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April 16, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Vegas-raised actor finds fame in Kmart’s ‘Ship My Pants’ ad

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Kmart/YouTube

Las Vegas native Michael Bunin, left, says he had an inkling the Kmart “Ship My Pants” spot in which he stars might go viral, and it has with nearly 12 million views on YouTube as of Wednesday, April 17.

Las Vegan Michael Bunin has done pretty well as a comedic actor. He’s been in national television ad campaigns, been a regular on a television series, and this month he was in the season premiere of “Mad Men.”

But nothing in the Chaparral High School graduate’s career so far is likely to top a 35-second advertisement that first aired a week ago on YouTube and has gone viral with nearly 12 million views so far.

It’s an ad for Kmart’s policy of shipping items customers can’t find in the store to their homes for free. It begins with 10 words from a disbelieving Bunin to a Kmart employee: "Ship my pants, right here? Ship my pants, you're kidding."

The employee responds, then Bunin turns to his “wife.”

“You hear that? I can ship my pants for free.”

She responds: “Wow, I may just ship my pants.” Then little Billy says he, too, may ship his pants.

And so on with an elderly couple, some women and another man.

Reached in Los Angeles by phone, Bunin said when the spot was taped, he had a fleeting thought it might be the kind of thing that “goes viral.”

“But you never know,” he said. “Then one day I was going through my taxes and I saw it on the ‘Today Show’ and couldn’t believe it had 1.5 million hits. Now five days later it’s around 12 million.”

Even his friends are getting in on the joke. At a poker game Tuesday night, he walked into the room and one of his buddies said, “Hey, did you just ship your pants?”

Bunin studied acting and theater at UNLV after high school, dropping out his senior year to pursue his career full-time. Recently, however, he re-enrolled to finish three courses to get his degree.

He left Las Vegas for Chicago, where he worked on his improvisation skills with The Players Workshop, and The Groundlings in Los Angeles. He lives in the L.A. area and, with a brother, owns a home in Las Vegas. One of Bunin's favorite hangouts is the Beat coffeehouse on Fremont Street.

“It reminds me of the days when Las Vegas used to have independent coffee shops,” he said.

Bunin acknowledges how hard it is for actors to find work. He believes long years of work, his growing resume of parts and his unique physical features help him land roles.

“Let’s be honest: I’m bald but I have some hair; I’m skinny but I’m kinda fat — I have the look of someone who is going to offend the least number of people,” he said. “Then the acting training gives you an ability to stand out. On top of that I can improvise and I have a good feel for the 30-second spot: I’m not the hero. The product is the hero. Make a strong choice, play it out and get out.”

With the “shipped” Kmart ad airing soon on television in front of millions who might not have seen it on YouTube, Bunin’s stock is likely to rise even more. But he will never forget the one time he was in the “ship my pants” ad that went viral.

“I’m getting lots of emails, texts, Facebook posts and tweets, all the social media from people who know about it,” said Bunin, 43. “It’s unbelievably flattering. ... Every actor thinks about being in something that goes viral. Now I can check that off the list.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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