Daniel Lara and Josh Holz, 15- and 16-year-old high-schoolers, agree that another viral Snapchat video is - to use Josh’s words - “not going to happen.” “We can't try to make a cool video,” he says. “That's not how viral videos start. [They start as] some dumbass doing some stupid crap.” The night in February that Josh tweeted what the world knows now as the “Damn Daniel” video, he had no idea he had a hit on his hands. His parents had taken his phone away from him for “not doing [his] chores or something,” and it wasn’t until the next morning at school that he saw the video blowing up. “I just remember Josh refreshing, refreshing, refreshing,” Daniel says. The video went on to be viewed more than 17 million times on YouTube, where users eagerly uploaded the Snaps within hours; it turned Daniel and Josh into one of the biggest sensations of the year.
When we meet, Daniel and Josh sit across from each other at the kitchen table in the Lara family’s modest, five-bedroom house in the tree-lined Riverside, California, suburbs, where one of the main attractions is the World’s Largest Paper Cup, about an hour-and-a-half from the heart of Los Angeles. Daniel just finished his chemistry homework and Josh came over after swim practice. While Daniel’s mom bakes cookies, they take turns tossing a balled-up napkin into empty glasses.
It’s a scene from ordinary teen life (wake up, go to school, practice a sport or maybe an instrument, return home, study). The difference is that Daniel and Josh are famous - or they were as far as memes go. Though the boys readily admit their fame has dissipated quite a bit, “Damn Daniel” probably still rings a bell in the average household. What the teens don’t know is if they can parlay that fame, which faded nearly as quickly as it rose, into lasting success within the entertainment industry.
I have a Spanish teacher that’s always teasing me. Teachers are cool.
“Damn Daniel” propelled the boys into viral stardom when Josh tweeted a series of Snapchat videos in which he can be heard giggling while complimenting his friend’s sneakers: “Damn, Daniel. Back at it again with the white Vans.” The video was retweeted 230,000 times in the first week (it now has more than 335,000 retweets). To explain the slingshot rise of “Damn Daniel” is near impossible. Was it Josh’s giddy delight at sharing his friend’s white-sneaker obsession with the world? The country’s realization that we all have that one friend who painstakingly cleans if not his sneakers, then something else? Daniel’s teen heartthrob good looks? To explain the meme’s fade, however, is easy: Memes come and memes go.
“Damn Daniel’s already ended,” Daniel says. “Damn Daniel is done,” Josh echoes. They say it matter-of-factly, with a teenage remove. They’re no longer reveling in their five minutes of internet fame but instead figuring out how it will influence their future, if at all. “I'm not sure about our careers and whatever we want to do,” Daniel says. “That’s what we’re fighting for right now,” adds Josh. It’s not fame they want, necessarily (although they wouldn’t mind it). They just don't want to miss out on any rare opportunities.
The boys, who met on Xbox while playing Minecraft when they were in seventh and eighth grade, have so far signed deals with United Talent Agency and L.A. Models, and most recently starred in an LG commercial. Daniel is more interested in modeling and is taking theater classes; Josh is focused on shooting and editing video (he wants to be a YouTuber). But they share a manager and lawyer (the father of a girl from Daniel’s swim team), and are dabbling in their various pursuits together for the most part. Over the summer, they auditioned as a duo for an unnamed Disney project, though they haven’t heard yet whether they’ve gotten the part.
Their first joint appearance was on The Ellen DeGeneres Show two weeks after Damn Daniel was born. “She’s easy to talk to,” Daniel says of the host, who gifted him with a lifetime supply of Vans (in legal terms, that meant five years of free sneakers at a maximum value of $5,000) and Josh a custom surfboard that now hangs on his bedroom wall. In April, they attended the MTV Movie Awards as red carpet reporters for Ellen, interviewing such celebs as Seth Rogen and Gigi Hadid, whom Daniel asked to prom. (She didn’t say no - just that she’d have to check with her boyfriend Zayn.) The following month, they traveled to New York City for the Webby Awards. “We'd be getting mobbed on the East Coast - and that’s just crazy because that's across the United States,” Daniel says.
School did not go on as normal (How could it?). Administrators had to hire security for the boys’ swim meets - a newly hot-ticket event. “People would come to watch, like, ‘Oh, Poly High’s coming to swim here, Damn Daniel is from Poly!’” His math teacher made equations based off Damn Daniel retweets (“If the video was growing at this rate…”). “I have a Spanish teacher that's always teasing me [too],” Daniel says. “Teachers are cool.”
They’re like, ‘You’ve gone Hollywood, you’re famous now, Josh.’ They fuck with me.
Josh, who plays water polo, says he’s taken some harmless heat from teammates. “Water polo is a ruthless sport,” he explains. “And we just rip each other.” Whenever he plays a bad game, “they treat me [like] I'm soft or something. They're like, ‘You've gone Hollywood, you're famous now, Josh.’ They fuck with me.” For the most part though, students treat the guys the same way they always did, with the occasional “you’re rich now”-type remarks. “That kind of pisses me off,” Josh says. “We made a couple of bucks.” (They wouldn’t say how much.)
In public places (usually the mall), the madness has mostly died down: In the early days of Damn Daniel, the guys would stop to take photos with up to 100 fans a day; now it’s more like five. “I haven't declined a person's photo once,” Daniel says. Josh, on the other hand, is known to put his foot down. “Daniel gets sidetracked,” Josh says. “There was this one time when we had to go, and he's taking all the photos and I'm sitting there, like, not even looking at the camera. But [the fans] get it.”
I’ve always seen myself as Daniel. I’ve never seen myself as famous or a celebrity.
Despite the attention, the guys seem unfazed. “I've always seen myself as Daniel. I've never seen myself as famous or a celebrity.” Josh agrees: “You don't want to go anywhere thinking, ‘Oh yeah, I'm famous.’ You could get so much crap for it. We haven't changed that much.” They’re everyday teens who’ve had a unique taste of fame - and they're determined to make the most of it. “I gotta express myself and I'm really creative,” Josh says. While he’s not opposed to college (he’s leaning toward community college), he still hopes to build on the connections he’s made in the past year to keep his artistic momentum going. Same goes for Daniel, although he says college is a “definite” and his backup plan is to study aviation. “Ever since I was a little kid, I was into airplanes,” he says. Josh is surprised. “I never knew that about you,” he says. Daniel says he’s only just started thinking about studying it in the past couple months. “Aviation's dope.”
From there we get a look at Daniel’s bedroom, home to his collection of model airplanes and a mostly neat space, save for his unmade bed. I ask to see inside his closet, which turns out to be surprisingly modest - he does not own as many pairs of sneakers as you might assume (he donated 100 pairs of Vans at the Loma Linda Children's Hospital in California earlier this year). But he does show off a long-sleeved shirt from Kanye’s "Saint Pablo" tour, which Josh asks to buy off him. “I haven’t even worn it to school [yet],” Daniel says.
With that, it’s time for Josh to head home. He has morning swim practice at 5:45 a.m. and our 90-minute interview has only added to an already packed after-school routine. But he has no complaints. “We're blessed,” Josh says. Even if their fame disappears for good? “I was living a perfect teenage life before Damn Daniel,” Daniel says. “I think both Josh and I are content with just living.”
Damn Daniel is part of Cosmopolitan.com’s list of 2016's most fascinating people on the internet. See the rest of the list:
2. Huda Kattan
3. Simone Biles
13. Janice Joostema
Follow Steven on Twitter.
You Might Also Like