thought maybe a skateboard, but I ultimately decided on one of those square, elementary school gym-class scooters.

Two weeks before the dance, I emailed the local ABC affiliate because I thought it’d be funny if they covered it. They liked it and said they’d come over to my house before prom and film me getting ready. But on the day of prom, I got an email from the woman at the station saying, “A woman and her child drowned in the Susquehanna River, we’ve got to go cover that.” She did add, however, “If you record any videos or take any photos, send them our way.”

I’m a big film person — I’ve been making YouTube videos for years — so I shot this video and edited it all together with me and Danny and interviews with my parents. I did it all in an hour and then sent in the video. After that, I put Danny in the back of my convertible and headed to prom. 

‘Danny and I got a lot of great moves down’

I got to prom later than most other people did, so I had to walk all the way down this long line with Danny rolling behind me. The tie ended up being a good move because it was really windy and he kept tipping over, but I could grab the tie and the leash on the scooter at the same time, keeping him up pretty well. Of course, I immediately caught the attention of the photographers there, including one from the local paper. 

Once we got on the dance floor, Danny and I got a lot of great moves down. I’d boost him up in the air during the music, and I did this one move where I’d twist the leash around him and let ‘er rip like he was a giant Beyblade. Danny loved when they played “I Don’t Give a Fuck” — that was his favorite.

At one point, I had to go to the bathroom, so I asked my friend to watch Danny. When I came out, people were lining up for pictures with him. They also had a photo booth area, where Danny and I took pictures. My friend hid behind Danny and held up signs and masks. In one of them, I held a sign that read, “Google This,” which kind of foreshadowed how viral this was going to become.

Closs and Cardboard Danny at the photo booth 

The whole experience was one of the happiest nights of my life. I grew up being the black sheep in my school, and that night, to have people smiling and laughing because of me — it was the best school dance experience I ever had. It was especially great because I did it by my own rules.

‘It was in Time — it was all over!’

They ran the video I made on the 11 o’clock news that night. The next thing I knew, it was everywhere!

The next stage came in June, when Danny took a cutout of me to the set of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I checked my phone after taking a nap and saw hundreds of notifications. All of them were linked to this post from Rob McElhenney. But it took me a minute to understand what it was. For three weeks, I’d been seeing pictures of myself with a cardboard Danny, so I didn’t immediately get that this was the reverse — that I was the cardboard one.

I found out later that the idea came from Jordan Rader, a director on It’s Always Sunny, who had the props team make it. The cardboard cutout of me eventually ended up in a dumpster behind the studio where they film, but luckily, it was rescued by someone who works on the same lot. 

‘When I saw the real Danny, my mouth went completely dry’

In September, when I was just starting out as a freshman in college, I got a message from The Talk on CBS. They said they wanted to fly me out for an episode about the biggest viral stories of the summer. 

They flew me and my parents out to Los Angeles, and I was given questions beforehand. On the air, they gave me four more cardboard Dannys from various movies — Danny as the Penguin, Danny from Matilda, Danny from Taxi and Danny and Arnold from Twins

The other cardboard Dannys that Closs received on The Talk now reside in her parents’ basement. She refers to them as “The Council of Dannys.”

Then they said, “We have one more Danny for you,” and in comes the real one, who was on the show to promote the movie Smallfoot. When I saw him, my mouth went completely dry, and I started rolling my tongue in my mouth like some crazy lizard person. We hugged, and he asked me what my Danny was up to now. I told him I had him in my dorm room, to which he responded, “Is that a co-ed dorm?” My brain was still buffering, and I just awkwardly said, “Yes.” 

‘Cardboard Danny is so withered and sad and broken now’

I still bring my original Danny everywhere I move. After high school, I went to Gettysburg College. I was there for three semesters before transferring to Emerson College. When COVID hit, I spent a summer in Rhode Island and then I did a semester online at home in Pennsylvania. Eventually, I went back to Emerson — first in Boston and then at Emerson’s branch campus in Los Angeles. Again, every place I went, I brought Danny with me.

Cardboard Danny is so withered and sad and broken now. I’ve taken him to so many school events that he’s become an honorary member of the drumline at Gettysburg, and he got his spine broken when my friend asked if they could throw him like a paper airplane. These days, he’s held together with sticks and duct tape. 

The very withered cardboard Danny

Needless to say, this whole experience has helped me a lot with my self-confidence. I always knew I was weird, but I never knew if I was good weird or bad weird. But for millions of people to look at that and say, “We like her,” was so validating. I’m especially proud because it’s so emblematic of my sense of humor, and it’s led to great opportunities where I’ve gotten to work on a bunch of different TV shows. In fact, I’ve gotten so many opportunities that I’ll be going back out to L.A. after my final semester. I’ll obviously be bringing Danny with me.

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