The Super Bowl halftime show is arguably as big a spectacle as the actual game. And back in 2015, it launched an unwitting star.
Katy Perry was the halftime artist, but one of her dancers stole the spotlight. During her performance of the song "Teenage Dream," she was flanked onstage by two dancers dressed in enormous blue shark costumes. The one on the right seemed to dance in sync; the one on the other side flailed as if he'd been encased in that costume against his will.
"Left Shark" became an instant sensation.
Everyone wanted to know: Could he not hear the music? Could he not see his cues from inside that costume? What happened?
At the time, the man inside Left Shark refused to talk to news outlets. That's since changed.
Left Shark's real name is Bryan Gaw. He'd been a dancer with Katy Perry's touring ensemble for five years. He left the road about a year ago, and today he's a hair stylist at Mare Salon in West Hollywood. That's where NPR caught up with him.
Gaw explained that the role of Left Shark involved some freedom of expression. "So there's a set choreography," he said. "There's also what's called free-style choreography, or, like, you get to move around or play your character as a dancer. ... I'm in a 7-foot blue shark costume. There's no cool in that. So what's the other option? Well, I'm gonna play a different character."
And that character, he claims, was an underdog. An everyday person. Someone imperfect.
Gaw rehearsed his improvisational moment thinking he'd be a little goofy, but when he reached midfield at the Super Bowl, his movements became maximum goofy.
"Totally," Gaw says with a laugh. "I'm on a maximum stage!"
It took Gaw a while to get used to his newfound fame. In the immediate aftermath, the media had a field day with what was perceived as a botched performance. Social media was especially cutting. Gaw didn't talk about it publicly at first — he said he didn't want to draw attention away from Katy Perry. But he's since found a lot of love for Left Shark.
"Actually I don't get any negative feedback from it. If anything, people are, like, 'Whoa, that's so cool!' "
Now, Gaw even lists Left Shark on his resume.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's only a matter of days until the Super Bowl, and if you're counting down to the halftime show, this story is for you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SUPER BOWL XLIX HALFTIME SHOW)
KATY PERRY: (Singing) You make me feel like I'm living a teenage dream.
INSKEEP: That's from Katy Perry's performance three years ago. On stage with her were two blue dancing sharks. The one on the right seemed to be in sync, while the other one sort of flailed around like he was being held in that costume against his will.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Right. So the Internet, as it does, latched onto left shark. There were memes all over social media. Our co-host David Greene took it upon himself to find the man behind that costume.
DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Hi.
BRYAN GAW: Hi. Bryan.
GREENE: I'm David. Nice to meet you.
Left shark's real name is Bryan Gaw, and he's actually a lot smaller than the massive beast we saw lumbering around the stage that Super Bowl night. He had been a dancer with Katy Perry's touring ensemble for several years. And, we should say, no, he actually did not get fired after that Super Bowl performance. He left the road about a year ago, and today he is a stylist at a hair salon in West Hollywood. Bryan leads us out onto the sunny outdoor terrace at the salon, and he tells me about a costume change that almost prevented him from being left shark at all.
GAW: Logistically we were figuring out during rehearsals, and there was a moment when they're like, you know what? They're just not going to be able to make this change. We're going to have to have somebody else do it. Well, when the boss says figure it out, figure it out.
GREENE: She knew the two of you. She wanted her dancers.
GAW: She knew the two of us, she had rehearsed with us. She was used to us being by her. And I think that provided her a sense of comfort.
GREENE: All right. So take me to halftime. You're out there. This is the question that America wants to know.
GAW: Is this the million-dollar question, what happened?
GREENE: What happened?
GAW: So there's a set choreography. There's also what's called freestyle choreography, or, like, you get to move around or play your character as a dancer, right? So...
GREENE: Seems like a critical piece of information. You had some flexibility.
GAW: You have flexibility because you are your own character.
GAW: I'm in a 7-foot blue shark costume. There's no cool. There's no cool in that. So what's the other option? Well, I'm going to play a different character.
GREENE: OK. Hang on.
GAW: That's all it was.
GREENE: This is a moment here.
GREENE: 'Cause America, they thought you were totally flubbing this up.
GAW: Yeah, totally.
GREENE: What character were you going for?
GAW: This is the underdog. It's an everyday person. Now, how 'bout that?
GREENE: Showing you don't have to be perfect.
GAW: You don't have to be perfect. Nobody has to be perfect in life.
GREENE: And you wouldn't lie to me. Like, I'm looking you in the eyes right now. This - you planned this.
GAW: Hundred percent. (Laughter).
GREENE: You planned this character going in.
GAW: Did I rehearse these actual steps to, like, my freestyle moment? Not necessarily.
GREENE: So you rehearsed being a little goofy?
GAW: You rehearse being a little goofy. Totally.
GREENE: What we saw up there was maximum goofy.
GAW: Totally. I'm on a maximum stage. (Laughter).
GREENE: And so the magic of left shark was born. And it actually took Bryan Gaw a while to get used to this newfound fame. He didn't talk about all of this publicly at first, but these days, he's got a different outlook.
So we started this conversation with you kind of surprising me in saying that you use this on your resume.
GREENE: Does it actually say, like, left shark?
GREENE: And have you ever gotten people who viewed that as a negative?
GAW: No. Actually, I don't get any negative feedback from it. If anything, people are like, whoa, that's so cool.
GREENE: So is there something you want to say to the millions of people who watched you out there and thought that you just completely messed up a dance routine in a shark outfit?
GAW: Don't take life so seriously. You know what I mean? Like, I was on the biggest stage in the world acting crazy, and I got a lot of press and a lot of attention for it in the most positive ways. It's great, you know? Be you. Do you.
GREENE: Well, thanks for setting the record straight and chatting with us.
GAW: Yeah. Of course.
GREENE: That was Bryan Gaw, aka left shark, from the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEENAGE DREAM")
PERRY: (Singing) Let you put your hands on me in my skintight jeans...
GREENE: What happened to the shark outfit?
GAW: She still has it.
GREENE: Katy does?
GAW: Yeah. It's on the road right now. Somebody else is hopping around stage in the costume now, but they'll never be me.
GREENE: They'll never be you.
GAW: (Laughter) Yeah.
GREENE: No one will ever be left shark.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEENAGE DREAM")
PERRY: (Singing) Yeah. You make me... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.