Nugget Man

The poultry prophet Ander Christensen needs no introduction to Lincoln residents. The biggest story in Nebraska came from the Lincoln City Council as Christensen gave his viral speech on the national travesty that is boneless wings. 

Christenson, a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a chemical engineer at Vajra Instruments Inc., went viral overnight. The video was covered by almost every single major media outlet, from The New York Times to The Washington Post. But not many have covered the story of the man behind the moniker.

The Daily Nebraskan had the opportunity to speak with Ander Christensen and discuss his plans for the future, the presence of faith in his life and his pursuit of happiness.

With all the media coverage surrounding your speech, how many media outlets have been in contact with you? How is your email inbox holding up?

Oh, it's great. Actually, I love it. I'm glad that I made an email for saucy nugs on the first day instead of having things go through my regular inbox. Otherwise, this would have been brutal. I've been contacted by Gizmodo, Washington Post, New York Times and I've been on two different Irish radio stations. Apparently they really like wings. Canada has been blowing up my phone as well. It’s mostly just radio stations in Canada, and for some reason, they all thought it was hilarious.

When you suddenly get shoved into the public spotlight, there’s definitely going to be elements of fame you don’t expect. Did you experience anything unexpected?

I think there’s a lot of things funny about this situation. Everything's a bell curve, right? Some people find it so dang funny that they sent me emails saying they wanted to marry me. But then you also get some people who just did not find it funny at all. And the thing that I liked most about it is it wasn't just right wing people or left wing people exclusively. Both sides had some people that thought I was terrible. The right wing people are like, “This guy is a non-tax-paying hippie and he's wasting government time.” And in the far left wing people who think that it wasn't funny were like, “And he's a racist and he's a homophobe and he's trying to silence Black voices.” And I'm like, “I was trying to do none of those things.” If both extremes hate me, then I must be pretty good in the middle.

The gag video with you and Scott Frost was hilarious. How did they get in contact with you?

Interestingly enough, the guy who's in charge of their social media team reached out to me on just about every platform you can imagine, which is weird, because I haven't gotten LinkedIn messages before, and I suddenly was getting LinkedIn messages. It’s completely bizarre. He reached out in multiple ways asking me and saying that, “Normally there’s a 5 p.m. news dump on Fridays for sports, and we got nothing. So we’re wondering if you could come in and do something?” So, I went in and I told him that I don’t want to do anything if it isn’t going to end up a little bit funny. I asked him if there was a way to get Scott Frost for the video and he was thinking the exact same thing. Frost came up, said the one thing you’re supposed to say and walked on out, and I did my thing.

It’s funny you mention your LinkedIn, because I was going through that before this interview and saw that you had graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. How did you first get involved in that field?

When I was 19, I moved to China for a while, and I didn’t know what I was going to do for college. When I came back to America, I knew that I liked chemistry, I want to be an engineer; chemical engineering here we go. It wasn’t something I grew up being super passionate about, it was just something where I knew that I had to do something with my life so I might as well do something that’ll make some money.

What got you to China, and what made you end up working there?

I was doing missionary work with my church. Do you know the guys that wear the white shirts and the ties and they knock on your door and you pretend that you’re not home? That was me, except I was doing it in Chinese. So I was speaking Cantonese and a bit of Mandarin, but my Mandarin isn’t very good.

When looking through your job experience and what you just described to me, it seems like faith has been a large part of your life for a long time.

Faith absolutely is a big part of my life. I do have to say that my faith had absolutely nothing to do with my love for chicken wings, but for sure it has taken up a big portion of my life. I think that faith is a framework. I think that people give religion a really bad rap sometimes because they feel like it’s this thing that compulses people to try and impose their beliefs on other people. I don’t see it that way. I see that everybody sins. I can’t be mad at you for sinning differently than I do. The only thing that I can do is try to be a good influence in people’s lives and say, “This is what has worked for me and this is what helps me.”

When and where did the idea for your rousing speech spark from? With your dad being a part of the city council, did you have this idea of punking him for years on end?

I thought of something similar to what I did back in early May. It comes a little bit from what my dad would tell me about the city council meetings. If you watch the full city council meeting, the person in front of me called all the city council members “evil spirits.” And he wasn’t joking. I don’t always agree with everyone on the city council board, but they’re all good people. You don't sit there and go into public service because you hate everybody and you hate the community. Back to when I formed my idea, the day of my speech, I heard that day’s city council meeting was going to be benign. I figured the only people that might get mad at me are those who are upset with their view being obstructed by the new building. So, I sat down right before I left work and wrote out my speech, printed it, picked up my wife and drove over to the building practicing along the way.

