Posted February 2, 2018

Here’s 'whassup': Temple grads starred in iconic ads

Alumni inspired the famous commercial catchphrase from the early 2000s.

Fred Thomas Jr. wearing a purple shirt and smiling
Photography By: 
Fred Thomas Jr.
Alumnus Fred Thomas Jr. and his fellow Owls say the commercials they appeared in homed in on friendship.

Fred Thomas Jr., TFM ’00, was watching an NBA game on Christmas Day 1999 when he first saw himself on TV, starring in a Budweiser commercial that would change his life and become a cultural phenomenon.

In those first moments, Thomas thought three things: This is amazing. This is fantastic.

“And I got a check coming,” he said recently with a hearty laugh.

Thomas and Paul L. Williams, TFM ’94, are Temple alumni who starred in the iconic series of commercials that introduced a global catchphrase: “Whassup?”

A blending of the common greeting “what’s up,” the whassup commercials inspired seemingly infinite—and often unintelligible—variations of the phrase. The original spot begins calmly enough, with one friend calling another to check in. From there, more friends join the conversation as the greetings become increasingly over the top and drawn out (as in whaaaaaaaaasup).

“It’s just a bro, rah-rah, being stupid with each other thing,” said Williams, whose brother Terry was also involved. “That’s why it took off, because it was genuine. It was really what we did.”

It all started when Charles Stone III wanted to branch out from directing music videos and approached his friends to shoot a short film, True, based on how they greeted one another in their own special ways. Thomas and Williams were joined by fellow alumnus Kevin Lofton, KLN ’91, in the short.

Later, the ad agency DDB Chicago wanted to turn the film into a commercial for Budweiser and asked the friends to audition for the part—of playing themselves. They beat out other actors who struggled with pronouncing the term or didn’t understand the interplay among close friends.

“Unless you are part of the crew, you wouldn’t know how to say it,” Thomas said. “When we came in, they saw the love between the friends, the comradery. They realized, ‘Those guys know each other,’ and that’s what this thing is about: familiarity, friendship. The essence of it is in its true form, and that’s friends.”

What began as a series of three commercials ended up totaling 17, Thomas said, over the course of more than two years. During that span, the friends embarked on a public relations blitz, hitting various cities across the U.S. and touring Europe. From sunup to sundown, Thomas recalled, it was media appearances, celebrity events and more.

They rubbed elbows with sports legends Dan Marino and Wayne Gretzky. They appeared with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. They passed Katie Couric in a hallway at the TODAY show—and she was the one excited to see them. They even elicited a whassup from a typically stoic guard outside British Parliament.

How often were they saying whassup at the peak of its popularity?

“Every four minutes,” Thomas said, adding that, even at its height, whassup didn’t wear on him.

“It’s a celebration of endearment and comradery and people being happy for you and you for them,” he said. “So what’s wrong with spreading happiness and love every single minute?”