Talking With Andrew Rappo, the Elf from Christmas Cats TV
For three days this December, the internet got to experience the joy of Christmas Cats TV, a 9-to-5 live stream of an elf and a grandmother playing with cats, drinking from a flask, and listening to Christmas classics. How did this come to be? I tracked down the elf to ask him.
In real life the elf is a 22-year-old Hunter College student named Andrew Rappo who lives in Westchester County in New York. He’s currently working part-time at denim company Lucky Brand Jeans, but says he is leaving soon to pursue acting full-time.
Tell me about Christmas Cats TV. How did you hear about this opportunity?
I heard about it on castingnetworks.com — it’s an online resource that posts jobs for actors. It’s about $12 a month but it’s completely worth it, and you can tailor it to only show you jobs that look for certain qualities/characteristics.
What was the description for the position you found? Wanted: Elf, must love cats?
Haha, that would have been great. No, it was more like looking for an actor for a live event. I would be dressing up as a Christmas elf and interacting with a granny and reindeer, and would be playing with several cats throughout the day. Not sure what happened to the reindeer though. When I applied I was actually under the weather and applied simply because I had free time. It was a well-paying gig so I wasn’t expecting that I’d actually hear back.
Can you tell me how much?
Off the record yes. And it was for eight hours a day, for three days. Frankly, I jumped at the chance.
So much more than you make at Lucky, then.
Christmas time was approaching, and some extra money for gifts would be amazingly helpful.
I love getting people the perfect gifts, and this would help me see those smiles come Christmas morning. Frankly I’m excited to see them even more now.
A friend of the network, Katie Notopoulos, posted about you on Buzzfeed after seeing you on the show. She’d probably fall in love with you more after hearing you say that. Did you see that?
I remember the moment when the entire crew burst out laughing and yelled to me “YOU’RE A MEME!!” I loved it. I still love it. And I will always love it. Occasionally I pop back on to see how many shares/likes it has. I can’t thank her enough. I’d love to meet her and give her a bear hug.
That is … maybe likely to happen! Can you tell me about the audition process?
Yes, but can I just say first: I remember when I found Katie’s Twitter account. I spent two days trying to craft a response — I was so nervous. This person did this amazing thing for me, how could I say thanks in 140 characters or less? I was afraid of coming off crazy and having her think, “oh this elf is weird, think I’ll take down the article.”
If you knew Katie, you’d know the weirder the elf, the better.
Well I can say that I’m plenty weird. If I ever do meet her, I got to keep the outfit and I’d be tempted to wear it when I saw her.
I’m sure she’d be into that! Okay, we’re getting off track — the audition!
Yes the audition: giddy, nervous, joy, fear. It was only two hours before the screen-test that I reread the job posting, and saw that there was a wardrobe section. What I had not seen was, Wardrobe: Ugly Christmas sweater, elf hat, elf shoes, jeans. I had one of those things, and I’ll give you three guesses what I didn’t own. I was panicking.
But you are resilient in the face of adversity and found a solution?
I threw on any and all Christmasy colored apparel I had and was on my way. If you look hard enough you can McGyver together any outfit. I had even thought of visiting Urban Outfitters on my way there since they flaunt their collection of ugly Christmas sweaters, but I was on a tight schedule. I arrived at the offices 10 minutes early, because that’s a good sign of professionalism. I walked into the lobby and was met with a beautifully relieving sight: seven grannies knitting. Seven or so men without Christmas sweaters. Hallelujah! It wasn’t just me. Apparently the wardrobe note was what we’d be wearing if we got the job.
What did they have you do?
We had to prepare three personas: overly-enthused, awkward, and disenchanted. These are all within my wheelhouse since that basically describes me at different points in the day. I actually mused and thought of bringing a flask in for the disenchanted persona, and I told them about it, which they loved. That’s how the cat flask came to be. I also Googled bad Christmas jokes.
And they fell in love with you?
That’s what they told me after the fact. Apparently I was exactly what they were looking for. I got the call later that day.
