Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo has taken several innovative approaches to fighting COVID-19.
In March, at the very start of the pandemic, he hopped into a city van and rode along Revere Beach with a bullhorn to warn crowds about the outbreak and the importance of social distancing. Later, the city put together a series of personal videos from survivors of the deadly virus to underscore its risks.
Now, officials are relying on a more lighthearted method of boosting public awareness: by reprising the role of a satirical character from a popular YouTube video that’s nearly a decade old.
Last week, Arrigo shared a video on Facebook of “Frankie Fannabla,” a fictional Revere resident with an exaggerated regional accent and mannerisms, getting a COVID-19 swab at the city’s testing site at Suffolk Downs.
“Be like Frankie Fannabla, don’t hug your cousin,” the mayor wrote, recalling one of Fannabla’s punchlines from the video. “While you’re at it wear a mask! Why, no!?”
For the uninitiated, Fannabla — real name Dean Paskos — first appeared in a faux-commercial for the Revere Flea Market in 2012. The video was meant to promote a dinner theater show called “The Wicked Real Housewives of the Mob,” which featured Fannabla. But when the zany clip was plucked from its obscure corner of the Internet and viewed nearly 200,000 times, it became something of a mock-advertisement for Revere itself.
In the original video, Fannabla used the catchphrase “Why, No?” as his Pauly D-meets-local-tough-guy character bounced around the wares at the city’s flea market, trying to convince viewers to come down and buy items like $10 “dungarees,” a nightgown “for yah mudda,” and duct tape at reasonable prices.
Where did the merchandise come from?
“Fuhgedda-boudit,” Fannabla says.
With its techno music soundtrack and quotable one-liners laden with a Boston accent, the ad left a definite impression, serving as an early example of how these types of quirky videos that poked fun at the region’s dialect could unexpectedly go viral.
For that reason, Arrigo and his emergency response team had the brainstorm to bring Fannabla back as an unlikely spokesman for pandemic precautions. They’d delivered a series of more serious public announcements already. But this time they hoped his revival would help their message stand out while also bringing levity to a community that’s been particularly hard-hit by the virus.
“We had a small huddle of folks who said, ‘How can we provide a little bit of comic relief? Do we do a funny TikTok video, do we do something a little bit outside of the box?’ ” Arrigo recalled. “Then it was, ‘We need the flea market guy!’ It was a catchy way to provide the same message and be consistent with the message that we’ve had, but also do it in a way that’s different.”
The latest clip features Fannabla wearing a “cough catcher” that reads “Why, No?!” as he dances around at the testing site. While there, he implores viewers to get a “schnoz swab” and avoid hugging their cousins.
“The lahge group gatherin’ malarky has to stop. Our numbahs are goin’ back up, and you gotta be able to protect ya mudda,” he says.
The video’s launch seems to have had Arrigo’s desired effect: As of Monday, the COVID-19 PSA had been viewed more than 1,700 times on Twitter. On Arrigo’s official Facebook page, where people fondly recalled the 2012 video, it was shared more than 150 times.
In response to Fannabla’s unexpected return, one person wrote beneath Arrigo’s post that the “Kid’s a legend.”
Another quipped, “I now really miss the Reve-ah flea market.”
Someone else asked where they could get the black face mask worn by Fannabla.
Arrigo said regionally, people appreciate the personalities that have come out of Revere.
“And Frankie Fannabla certainly embodies some of the personalities that the city of Revere has,” he said.
Paskos, 27, said he was happy to dust off his sideways cap and gaudy sunglasses to help get the word out about the coronavirus testing site and the importance of wearing a mask. As a former Revere resident (he lives in nearby Everett), Paskos saw it somewhat as a civic duty.
“I was like, ‘Of course I’ll do it,’ ” said Paskos, an on-boarding consultant at a restaurant technology company. “For one, it’ll be fun. It’ll be an absolute blast. Two, I think it’s very important.”
Although it’s been years since he has stepped in front of a camera or done any acting, Paskos said it was easy to channel his former role as the outlandish Revere teen.
“Frankie is always going to be a part of me,” he said.
But the point of accepting the gig after such a long hiatus wasn’t to recapture the original Internet buzz. It was to encourage people to get tested in hopes of curbing the virus’s spread.
“That’s the whole reason we did it in the first place,” he said. “If it’s something that’s able to make a difference, it would be awesome.”