'I never say it anymore': Nek Minnit guy on life after his viral catchphrase

This story was first published in April 2019.

Levi Hawken's life changed forever the day he and his friends found a broken scooter in an Otago park in 2011.

Just a few months later he'd be an international meme, and now he's about to head to California to film a short documentary about his rise to fame.

As part of Fad Week, which explores pop cultural artefacts of fleeting popularity, the skateboarder spoke to The Project about how he and his friends created the video that would launch a thousand memes. 

"We were just skating, filming and I found this broken scooter and I did an impersonation of the kid whose scooter it was," Hawken explained.

"I was like, the poor kid, 'left my scooter outside the dairy, nek minnit'. My friend just cracked up and said 'we've got to film that'."

The 10-second clip was uploaded to YouTube in May, but it didn't catch on until it was reposted three months later. Suddenly Hawken and his catchphrase were the subject of countless tributes, parodies and spinoffs, an experience he says was "crazy".

"I didn't know what going viral was. It was quite new. I was just like, 'Someone's put that on the internet, that's pretty cool, everybody's loving it'.

"But there was no one to go, 'Hey man you should try and grab that and make some money off it'. So it just kind of went."

He did make some money off his creation, including one commercial partnership he's particularly proud of.

"I made an ad for lube. I reached my pinnacle, then I was like 'what do I do now?' So I just went back to skateboarding and doing art."

As for the now-iconic remark 'nek minnit', it was already part of Hawken's vocabulary when it became famous.

"I used it all the time. I never say it anymore, but I used it all the time back then. It was my go-to."

He says people still come up to him and say the phrase, eight years after the video.

"Daily. Multiple times daily. I get shout outs. This guy came up to me in the supermarket, he came up behind me and goes 'are you the nek minnit?'"

Hawken is still skateboarding and living much as he did before he was famous. He says he doesn't have any regrets, even though he could have profited more from his creation.

"Everyone's like 'you should have made more money', but at the end of the day you've just got to let it go. It's organic."

He's not sure if he'd recommend seeking viral fame as a career.

"The trouble is you don't know what's going to go viral, it's completely organic. It might be the last thing you want to go viral."

You can donate to MEME Me: The Secret Life of Levi Hawken here.