‘Kai The Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker’ and the Changing Viral Video

What ever happened to viral news interviews and their Autotune counterparts? From 2010 to 2013, four characters—Antoine Dodson, “Sweet Brown,” Charles Ramsey, and of course Kai—garnered hundreds of millions of views on their respective segments. Since then, shorter attention spans and the domination of Vine and Snapchat have killed the once-great form. Kai’s story reminds me of a better time, a time when people could sit through five-minute videos.

If you haven’t seen it before, now is a good time to view it. Even if you have, another replay is well worth it. In my opinion, “Kai The Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker” is the most complete Youtube video ever posted (“Best is a subjective measure so I’ll stay away from that). The KMPH interview represents a full range of emotions. First, there is the absurdity of the story. You can’t comprehend it the first time through. If you were actually talking to Kai, there would be so many points where you would have to stop and ask for clarification. As best as I can understand it, the story unfolds like this:

  • Kai is hitchhiking and gets picked up by a 300+ pound psychopath who believes he is Jesus Christ.
  • The driver tells Kai he raped a 14-year-old girl while on a business trip in the Virgin Islands, prompting obvious suspicion.
  • Then, the driver crashes into a pedestrian and pins him against a truck.
  • Kai hops out of the car to help the injured victim while the driver remains behind the wheel.
  • The driver attacks a bystander and Kai smashes him in the head with a hatchet.
  • Somehow still alive, the driver goes to masturbate by a school.
  • Kai gets interrogated by the Sheriff’s Department and is set free.
The Real Kai

The Real Kai

The story alone makes the video memorable. But of course, Kai’s retelling seals it. The rigidity of the interviewer and Kai’s stoner-surfer persona work together perfectly. After countless viewings, I wonder whether Kai was high. His knowing looks to the camera and deadpan: “Yeah, what do you want to talk about?” when prompted by interviewer Jessob Reisbeck speak to him fucking with us. The commentary is inspirational, funny, and sad all at the same time. He begins with:

 

“Before I say anything else, I want to say that no matter what you’ve done you deserve respect. Even if you make mistakes, you’re lovable. And it doesn’t matter your looks, skills, or age or size or anything, you’re worthwhile. No one can ever take that away from you.”

As uplifting as that is, the end is chilling: “As far as anyone I grew up with is concerned, I’m already dead.” His brutal honesty pervades the segment. I get the feeling of a conversation with a stoned friend. As much as I enjoy Kai’s five-plus minutes on screen, I am also tickled wondering what is going through the interviewer’s head. Kai’s frequent profanity, his unwillingness to divulge personal information, and his eccentricities—refusing to call officers of the law “police” and instead referring to them as “sheriffs”—all either make Reisbeck feel that the interview is never going to see the light of day or that it is the greatest moment of his career. I can’t tell. He stays focused throughout. The above are the reasons that I have watched the video since it came out in February 2013. It holds up, in part because it was “must watch.” People shared it with everyone they knew and even watched the annoying Autotune remix. Kai was the last of a short-lived breed.

Sweet Brown

Sweet Brown

In 2010, Antoine Dodson set Youtube ablaze with his colorful retelling of an attempted rape. The “Bed Intruder” remix, which followed shortly after the interview and has drawn 132 million views to date, presented the best Dodson tidbits. “Hide your kids, hide your wife” became an often-repeated catchphrase of 2010. Two years later, in May of 2012, “Sweet Brown” received similar fame from her interview and subsequent “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That” remix. The candid report of an apartment fire lent itself easily to views. Charles Ramsey—a Cleveland resident who rescued three abducted women—completed the trifecta of black, lower-class bystanders who earned internet fame and their own Itunes tracks. All experienced celebrity, or at least further interviews. While the three raise obvious questions about exploitation, Kai’s story may trump all of them.

After KMPH’s segment appeared, Kai was booked for a follow up as well as an interview with Jimmy Kimmel. In a toned-down and introspective piece, viewers got to connect with the cult hero working through his traumatic past. His life philosophy of peace and harmony and his brutally honest outlook connected with people. For months afterward, he reportedly cruised across the country and stayed with fans. All until he allegedly killed a 73-year-old lawyer in New Jersey. Although Kai—aka Caleb Lawrence McGillivary—alludes to smashing another man’s head (in addition to the crazed driver), this confirmed his violent streak. The alleged murder also occurred under suspicious circumstances. Kai met the man—Joseph Galfy—in Times Square. He then says he was drugged and sexual assaulted. Thousand of supporters started  a “Free Kai” campaign, complete with an online store and a GoFundMe for his legal fees. Still awaiting trial after three years in jail, the Kai fans are reportedly nonexistent anymore.

Antoine Dodson

Antoine Dodson

Still writing poems from jail and awaiting a September 8th court date to set his trial, Kai is nearly lost in the reaches of the internet. Since his moment of glory—recounting a heroic killing in a haze of bandana and cigarette smoke—news interview clips no longer reach hundreds of millions. With a collective 300 million active users, Vine and Snapchat now dominate the media game. Kai marks the end of a short era. He may be the last representative of the collective “have to see.” In a landscape where videos are temporary and less than ten seconds, I am still going to watch the hitchhiker.