Here's the Real Story Behind That Viral Video of a GOP Nominee Dancing the Harlem Shake in His Underwear
Eric Brakey tells PEOPLE there's more to the viral video than meets the eye
A 20-something, bare-chested man in a burnt-orange Speedo swivels his hips and dances before a mirror to the song “Harlem Shake.”
The humorous, almost two-minute video now making the rounds on social media shows him bouncing on a bed, and catapulting back to the floor like a jack-in-the-box. He smiles at the camera with a goofy grin. He does an awkward cartwheel.
This is Eric Brakey, 29, who won the Maine Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Tuesday’s primary. He’ll be challenging independent Angus King for a seat in Congress this fall. The video’s link is “ericbrakeyforsenate.com.”
But Brakey tells PEOPLE that the website was set up by internet trolls. His actual website, ericbrakey.com, shows a more traditional approach to campaigning.
And although the man in the viral video is in fact him, Brakey says the footage was taken out of context and remixed to the song “Harlem Shake.”
The dancing montage was actually pulled from videos for a 2011 Vita Coco commercial Brakey co-starred in when he was working as an actor in New York City.
A rough cut of the ad that Brakey shared with PEOPLE features him and and several other men dancing in swimsuits.
“This was a very funny, family-friendly commercial for Vita Coco coconut water that I did when I was a professional actor in New York City, in 2011 when I was living a whole different life,” he explains.
“This became a story when I first announced when I was running for the state Senate (in 2013) and once we put it into context, people saw it was a funny, family-friendly commercial we did for a product, Vita Coco coconut water, and people didn’t think it was a big deal,” he says.
In 2013, on the online forum As Maine Goes, Brakey explained the story behind the resurfaced video to critics who said they were disgusted with his dance moves.
“I had a good laugh watching that again,” he wrote at the time. “I hadn’t seen it in a few years. Thank you for sharing and helping to promote some of the comedic work I’ve done as an actor.”
He tells PEOPLE now that he’s “not at all” embarrassed by his work in the commercial.
“I invite anyone to watch the commercial in its full context, it is funny and family-friendly. I think people will have a laugh about it,” he says. “I am a real human being. I never thought in a million years that this [politics] is what I would be doing. At a certain moment in my life I realized there are real problems in our country and people need to get off the sidelines.”
Brakey won the race for state senate in 2013 and was re-elected in 2015.
But Politico tweeted that the chances of Brakey defeating Angus King or the Democratic challenger in November are “low.”
After Brakey secured the nomination this week, Twitter’s reaction to his dance moves ranged from understandably surprised to joke-filled.
Writes Business Insider’s politics reporter Joe Perticone: “This is not a joke tweet. This is literally the Maine Senate GOP nominee who will challenge Angus King in the November election.”
“Ladies and gents, this is the GOP nominee in Maine’s Senate race against Independent @SenAngusKing (who caucuses with Dems). This is 100% real and the nominee,” tweeted political writer Emily Singer.
But Brakey also has his fans. Twitter user Mgwill wrote: “Moving to Maine just to vote for Mr. Brakey. Best moves ever.”
Brakey isn’t the only primary winner making unusual headlines this week.
Dennis Hof, a famed pimp who owns multiple legal brothels in Nevada, won a Republican primary for the state Legislature on Tuesday, ABC News reports.
Hof, who ousted three-term lawmaker James Oscarson to win the nomination, will face Democrat Lesia Romanov in November. According to the Associated Press, Hof, the star of the HBO adult reality series Cathouse, will be the favored candidate in the Republican-leaning district.
Hof, who bills himself as the “Trump of Pahrump” (a town in Nevada), attributes his surprising win in part to President Donald Trump.
“It’s all because Donald Trump was the Christopher Columbus for me,” Hof told the Associated Press. “He found the way, and I jumped on it.”