Minutes turn into hours inside Wil Heuser’s second-floor office space at the Mellwood Arts Center. The term “office” is too mundane a word, though. It’s more like a mad scientist’s laboratory — or a child’s playroom.
More than two dozen wigs line the wall of one room, facing racks and racks of clothing and a makeshift vanity table hijacked by a heap of accessories — lipstick, blush, eyeliner, foundation, powder, eyeshadow and an occasional glass of wine. Apple-bottom jeans, boots with the fur — the followers of Heuser’s “The Wil Show” are looking at her, or him, or them … whomever he may be portraying at the moment in one of his numerous YouTube videos.
Recently, the 29-year-old is taking on Louisville’s most rich, famous and infamous women in a parody of Bravo’s successful reality series “The Real Housewives.” Nobody is off limits, including his own mother, Peggy Heuser, who has a role in this season.
Other belles behaving badly in the parody are publisher Tracy Beale (formerly Blue), philanthropist Barbra Sexton Smith, retired news anchor Melissa Swan, news anchor Shannon Cogan, writer/editor Angie Fenton, politician Anne Northup, journalist Tara Bassett and jewelry designer Summer Eliason.
Heuser also films parodies of the summer CBS reality competition “Big Brother,” a show he appeared on in 2012. Between the two series, and other one-off comedic videos, he has more than 26,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, and his videos have chalked up more than 4 million views.
Channeling the Spotlight
Heuser says his knack for performing began at a young age. He recalls putting on shows for his parents’ dinner party guests, and his mom even bought him and his brother a small stage where they spent many nights conjuring up characters and re-enacting TV shows and movies.
Throughout his teens and early 20s, Heuser chased his dream of becoming a singer. He had several record deals and lived in various places from L.A. and New York City to Germany. He even appeared on “American Idol” for one episode, but says it wasn’t the best experience. In fact, he recalls Paula Abdul referring to him as “a freak.”
Heuser often had to deal with similar insults growing up, which he believes only made him stronger. Armed with long golden locks, a toned physique and witty sarcasm, he definitely stands out in a crowd. But rest assured, he wants it that way now. Heuser is openly gay and champions for the local LGBTQ community any chance he gets.
Heuser’s parents, Louis and Peggy, own Heuser Health, a health and wellness center that helps Louisvillians lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle. He worked at the center before taking the creative director role at Blue Equity Publishing in 2015, overseeing editorial duties for Modern Louisville magazine. Heuser says he loved what he did with the magazine, but due to creative differences and a somewhat “shifty” working environment, he resigned this spring.
For Heuser, this was merely a bump in the road, as he’s now focusing his energy on building a brand with “The Wil Show” as well as a new business concept he remains tight-lipped about — for now. He says he had an opportunity to move to L.A. recently but turned it down for one simple reason.
“I don’t want to leave Louisville,” he tells Insider. “I love this city. The community is so diverse and unique — there’s a place for everyone here. Louisville has always believed in me, and I believe in it.”
Channeling the Creativity
Heuser films his videos in front of a green screen, allowing him to add in backgrounds and effects during the editing process. He’s a self-taught filmmaker who simply watched and learned from his mentors. When you film two episodes a week, you learn quickly how to get the shots you want.
I dropped in on Heuser last Saturday night as he was filming scenes for his next “Real Housewives” episode. He was applying makeup to portray philanthropist and future Metro Council member Barbara Sexton Smith, who was about to have an emotional scene. She finds out which housewife hit her on purpose with a cane and broke her lady parts at a charity fashion show for high-income East End families who don’t have swimming pools. Got that?
Heuser says he spends hours, sometimes all night, filming an episode, and it’s usually just him, his camera and the green screen. And then, after filming, the grueling editing process starts, which tends to take around 12 hours for one three-minute video.
He gets his comedic inspiration from the people around him and is never afraid to laugh at himself. And although it might seem like he prefers the spotlight, he’s actually an astute observer of human behavior.
“I subconsciously notice little details in everyday life that inspire me,” he explains. “It could be something as simple as my neighbor taking the trash out.”
One of his most famous sketches was a music video parody of mom jeans.
He says the hardest part of filming a one-man, multi-character show is, by far, the makeup — especially eyeliner.
“If the devil is real, I’m confident he created eyeliner,” Heuser jokes. “I do sketches where I play up to 20 different characters, and the makeup application puts my skin through hell.”
Channeling the Housewives
It takes some Louisville Slugger-sized courage to take on our city’s elite, and Heuser has no qualms about offending anyone. It’s comedy, after all, and couldn’t the world use more of that?
“I never film a sketch with the intention of hurting anyone,” says Heuser. “I will admit I sometimes have a bit of apprehension when I parody people, but at the end of the day, impersonation is the highest form of flattery. I only parody people I find interesting, unique and confident in who they are. I usually tend to parody people I admire.”
He believes Louisville is a private city filled with very public people, many of whom are strong, powerful women like the ones in his series. He got the idea after working with several production companies that were interested in filming a reality show in town. None of them ever came to fruition, so he thought he’d try his hand at the concept.
Heuser says most of the feedback he’s received has been positive, and some of the housewives even make cameos in the videos. And while the storylines are often hilarious and absurd, Heuser’s talent for nailing someone’s mannerisms is impeccable.
Even if you aren’t familiar with the housewives of Louisville, they’re destined to become household names thanks to Wil Heuser. His fondness for our city can’t help but shine through.
“I have a fairly large national audience, and it’s been fun giving them a sneak peek at a city — and its people — I love,” he says.
The latest episode of “The Real Housewives of Louisville” just came out, and you can watch it here. Heuser may have put me to work while I interviewed him, so watch out for my brief cameo.