Charles Ross never meant to harm anyone when he walked up to strangers outside a movie theater in Bradenton, Fla., grabbed the top of their pants, and gave them a wedgie. But he was realistic about the prospect that his victims might just get a little uptight about it.
He had thought that his prank would fit in well with the catalogue of Jackass-style stunts that he has filmed and uploaded to YouTube over the past year or so—a collection that he says he created simply to raise a chuckle.
But as a sheriff’s deputy bundled him into a cruiser following a complaint from an unimpressed male moviegoer, he realized that his underpants gag had backfired.
“It ended up not being one of my best jokes,” Ross admits in a phone call with The Daily Beast one day after being released from the county jail on $750 bond and charged with battery. “But it was kind of fun while it lasted.”
The police document from Sunday night is less forgiving: “Ross began grabbing people by their pants and pulling them up, causing discomfort,” it states. “Ross then challenged the victim asking if he wanted to hit him.”Several other victims came forward but were “too embarrassed” to file statements, the report noted.
Ross, 18, cedes that whatever his intentions, he did wrong—albeit in a way that amused him. Now facing a blot on his record that could haunt his future career prospects, he takes comfort in the fact that while he has caused upset and scorn among many, he has also brought a smile to others.
“I like making people laugh. I like providing entertainment,” he says. “But I like to do things that are funny to everybody, that’s what I prefer, not just to the viewers and me. I think I need to concentrate on that more.”
As a result of his arrest on Sunday night, and the ensuing publicity, the number of visitors to his YouTube site, RossCreations, climbed by more than 50,000 in a single day Tuesday, taking his total viewership close to 5 million. He’s now something of a local celebrity in the city of Bradenton, some 50 miles south of Tampa.
“Very funny stuff. These morons going on about assault and calling you a loser makes it better,” one fan commends him on his Facebook page, beneath a link to a nearly two-and-a-half-minute video named “Kissing Strangers” —a production that requires little further explanation. Its victims include several bikini-clad women on a Bradenton beach, as well as dumbstruck males.
“This is the type of thing that gets him in trouble sometimes,” sighs his mother, Kristen, 43, a lack of surprise in her voice as she tells how she received a telephone call from a cousin—Ross’s videographer—on Sunday evening, informing her that they had run into a bit of trouble with law enforcement.
“We’ve had lots of conversations with him about it, his father and I, about respecting and honoring other people and property, but this was a decision he made that he knows has consequences. It was done in fun but it got out of hand,” Kristen says.
“When we heard he was in custody, we left him there. We’ve told him if this happens, it’s his choice.”
Among Ross’s favorite videos is “I Trust You,” in which he is seen walking up to random strangers, turning his back toward them, stretching his arms out sideways, and challenging them to catch him as he falls backward. All but one of those he approaches are still too busy processing what is going on (the only words he utters as he approaches them is “I trust you”) to catch him in time, leaving him to crash to the ground plank-style. In other staged pranks, he is seen dressed as a pink pig, running up to people, then leaping onto their backs and clamping on tight; depositing himself in the laps of strangers sitting on park benches; and performing handstands that straddle the bodies of dozing sunbathers.
Many of Ross’s stunts are more about prompting shock, awe, or plain bewilderment among passersby than they are about victimizing or humiliating them. One video shows him diving in the driver’s-side window of a truck waiting at a traffic signal, then hurling himself out the passenger-side window before the occupant has a chance to fathom what happened. Athletically and acrobatically gifted, he runs through streets in his underpants, turning flips off cars and tree trunks, jumping off bridges, or performing daring handstands on high parapets.
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the wedgie incident is not the first time that law enforcement has taken a dim view of Ross’s antics around town. Previously, he says, officers have simply sent him on his way with a word of warning, sometimes even a smile.
“Charles Ross is known to go around Manatee County and create situations in order to harass and annoy people while filming it and then putting it on YouTube,” states the arrest report from Sunday night.
Ross describes himself as an “entertainer” focused on “comedy and awesomeness,” though he is also a business and marketing student at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. Far from the tearaway image he projects, he attended a Christian school, lives with his parents—who own an auto repair business—and attends church regularly. “Believe it or not, I really do enjoy praying for people a lot,” he says.
His mother and father are also marriage and parenting coaches at Marriage and Family Works, a Bradenton nonprofit dedicated to “building strong families.” In the case of their own family—they have three children including Charles—the wedgie incident is being viewed as a teachable moment.
“The biggest thing right now is that he realizes this went too far and affected someone in a way that made them angry, and he has to be more sensitive. I think he’s upset that he got someone so mad and didn’t make them laugh,” says his mother.
“He’s got kids everywhere following him so we’ve had conversations saying, ‘These are kids who are watching you, kids who look up to you.’ He knows that. Now he’s got this on his record and hopefully he will find a way of making something good out of it.”