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Seriously, Spaz is Snooki´s manager? Whaddaya nuts?

by Ogi Overman

How does a reality TV mega-star choose a minor-league baseball team’s mascot to be her personal manager?

Hint: Appearances are not always what they seem.

Mention the name Danny Mackey around Greensboro and you’re likely to get a blank stare. Then evoke the name of his alter ego and watch the eyes light up as the stares turn into grins of recognition.

Spaz! For the last eight years, Danny has been the mascot of the Greensboro Grasshoppers (his first year they were known as the Bats) and during that span his character has become a part of the fabric of both the team and the town, instantly recognizable as Spaz and equally affable, if a tad less zany, as Danny. And as he is becoming a part of local lore, even out of costume and away from the ballpark, he is often recognized by kids and adults alike. Unlike, say, the San Diego Chicken or the Phillie Phanatic, Spaz is not in a full-body suit, his only real props being a jester’s hat and Grasshoppers jersey with the number 24-7, so his face looks the same on the street as on the ballfield.

“It does happen quite a bit,” he smiled. “It’s not unusual to be in a restaurant of coffee shop or grocery story and hear someone yell out, ‘Spaz!’ It’s kind of neat.”

Now, if the name Danny Mackey is just another phonebook entry on the local level, so too would be Nicole Polizzi on a national scale. But like Spaz, she is known by another name: Snooki. Yes, her, the star of the runaway MTV hit “Jersey Shore.” In three years, Snooki has gone from an anonymous Jersey party girl into a legitimate celebrity, a cultural phenomenon.

But what on earth, one would legitimately ask, other than their alliterative nicknames, do Spaz and Snooki have in common? What possible link would these two disparate folks share, other than being in the public eye, albeit on different levels.

Well, it turns out, they are on virtually the same level, one in the camera’s eye and one behind the scenes. You see,

Danny Mackey has a vocation separate from his avocation. He is a talent agent for Neon Entertainment and, cutting to the chase, he is Snooki’s personal manager.

Danny and Nicole, Spaz and Snooki. Who knew? If you see Snooki on David Letterman or Jimmy Fallon or Regis and Kelli (now just Kelli), chances are that Danny is watching from the wings. He accompanies her on most of her personal appearances, taking care of all the minutia that goes on away from the public view. For the skeptics, he is not your “under assistant West Coast promo man,” he is her one and only manager. If, say, “The Today Show” or “Entertainment Tonight” wants an interview, they go through Danny Mackey.

As unlikely as the pairing may seem on the surface, the backstory puts it all in focus. The two grew up a few miles from each other in Marlboro, NY. While she is several years his junior (he’s 31, she turned 24 on Nov. 23), their families were well acquainted.

“Both our dads were firemen and worked together, so our families have known each other a long time,” he explained. “I was home for Thanksgiving a few years ago and ran into her dad. We were chatting and I told him what I do and said. ‘If you want me to help out I’d be glad to.’ At the time I was thinking this was just another little reality TV show and maybe she’d get a little exposure out of it and make the best of it. I didn’t see it becoming a pop-culture phenomenon and certainly didn’t see her becoming one of the breakout stars of it.”

But, as anyone with cable TV knows, “Jersey Shore” has become not just one of the hottest reality shows or the hottest cable shows but one of the hottest shows, period. Its season four premiere attracted 10.5 million viewers, and it is MTV’s most-watched series ever. Last season followed the escapades of the eight-member cast of real-life friends as they romped, stomped and partied through Florence, Italy, but this year finds them back home in Seaside Heights, NJ. Season five kicks off Jan. 5 and the end is not in sight. And Snooki has clearly emerged as the fan favorite of the outrageous ensemble.

“She’s actually become an international star as a result of the season in Italy,” said Danny. “The show took off in Italy just as it did here, and they fell in love with Nicole.”

This season viewers will get a double dose of Snooki, as MTV has developed a spin-off series around her and best friend Jenni “JWoww” Farley. It will begin filming early next year and air for 12 weeks later in 2012.

“It just keeps building momentum,” said Danny. “A lot of people thought her 15 minutes of fame would’ve come and gone, but she’s proven them wrong and continues to do so.”

Part of the Snooki persona is that of a ditzy party girl more interested in her tan than the world around her. But Danny, who’s known her since childhood, swears that the TV Snooki and the real-life Nicole are not quite one and the same. As evidence he points to the two books she’s written, a novel titled A Shore Thing and her recent autobiography, Confessions of a Guidette.

“She’s a lot more aware than people think,” he maintained. “Sure, she has that Italian heritage and is feisty, but she has a great tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and ability to make light of situations. She’s really tuned in to what people her age think and like, and has a very good sense of fashion and trends.

“I can tell you she has really taken charge of her career. She has done cameos in two movies this year, a Three Stooges movie and a comedy with Halle Berry, and we’re negotiating about a feature-length movie. So she’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”

As if further proof be needed, much of Danny’s work the past year has been developing her brand, not as a persona but a commodity. She has introduced her own line of products which includes perfume (Snooki by Nicole Polizzi), jewelry, sunglasses, purses and slippers and will add bronzer and tanning lotion in time for Christmas.

