Editor’s note: This story was origially pubished on Omaha.com

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By Bob Fischbach

WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

Fred Figglehorn, the hyper kid with the helium voice who became a sensation on YouTube, has grown up.

Or rather, Columbus, Neb., native Lucas Cruikshank, who started making videos starring himself as Fred when he was 13, is moving up.

Cruikshank, now 19, has the lead role in “Marvin, Marvin,” a new Nickelodeon sitcom that premiered Saturday night.

Marvin is a teenage space alien sent to Earth by his parents to protect him from evil invaders on his home planet of Klooton. He tries to adjust to life on Earth as a typical American teen, but he doesn’t fit in.

Lucas Cruikshank, at age 4

Because of his strange behavior, Marvin’s American family has a hard time concealing his real identity from the world.

“The beauty of Lucas is he’s a great physical comedian,” said Paula Kaplan, executive vice president for talent at Nickelodeon. “You know this from Fred (Figglehorn), and you’ll see it clearly with ‘Marvin, Marvin’ — the way he falls, the way he uses his body to express the comedy. He’s the perfect alien, trying to exist as a human.”

Cruikshank started making short homemade videos about a little kid named Fred Figglehorn six years ago at his home in Columbus. He posted them on the Internet.

In less than a year, Fred had a million subscribers on YouTube. That has since doubled, and 49 Fred Figglehorn videos have received more than 952 million total views.

When Lucas, as Fred, was a guest on Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” in late 2008, Kaplan noticed.

“He cracked me up,” she recalled. “I started watching the Fred videos. When I came home, I told my kids, ‘You gotta see this.’ My daughter became obsessed and started trying to do the voice.”

Nickelodeon has since aired three Fred Figglehorn movies and a short-format series starring the character.

The script for “Marvin, Marvin” came to Nickelodeon through The Collective, the agency that represents Cruikshank.

“It’s a modern-day ‘Mork & Mindy,’” Kaplan said. That 1978-82 sitcom about a space alien trying to pass as a human launched Robin Williams’ career.

Kaplan said “Marvin, Marvin” is perfect for Nickelodeon’s core audience of 6- to 12-year-olds.

“The situations he gets into, the yin and yang he has with his human sister who is so studious and preppy — he’s basically an awkward teen trying to navigate life. We hope our audience can tap into that, and laugh along with him.”

Molly Cruikshank said her son, the fourth of eight children, was a very shy child who was into karate, soccer and basketball.

“But he said at his kindergarten physical that he wanted to be a movie star, and he said it again in junior high. And he made it happen. Once he started making videos, that was definitely his thing.”

She recalls the day she came home from working as a registered nurse and Lucas showed her his first Fred video.

“I had no idea what would come of it,” she said. “He didn’t do another till six months later when his sisters saw there was an online page for Fred. Then it took off.”

Cruikshank said he can’t believe his luck.

“I’ve gone above and beyond what I ever initially dreamed of,” he said from his home in West Hollywood, where he lives with his older sister, Stephanie.

“It’s crazy how things work.”

He got the part of Marvin at age 16, shortly after filming the first Fred movie. Work on two more Fred movies delayed the sitcom.

“But this is all because of the success of Fred,” he said. “It got me a fan base. Now, gratefully, I can branch out and try a new character.”

Fred and Marvin are very different, he said.

“Fred did things just to be outrageous. He wanted to stand out. Marvin’s trying to fit in, to not be the center of attention. But he’s kind of naive, doesn’t fit in.”

Shooting began in mid-August, and 10 of this season’s 20 episodes have already been shot. The show is filmed in front of a live audience on Fridays.

Stephanie Cruikshank, who got a job doing hair for the show, said Lucas likes to hang out with friends and just relax when he’s not working.

“Lucas is a very down-to-earth person,” she said. “He’s the same person he was before making the Fred videos. I don’t think he’s changed at all.”

Last summer Molly and her husband, Dave, moved the family to Diamond Bar, Calif., in southeastern Los Angeles County. They were all together for Thanksgiving to celebrate the premiere of “Marvin, Marvin.”

Lucas said he’s not quite done with the character of Fred Figglehorn, though he’s probably outgrowing him.

“Obviously I had a different sense of humor when I was 13,” he said. “But I’m proud of Fred, how he was such a big deal in my life. If it weren’t for Fred, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”

Paula Kaplan said she hopes Cruikshank has a long future with Nickelodeon.

“Beyond that, he’s a great physical comedian with great timing. If you think of, like, a Jim Carrey or somebody like that — great facial expressions, pratfalls and all the rest — I feel like Lucas could actually do something like that.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1269, bob.fischbach@owh.com

 

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