Success can often get you pigeonholed. Just ask that lady from the Progressive ads. Sure, I’d assume she and her kids’ college are fully taken care of forever, but she’s also professionally locked into an apron-shaped prison thanks to one commercial audition years ago. Whether a well-known public figure wants to escape typecasting, expectations of their work or is just really, really bored, an alter-ego is one way to achieve that. For example, it might have let Andre 3000 release a very solid ambient jazz album without Twitter roasting him for a month straight. Sometimes, though, the alter ego raises a whole cornucopia of new and confusing questions.
Here are five of the weirdest ever celebrity alter-egos…
Lady Gaga/Jo Calderone
If we’re talking about Lady Gaga and she decides to do something so strange that it requires a new name and identity, it’s gonna be a whopper. Her weirdest ever alter ego, though, was partly so strange because it wasn’t that outlandish. Jo Calderone was Gaga in drag, as a… mostly unremarkable, old-fashioned Italian guy? Fake stubble and a cigarette felt more like something out of a web comedy sketch than the wild stunts she was known for.
Though reportedly invented for the purpose of her video for “You and I,” Calderone is most famous for being famously grating at the MTV VMAs. On one hand, music awards put you in direct view of music fans everywhere. On the other hand, they’re not really supposed to be about you. That might have been where Gaga/Calderone went wrong, staying in character throughout the whole show, including while giving other performers awards. It’s hard work to make it in music, and most people would probably prefer their effort be validated by someone not dressed as halfway Andrew Dice Clay.
Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines
An absolute disaster that curls the face to process to this day was Garth Brooks’ disastrous attempted metamorphosis into a rock star named Chris Gaines. Now first, let’s consider the real, not insane reasons he might have done this. Brooks was a megastar in the country music genre, one that already is notoriously difficult to experiment or expand in. Turns out, they mostly want to keep hearing about heartbreak and trucks, musical evolution be damned.
So when he wanted to branch into more traditional rock and roll, he invented Chris Gaines. Something that probably would have been more readily accepted if Chris Gaines wasn’t a sad little weirdo. First off, we have to discuss the soul patch and spiky, raven-black bangs. Even in 1999, when that was the closest to acceptable it ever was, it was still kind of lame. Throw that in with not-Garth being inexplicably Australian, and suddenly you’ve got a fake Aussie who looks like he’d say shit like, “I hate my loife!” That said, his album still hit #2 on the charts, so fuck me, I guess. If you’re sad you’re too young to have seen it live, rejoice, as he might be bringing it back.
So far, we’ve looked at cool people who accidentally created a weird, lame fake them. Not so here, because this concerns Bono, a man who is deeply lame from the jump. Everything about him, from his horrible taste in sunglasses to how proud he is of himself for opposing things like “AIDS” and “violence” just absolutely blows. Apparently, he thought the reason people weren’t into it was because he was being too subtle, which, buddy.
Thus, he invented a few equally shitty alter egos. This one in particular was named Mr. MacPhisto, which seems like he considered clever wordplay but just sounds like a new spicy sandwich McDonald’s is testing. MacPhisto was, get this, THE DEVIL! Whoa! I hope you didn’t just spit coffee all over your desk/child/laptop! Then, while on stage, dressed as Satan, he’d call bad politicians and tell him how much he liked them doing evil stuff! Eat your fucking heart out, Bad Brains!
Herman Blount/Sun Ra
We take a bit of a left turn here, and go from alter egos that were widely considered low points in their creators’ careers. Instead, we’ll go to one that, while still definitely strange, remains admired by a lot of respected current artists. This was the wholesale transformation of a jazz musician born Herman Blount into the artist known as Sun Ra.
But though this new being, which performed in robes and Egyptian headwear, received a thumbs up artistically and musically, the backstory behind it is straight out of an Alex Jones podcast. Blount claimed that antennaed aliens from Saturn contacted and abducted him in Huntsville, Alabama, showered him with compliments and informed him that he had a greater purpose. Whether the little gray men were real or not, they had a point, because it turned out the dude made top-notch jazz.
Russell Wilson/Mr. Unlimited
Okay, this one is a bit of a stretch, given that it’s more of a nickname than a true alter ego. It’s not like ex-Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson ever had his jersey changed, or put on eyeliner. Still, I will take any opportunity allowed to me to feature what has to be one of the most cringeworthy videos ever uploaded by their own subject. Please enjoy this front-facing camera opus by Mr. Wilson himself that resides somewhere between unabated self-confidence and genuine, hospital-grade delusion.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.