So your wife was the first person to get to experience the speech.

Oh absolutely, she heard me practicing in the car the whole drive there. I made quick edits on the way there, and she helped with that. One of her best suggestions was when she asked what am I going to do if everyone starts laughing. I was like, “Good point, I’m gonna be dead serious.” I felt a little bad after I did it, because I reached out to the guy who laughed, and I wanted to make sure he knew that I wasn’t actually upset with him. I didn’t want him to think that I had any hard feelings, it’s just that he was laughing, and I had to do it. He told me that he got it and said he saw my wife laughing really hard so he was able to see that it was all part of the gag.

When did you realize that this story went national?

It was Wednesday morning. I went to work and showed my coworkers and they just said it was cringey. Then on Wednesday morning, I got to work and I saw that somebody else uploaded it onto Twitter. I saw that it had already gotten 600,000 views. Then I watched it increase to 900,000 in 10 minutes. I just started pit sweating. I had to tell my boss and go home, so he didn’t understand until he got home that night and saw that I was in The New York Times.

Are you committed to continuing this gag for as long as you can?

Yeah, I’ve got some other ideas that I’m going to be dropping here pretty soon. You gotta commit to it. I’m gonna release a couple videos that I’ve been working on and see where it takes me. Anyone who knows me or knew me at all was completely unsurprised by this. One girl I knew from high school reached out to me and she said my gag reminded her of when I jumped on top of the table during cafeteria and ripped off my shirt and pants to reveal a Superman costume. It’s just stuff that I’ve done all throughout growing up.

We touched on some of the negative sides of becoming infamous overnight, but the event you just mentioned is definitely a positive with you being able to reconnect to tons of people you used to know.

There’s way more positives, I would say. There’s a lot of groups that have reached out to me that I didn’t know existed. I got contacted by the League of Extraordinary Red Heads, and they sent me a T-shirt that was actually the correct size and a membership card. Then the Council of Andrews contacted me, and even though my name is Ander, they let anyone in who has “and” in their name. They mentioned how they got a few Andreas. Another funny occurrence is I had a PR company contact me from Rhode Island asking if I would do work with them starting their new chicken restaurant, and they told me they found my contact info from the Council of Andrews.

Do you plan on taking the PR opportunities or do you want to make your comedy wholly independent of brands?

I’m going to be honest with you, if somebody offers me a good number, I’ll just be someone’s Flo from Progressive. Like, I’ll do that all day, I am not above that at all. But I do have plans for myself. I’d like to show people that maybe I’m not a one-hit wonder. I can do something else now that I’ve got a little attention.

The fact that you have a positive outlook on this is interesting. It doesn’t seem that you’re worried about not following up your hit.

Not at all. Here’s the thing — let’s say I absolutely fail at this. I’m going to step out, I’m going to try my own thing. Maybe try to be a YouTube personality or something like that. Who knows — okay, I know, but I’m just not saying it yet. But if I fail, I’m still young. I’m only 27. I’m a young guy, and I can fail so many more times in life and still end up being OK. So why not try it? What would you do today if you knew that tomorrow you couldn’t fail? I would try this out and go forward with it.

Another positive is it seems like you have a huge support system around you, so why not try to pursue this career.

Exactly. Why not? Everybody wants to enjoy life. I mean, one lady was part of the angry Twitter people, and they reached out to me and were like, “You went up there and you could have put that much effort into something good and meaningful. You could really put your voice and effort towards something that matters, but instead you wasted it.” I usually don’t respond to people who are negative like that. I just said, “There’s sunshine outside, and it’s okay to enjoy it.” You’re not harming other people; you’re not going to make the problems of the world worse by taking a moment to go outside and enjoy the sunshine. The problems will still be there when you turn around, but you’re not a bad person for taking a step outside for a moment.

Could you expand more on this optimistic mindset?

You’re not a bad person for being happy. It’s not a bad thing to be optimistic. It’s not a bad thing to look at the world as glass half full — acknowledging that there are flaws, acknowledging that there are deficiencies. You don’t have a full glass, and you may never have a full glass, but it’s okay to turn around and acknowledge that there are good things in your life. 

culture@dailynebraskan.com