So you got the job — were there rehearsals before the streaming? Or was this all improvised?
It was all improvised. They would give suggestions from off camera via a whiteboard and if we needed to bring up a topic, but all of it was banter. Frankly I was in love with how natural it felt. That granny was very saucy. That was not an act.
I actually got them to give a shoutout to my sister site.
I do believe I remember that! I originally thought it said the owl.
Tell me more about this grandmother — she was terrific.
Oh, the most amazing. Her name was Bettina Paley and she was amazing. From the moment I met her that first day, I thought “now that’s a granny.” We actually only met about 20 minutes before we went live. The live stream was when we had a real conversation for the first time.
You had good chemistry.
Thanks. It was amazingly easy. I’d throw a zing, and she’d toss one right back. I was so happy to be paired with her. Originally our characters weren’t supposed to talk that much, but apparently the crew found it so funny they put on live audio more frequently. There was a guy from North Shore — he was the only one I could see because the rest were blacked out by the lights — I’d always look to him to see if a joke landed. But that granny — I fell in love when we began talking about her torrid love affair with Elvis and the uncomfortable detail she’d get into. I remember a lot of people were leaving the room, and it was because they couldn’t stop laughing.
And the objective was to get the cats adopted?
It was two-fold. To promote adoption for the cats and others at North Shore, and to give them a “forever family.” The second was to promote the Classic Christmas albums available on Amazon. The second was much more subtle. I couldn’t imagine any of the cats not finding families.
And the second objective was because Legacy Recording was sponsoring this?
Yes, to my knowledge. Frankly, I had to resist adopting George, Buster, and Jade on the Spot.
Were those your favorite cats? I should have asked earlier, but you like cats, yes?
I love cats. And dogs as well. Anything that can cuddle you back. The second I have enough financial stability I’m getting a cat or a dog though I’d love both. Those were my favorites mainly because they would hop in my lap and lick my fingers. I had never met a cat that’d do that. Though George was also teething — I have a photo where he’s biting too hard and my face is showing both joy and pain. [See above.]
So this was a positive experience. And the reaction seemed to be positive. My office was distracted by the show, certainly, in a good way. Did this gig help with your decision to leave your job at Lucky and pursue acting full-time?
It was the kick to show me the life I dreamed of. I don’t want to be an actor for fame or riches. I want to do it because you meet the most amazing people, and do the most enjoyable things. And you’re paid to do them! I want to reach the level of fame that makes me “that guy from that thing” and allows me to keep acting and find enough stability while doing so.
Is there a working person out there who you can point to who you aspire to have a similar career to?
Donald Glover. Andy Samberg. These two have almost exactly the types of careers I’d love.
Haha. I don’t know about the rapper part, though — not sure if I have the chops for that. Though if I were a rapper, I’d call myself WhiteNoise.
How did you come up with that?
I came up with that years ago when thinking about rappers names and I thought that’d be the best name.
You know, as we all do! What does your family think about your career ambitions?
When I first started doing this, there was a lot of nay-saying. I love my family
but they’re very realistic. A lot of, “that’d be nice, but let’s not daydream too much,” though that just made me more determined.
Are they giving you any financial support?
Just for college. I’m very much of the mind set that this is my dream and I have to make it my responsibility.
So no student loans?
I’m debt-free. Attending CUNY has been very affordable, so it hasn’t been a great strain. I work at Lucky to make sure the day-to-day bills are mine to handle. I feel guilty having others cover me, and I want to pay my mother back for all she’s given me. I love my family and their amazing support and how they brag about me to their friends — it fills me with happiness and joy.
Well, Andrew, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Any last thoughts?
I wanted to mention the person who gave me the info I needed to start this zany adventure: Jerome Brooks Jr. There’s a sense of secrecy amongst actors when it comes to info. No one wants anyone to get a leg up. But he was kind enough to tell me the resources I needed to get started. It’s also why whenever I meet someone interested in acting I tell them everything I do to help, because we all need to band together and help one another.