KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Women throw themselves at him. Angry West Virginians want to string him up by his toenails.
A stroll through a parking lot leads to marriage proposals. A scroll through Facebook turns up death threats.
Life with The Mask is a lot of things. But boring? Boring isn’t one of them.
“It’s cool how it went from nothing and then, within a couple of days, it was like this big, big thing,” says Ashley Garetson, The Mask’s better half. “But it gets kind of frustrating sometimes. You’re trying to have dinner, and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you’re The Mask!’ It’s starting to happen a lot more now that people are recognizing ‘him’ without the mask.”
Without the mask, he’s Craig Rose, a 26-year-old southern Illinois native, a retired Army vet who served two tours in Iraq. Kansas State’s most famous fan — actor Eric Stonestreet notwithstanding — actually didn’t grow up sipping on Wildcat purple, adopting the team a few years back while stationed at nearby Fort Riley. When post-traumatic stress disorder ended his military career, he took medical retirement and decided to settle in Manhattan on a permanent basis.
“When I moved here, I knew about K-State sports beforehand,” says Rose, better known on YouTube as ‘The K-State Mask,’ whose beloved Wildcats, ranked No. 2 in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings, visit Texas Christian this weekend. “And I did always kind of pull for K-State on the national scene.”
This fall, he’s become a rather entertaining, if occasionally controversial, part of the local one. As of late early Monday afternoon, The Mask’s YouTube channel had 3,088 subscribers, while his videos — produced by 502 Media Group, a Manhattan-based video and web production company — had received 1,057,820 views.
The short segments usually feature Rose’s Mask alter ego — think Bobby “The Brain” Heenan meets R. Lee Ermey — replete with a silver-and-purple K-State mask, talking to the camera directly or interacting with an assortment of characters associated with the Wildcats’ upcoming football opponent. They’re the brainchild of Blade Mages, creative director at 502 Media Group, who “discovered” Rose’s character in August when a friend sent him a video of The Mask that Garetson had shot and initially put up on YouTube as a lark.
“And it was funny, and it was inspirational, and it was serious, and it was this roller-coaster ride,” Mages says. “For this guy to captivate me for two-and-a-half minutes is very rare.”
The YouTube segments offer politically incorrect and satirical jabs at the Wildcats’ rivals, with Rose’s character usually addressing the other team’s fan base directly. A video previewing the Kansas game had The Mask taunting a chicken plumed in Jayhawk red and blue. The video preceding the West Virginia game, posted October 16, featured more hillbilly stereotypes than an episode of “Hee-Haw” — even climaxing with a musical number.
Mountaineers fans and officials didn’t take kindly to the joke, prompting Kansas State president Kirk Schultz to distance himself and his university from the sentiments therein. And Rose says he recently received a letter warning him of a possible copyright infringement, so he’s changed his Twitter handle from ‘KStateMask’ to ‘TheWildcatMask.’
“Trash-talking needs to, sort of, be at a family level,” Schultz told West Virginia’s MetroNews Network. “I think some of this just went overboard.”
Yeah, well, The Mask does tend to do that — in or out of character. Garetson says Rose is the same guy in private as he is when the cameras start rolling: Intense.
“(He’s) exactly like The Mask, honestly,” Garetson says. “He’s always, like, in this pumped-up mood, because he’s a retired vet . . . he acts just like The Mask. He’s just as funny. He’s always joking around. It’s ridiculous.”
Rose, who honed his stage chops performing stand-up comedy around the area, admits that he grew up a ham, and that he never shied away from a chance to perform. Or debate. The dude’s got a tattoo of The Brain — as in, from the cartoon “Pinky and The Brain” — on his forearm, an inside joke from his military days up in Alaska.
“(My roommate) would ask, ‘What are going to do tonight?'” The Mask says. “And I told him: ‘The same thing we do every night — try to take over the world.’ Got drunk. Went to a tattoo parlor.”
And that, apparently, was that. Rose’s family is used to his impulsive streaks, but when showed his mother The Mask’s YouTube channel for the first time, her jaw darn near hit the floor.
“Her first thought was, ‘Oh my God, what have you done?'” The Mask recalls. “She said, ‘Are you getting paid to do this?’ I said, ‘Well, no, not these videos, but I’m getting paid for other stuff.’ She said, ‘I always knew you were going to be famous for something, but I thought it would be robbing a bank or something.’ “
Love ya, Ma!
Fortunately for Rose, K-State players have proven to be a little more bemused by The Mask’s online antics than university officials.
“It’s cool,” Wildcats wideout Chris Harper says. “It’s something different. It’s always good to see something different. You always see the other stuff with Willie (The Wildcat) and stuff like that. But it’s cool to see it. We don’t play it in the locker room for motivation or anything like that, but, you know, it’s something funny that’s a different take on the games. But it is funny to watch.”
Watching it is funny, sure. But living with it? Living with it often borders on the surreal.
Garetson sighs as she recalls this exchange: The couple found themselves walking through a lot adjacent to Bill Snyder Family Stadium last month when a young woman, clearly tipsy, stumbled over to them.
“Will you marry me?” she asked Rose.
“I’m already engaged,” replied The Mask, realizing that the woman clearly didn’t see him holding Ashley’s hand.
“I don’t care.”
“Um, I’m already engaged,” he said, nodding toward Ashley again, still there.
“So are you going to marry me?”
“Um, yeah, I don’t know,” he said, looking at Ashley for help.
Advice. Protection. Something. Anything.
“Well,” Ashley whispered. “You better say, ‘No.'”
They moved on. The Mask, after all, is one-woman kind of dude.
“He said a guy tried to kiss him,” Ashley recalls. “Some girl was driving by, asking for a picture, and some guy tried to kiss him. But it’s fun. We laugh about it. It’s a little weird thing, but now, looking back, it’s all humorous to us.”
Whether you’re laughing with him or at him, Rose doesn’t much care; he’s going to ride the viral wave as long as the crest will hold him. And until his 15 minutes are officially up, The Mask will be doing the same thing tonight that he does every night:
Trying to take over the world. One video at a time.