“She was on the Home Shopping Network and in two hours sold out the sunglasses, perfume, slippers and only had a few purses left,” said Danny. “Her fans are so loyal, they’re already Facebooking and Tweeting about them even before they come out. But even if you’re not a fan of her or of ‘Jersey Shore’ I challenge people to go try the products. They’re so unique and great, I think if you try them you’re going to like them.”

Danny’s life has changed in much the same way as his friend and client’s, albeit behind the scenes.

“What I do is put the team together,” he noted. “I’m the guy who organizes all the people involved — the publicist, the stylist, the agent, the licensing and branding folks, the book agent, the voiceover people, the entertainment press — and makes sure we’re all on the same team. It’s hectic and there’s a lot of travel involved and I’m on the phone constantly. There is a bit of stress sometimes but generally because there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. Fortunately, because of the way TV schedules run, my busy seasons are fall and winter and I’ve been able to work it around my job with the club. That’s really my fun job and I don’t want to give that up.”

Danny’s career as a professional mascot took root while he was a student at Greensboro College, when he auditioned for a spot with the short-season rookie Hudson Valley Renegades in Fishkill, NY. He didn’t get the job, but he did get an unofficial job as a “crowd motivator” who ran around in the stands acting crazy.

“By the third inning the PA announcer nicknamed me ‘Spaz’ and the crowd seemed to enjoy it, so I did it the rest of the summer,” he recalled. “I went back to school and they called me and asked me to do it again the next summer, except they’d pay me this time. I liked that.”

Following graduation from Greensboro College with a degree in history and political science, he took a job locally as a merchandiser with Pepsi but wanted to keep his character alive, so he set up interviews with the minor-league clubs in Greensboro, Winston- Salem and Burlington.

“I left the interview with the Bats at the time thinking I didn’t make much of an impression on them,” he admitted. “But I left a scrapbook with them and the next day [Club President] Donald Moore called me and said let’s do lunch. We chatted awhile and he pretty much hired me on the spot.”

The team was then in its final year at War Memorial Stadium, and to help build excitement for the new downtown ballpark, now NewBridge Bank Park, the following year, Danny, as Spaz, pitched a tent for three days in front of the ticket office. That’s when his character really took off.

“We got a lot of exposure out of that,” he grinned. “The last night a bunch of people joined me and Channel 2 [WFMY TV2] did a remote from there and [meteorologist] Eric Chilton let me do the weather with him.”

As Spaz was becoming part of the allure of the new ballpark, he was also furthering his education, earning a master’s degree from Gonzaga University in organizational leadership. He also went to work as an administrator at his alma mater, Greensboro College

“I’m really not an idiot,” he quipped. “I only play one on the field.”

One person who has seen both the man and his character evolve is PA announcer Jim Scott, who has been the team’s voice for 16 years.

“It takes a certain hubris to get up there and do what he does,” said Scott, who has the most recognizable voice in the Triad from his radio, commercial and voiceover work. “He has an amazing rapport with the fans, but it didn’t happen from day one. But he found his rhythm very quickly and we were clicking in a matter of a few days.”

Over the years the two have become not only hand-in-glove partners during the games but best of friends away from the ballyard.

“He’s such a kind soul,” said Jim, who is the creative services director for Entercom Communications. “The only people he’d ever want to see sad are mean people and Red Sox fans.

“People don’t realize how hard he works,” he continues. “He doesn’t let on if he’s exhausted, his stamina is remarkable. Charlie Harville told me one time that regardless of whether there’s one person or 10,000 in the stands, the show’s the same, and Danny understands that. Even through the dogs days of August, he’s giving it all he’s got, every half-inning, all the way to saying good-bye to the fans as they’re leaving.”

(Clockwise from top) Spaz and a young fan lead cheers. Nicole showing Danny´s alma mater some love while in Greensboro for a visit last fall. The cover of Snooki´s new book. Snooki, Danny and Scott Talarico, president of Neon Entertainment, at RIR in September. Spaz surveying his domain. Danny Mackey and PA announcer Jim Scott are best friends on and off the field.

This year, however, those dog days turned from playing out the string to playing for a league title. Given up for dead, the Grasshoppers staged comeback after comeback to not only make it into the South Atlantic League playoffs but win the first round and then the championship, all in dramatic fashion. Althoughtheir offi cial duties were over after thefi nal home game, the two followed the team onthe road during the playoffs.“It’s not so much that they won but howthey won,” raved Danny. “We were behind inalmost every game and found a way to rallydown the stretch, several times during the lastat-bat.”Moore understands the value Spaz adds tothe event.“He’s an integral part of what we do here,”said Moore. “We are selling an entertainmentexperience, a fun, inexpensive night out. Wehave kids who come out to see Miss BabeRuth and Yogi [his two black lab batboys] andpose for pictures with Spaz after the game. Heand Jim Scott work so well together with allour between-innings promotions, it really doesenhance the experience.”Perhaps the reason Danny is able to jugglehis dual responsibilities so successfully has todo with his outlook on life.“I don’t take any of this for granted,” hesaid. “This whole thing with Snooki could endtomorrow and I’d be able to look back withno regrets. And every night at the ballpark Irealize how lucky I am to be here among thesefans, many of whom have become my friends.“I don’t work for a living, I play for a living.I encourage everybody to play at their occupation.”The Greensboro Grasshoppers’ fi rst 2012home game is Thursday, April 5 against theLexington Legends.

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