COALPORT - By all looks and appearances, Bobby Lee and "Coalport Carl" are one in the same.
With a bald head and long beard, Lee grew up in nearby Van Ormer and lives in Coalport with his wife and kids. He is short and stout, mild-mannered and eloquent. He can often be found out riding his motorcycle - something he has more time to do since being laid off from his office job.
You might also find Lee out at the one or two bars he likes in town, usually only if there is a good band playing.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
“Coalport Carl,” aka Bobby Lee, drinks one down at the bar. The 43-year-old former office worker created the trash-talkin’, odd-jobbin’, heavy drinking character to entertain friends at parties.
But place a camouflage baseball cap or skull-embellished do-rag on his head a certain way, strap on his motorcycle goggles and sit him down in front of one particular window in his house. Draw the blinds drawn. Turn on the lights. Turn off the phone. No interruptions.
For a few minutes each week, Lee will turn into "Coalport Carl" - the trash talkin', odd jobbin' and heavy-drinkin' character he created that has turned Lee into somewhat of a local celebrity.
"Coalport Carl" started years ago as a bit to entertain friends at parties. But for the past 20 weeks, Lee has been uploading 5- to 7-minute clips of the character on YouTube after being urged by his friends.
The first "Meet Coalport Carl" on video has more than 12,500 views.
"I'm very surprised with how it caught on," Lee, 43, said. "Even when I watch the videos each week, I think what are they getting out of this? I don't find myself funny. I don't get what's so interesting about it. I don't know what makes people tick."
Lee may not know what it is, but something has kept thousands of people watching the "Coalport Carl" series when a new video is uploaded each Friday. As the character sits in the same spot, drinking the same mixture of beer and liquor, he will visit a variety of topics - having touched on everything from the economy to AC/DC.
Lee is now printing Carl's slogan - getting "Blastit," aka getting drunk - on T-shirts, which have been demanded and worn by fans. But Lee said some of his loyal followers might be surprised to know he maybe goes out once a month, never drinking to the point of embodying Carl's slogan.
In the videos each week, he drinks water out of that beer bottle and takes shots of iced tea.
"I'm not a drinker, I'm not a partier," Lee said. "I have four kids and I have a wife. It's just not me, it's not even my demeanor. ... When I go out, I might have four beers on a good night. That's generally it."
Coalport Carl claims mechanics as one of his many specialties in his "odd jobbin," but Lee has no idea how to change a spark plug. The only odd job Lee has really done was cutting grass after he was laid off from working as an office assistant for Comcast after 11 years.
"I don't know how to do anything Carl knows how to do," Lee said. "He's really not real, or I'm really not him, that's for sure."
Lee said he based Carl on the people he knew growing up or local people he has met. So even though Carl may not be real, Lee said he is certainly "based on reality here in town."
"If you go into a bar on a Saturday night here in Coalport and you watch maybe three people for two hours, you're going to see those three people become Coalport Carl," he added. "You're going to see the guy nodding off in the bar. You're going to see the guy who is loud and obnoxious and knows everything about everything. You're going to see the guy who can't stop talking about hunting and fishing no matter what else you try to talk about. You put those three people together, and there's Carl. That's how he became who he became."
Lee gets responses to his videos from people across the country. Of his 2,500 Facebook fans, he said he thinks that only about half of them know Carl is just a character.
"There are some people from town who talk to me about how I cast a negative light on town," Lee said. "But I mean, realistically speaking, if you take a walk through Coalport, I'm not what's the real problem with Coalport. There are problems here, I'll admit, but I'm not it."
Randall Wilson, the director of information technology for WTAJ and a high school friend of Lee's, agreed that Carl is harmless to Coalport's image. In fact, Wilson asked Lee if Coalport Carl could endorse him in his campaign for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 73rd district.
"I said he has a lot more likes [on Facebook] than I have on my political page," Wilson said.
When he first found out that Lee was Coalport Carl, Wilson said he wasn't surprised.
"He's one of those people who can take on a bunch of different personas," Wilson said of Lee. "I'm actually very happy for him. Of all the people that I've known, [the attention] is well-deserved. I don't know how long it will last, but that doesn't matter. He's having fun with it and people are enjoying it."
But Wilson also knows Lee as a mild-mannered guy who rarely drinks, and is a fantastic cook.
"I know that every time he's been around me that Coalport Carl is the exact opposite of what Bobby Lee is," Wilson added.
Carl has just recently started making public appearances at local events and parades. Lee said it can sometimes be difficult to keep up the act for hours at a time.
"But even in Irvona, which is five miles from home where everybody knows me, that day I was Carl to everybody who came up to me," Lee said of a recent appearance.
Lee is regularly stopped at the grocery store for pictures or autographs. People will sit down at his table and talk to him at bars and restaurants, sometimes buying him rounds of beers that he will leave untouched.
Lee's wife, Kelly, said she's "getting used to it."
"It's starting to get fun," said Kelly Lee, 43, originally of Altoona. "He seems to be enjoying it, so I think he should continue to go on."
Despite this, Lee almost stopped the series a few weeks ago because of a drop in the number of views. He thought it was due to a lack of interest, so Coalport Carl made the announcement on his Facebook page.
"But I got such a huge response, a huge rush of people begging me not to," Lee said. "So then I announced I wouldn't stop for now. ... As long as people were interested and I'm able and have time, I'll keep doing it."
Lee's future plans are to continue to look for work, cook barbecue chicken for his family and do anything he can to help people himself or through his alternate persona.
As for Carl, he'll continue to get "Blastit" for fans every Friday.
"I may trademark it," Lee said of the slogan.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.