Matt Bellassai and Nat Smith

“Whine About It” sensation Matt Bellassai (at left) answers a question from UMSL Student Life intern Nat Smith in front of a sold-out crowd March 22 in the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. (Photos by Abbie Rudolph).

Just prior to walking out on stage in front of hundreds of fellow students and St. Louisans, Nat Smith breathed a sigh of relief upon learning that Matt Bellassai was feeling nervous too.

“It really helped that he was just as nervous as I was,” said Smith, a senior liberal studies major at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “Neither one of us had spoken in front of that many people before.”

As part of an internship with UMSL’s Office of Student Life, Smith served as moderator of “An Evening with Matt Bellassai” at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center March 22. The event drew a sold-out crowd to the large Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall, with attendees eager to see the star of the wildly popular “Whine About It” series.

“I want to say thank you so much,” Bellassai told the audience near the end of the event. “This was my first college show.”

As Smith peppered the Internet sensation with questions, Bellassai opened up about all sorts of topics, ranging from his battles with New York squirrels to his college years and the beginnings of “Whine About It.”

Bellassai selfies

Cecelia Abshire, a graduate student in UMSL’s higher education program, snaps a selfie with comedian Matt Bellassai during his campus visit last week.

“My senior year of college I was a mess, as you do, and I got really into internet-y culture,” said the Chicago native, adding that he had no idea what he wanted to do upon graduating from Northwestern University. Eventually he landed a gig as a comedy writer for “Buzzfeed,” and things took off from there. When asked what expectations he had for “Whine About It” when he first began the weekly series, Bellassai laughed that he had exactly none.

“Every week it got bigger and bigger and bigger, and then I was like, oh, [now] I have to do it,” he said. While he intends to continue the videos, shows like the one at UMSL – along with podcasts, writing and even a TV show – are also on his list looking ahead.

Smith, who had crowd-sourced some of the questions ahead of time, pushed for his take on all things Midwest and particularly the food phenomenon that is gooey butter cake. Bellassai expressed some real enthusiasm for the latter.

“I did [enjoy it] – I ate it in bed,” he said. “It was great. I didn’t know what I was experiencing, but it was good.”

He also endorsed jeggings, something Smith noted unfortunately “happens a lot in the Midwest.”

“I’m basically wearing jeggings right now,” was Bellassai’s quick response to Smith’s skepticism about the trend. “Look at how tight these pants are.”

Oprah Winfrey got a lot of love from Bellassai over the course of the evening, with the comedian listing Winfrey as the one person he would want to have dinner with if he could choose. Winfrey’s recent interviews with individuals such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter came up.

“I think I want to do that,” Bellassai said. “I want to head out into a forest clearing, set them down in a folding chair and say, ‘Tell me your secrets.'”

Bellassai struck attendees and event organizers as hilariously self-deprecating throughout his campus visit, despite a mass following and accolades such as his recent Favorite Social Media Star win at the 2016 People’s Choice Awards in Los Angeles.

“I enjoyed the conversations we had before, during and after the show,” Smith said of the experience. “His ability to stay humble and laugh at himself was really inspiring.”

When Smith asked Bellassai to describe the worst date he’s ever been on, he proceeded to recount several situations that had the entire audience shaking with laughter.

“I was in love with my straight best friend through most of college,” Bellassai said before launching into the anecdotes. “I was also one of those people who was like, ‘Oh, I like you. Why don’t I make an absolute fool of myself?'”

Reflecting on the campus event afterward, Smith expressed gratitude for the rare opportunity to play a role in the evening as well as gladness about the presence of several recent UMSL guests.

“This semester the Office of Student Life has brought two LGBTQIA+ celebrities to campus, something I am so appreciative of,” Smith said. “Having the opportunity to meet individuals who are part of the very small representation of that community in the media has meant so very much to me.”

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill

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Triton Leaders Allison Lendman, Ashley Schauwecker and Cole McWilliams take a seat in the newly wrapped, UMSL-branded red golf cart outside the Millennium Student Center.