By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times
On a prime stretch of Rodeo Drive, flanked by Cartier and Bulgari, TikTok star Daniel Macdonald is doing what he does for a living: running up to drivers of supercars and asking, “What do you do for a living?”
That simple premise and the responses it has elicited — cannabis distributor, professional cuddler, stunt double, poker player, ladybug breeder, “nothing” — have made the 25-year-old a repeat viral sensation. Across his five main social media accounts, where he goes by Daniel Mac, he has amassed more than 21 million followers in the two years since posting his first car video.
Most of Macdonald’s clips spotlight unknown people who are fabulously wealthy, or who just spend like they are. But he’s also snagged CEOs, race car drivers and celebrities including Wiz Khalifa, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jay Leno and Shaquille O’Neal (who answered, “I sleep with your mom — and your father.”).
In September, he asked President Biden what he did for a living (in a staged bit to promote electric vehicles); another video, viewed more than 5 million times, led to a top Apple executive getting fired over his crude answer.
The unlikely success has made Macdonald as rich as many of the drivers he records, underscoring the surreal nature of the influencer world in which a basic, repeatable hook can be all it takes to achieve mega-fame.
When Macdonald began asking car owners what they did for a living, the Tucson native had just graduated from the University of Arizona with a finance degree and drove a 2011 Chevrolet Impala. He moved to Dallas, where he was training to become a financial consultant with Charles Schwab, earning an annual base salary of $45,000. He wasn’t much of a car guy but was impressed by the Ferraris he would see around his new city and wondered how their owners could afford such extravagance.
Now he’s a millionaire living in Hollywood, having relocated last year after he kept needing to fly to L.A. to film fresh content. Between his cut of ad revenue from his videos, which he shoots on his iPhone 14, and his lucrative endorsement deals with Gillette, Heineken, Lenovo and other major brands, Macdonald makes as much as $100,000 a month. He quit Charles Schwab, signed with CAA and upgraded to a pre-owned 2019 Tesla Model 3.
“It wasn’t a situation where I was dying to leave my job,” he says. “But I eventually started making more money doing TikTok and I was like, I’m 23 at the time, I’ve gotta take this opportunity while I’m young because I’ll be regretting it if I don’t. My family was mortified.”
Macdonald, who looks like a younger Benedict Cumberbatch with his lanky frame and shaggy mop of hair, says this while carefully scanning southbound traffic on Rodeo Drive at Brighton Way. He films his videos all over the world, but this is his tried-and-true spot — a storied Beverly Hills intersection from which he’s guaranteed to see outrageous cars.
A number of elements have to break in his favour: An expensive vehicle is essential, but it also helps if it is in the rightmost lane with the windows down. Timing is tricky — if the stoplight on Rodeo is green, there isn’t enough time for an ambush. Auto owners who refuse to say what they do lead to higher engagement in the comments section, and “if there’s a female in the car,” Macdonald says, “it’s gonna go 10 times more viral.”
He is accompanied by his producer, 25-year-old Blake Thompson, who helps identify oncoming cars worthy of a pursuit.
Within minutes, they spot a dark silver Porsche 911 Carrera cruising toward us with its top down. “Heads up,” Macdonald says, and takes off running, iPhone in hand, camera app open, Thompson close behind.
“Yo, excuse me! Your car’s awesome, what do you do for a living?” Macdonald shouts to a dapper man in a black suit, who looks bewildered by the sudden commotion.
“I uh … I do not understand,” the driver says slowly, in a thick accent. The platinum blond in the passenger seat doesn’t bother to glance away from her phone; the red light turns green; the two speed off.
Then a sleek white Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG rolls up. Despite being in the middle of the street, the driver pops his door, the gull-wing arcing dramatically skyward.
“What do you do for a living?” Macdonald yells.
“Yo,” the driver says, flashing a peace sign and a toothy smile.
“What up! What do you do for a living?”
“Dental supplies, man, dental supplies.”
“Dental supplies, baby, let’s go! I love it!”
Thanks to his brand deals and a recent string of newsmaking videos, Macdonald has begun to hit mainstream-level recognition. The scene on Rodeo quickly turns into a spectacle once people realize the real Daniel Mac — there are now impostors — is filming on the corner.
An employee at a new celebrity-backed Mexican steakhouse down the block rushes over offering a free meal. The co-owner of a Singapore-based luxury accessories company unclasps a briefcase containing $300 custom leather key fob covers, hoping Macdonald — whom he says he has been trying to reach via DM to no avail — will give them a shout-out on Instagram (he does). An open-top tour van ambles by just as Macdonald races up to an Audi R8 convertible; the tourists aboard gawk, not sure whether to train their cameras on him or the driver. “Is he famous?” a man on the sidewalk asks me.
For 20-year-old Michelle Bowie, Macdonald definitely is. “This is amazing — can I take a picture with you?” the college student from Texas asks after telling him she watches his videos before falling asleep at night.
Bowie says she began following Macdonald on TikTok after his videos kept showing up “all over my For You page.”
“It’s just so interesting to see all the different answers ranging from — this one girl was like, ‘I sell feet pics’ and then this other guy was like, ‘Oh I’m Horacio Pagani,’” she says. (The Pagani video, in which Macdonald approaches the celebrated founder of the Italian hypercar manufacturer without realizing it’s him, has racked up 53 million views on TikTok alone since he posted it in September.)
A black modified Porsche pulls up to the stoplight, a burly French bulldog with light blue eyes peering at Macdonald through the open window.
“Yo, what do you do for a living? Your car’s awesome!”
“I do hair. Are you the original guy?” When Macdonald says yes, he is the real what-do-you-do-for-a-living guy, the hairstylist says: “So sick.”
“Do you have any wise words for the people out there trying to drive a Porsche — how did you do it?” Macdonald asks. He likes to throw in this question to keep the conversation going and to help viewers learn how they might someday be able to afford such a vehicle. Several teen followers, Macdonald says, have told him they’re considering careers in tech after they noticed that so many of the supercar drivers in his videos are software engineers.
“Just hustling,” Rolando Aqui, the hairstylist, says. “Hustling hard.”
One driver declines to be filmed. He is embarrassed to be caught driving a white Mercedes-Benz S560 — “a horrible car,” his friend in the passenger seat says — while they are in town from New York.
Two minutes later, the driver reappears on foot.
“This is worth more than the car,” he says, holding up his wrist to show Macdonald a rose gold diamond-encrusted Patek Philippe 5711 watch, presumably to prove he is not the kind of person who would normally drive an S-Class Mercedes. “I bought it for a hundred thirty-five grand.”
After a few more cars, including a black Bentley and a dark gray Lamborghini, Macdonald calls it quits for the day.
Thompson will take the footage back to his apartment in Glendale, where he’ll edit the videos down and overlay captions, the occasional graphic and minor sound effects like the cha-ching of a cash register.
We decamp for nearby Il Pastaio, sitting at a sidewalk table as an endless parade of luxury cars pass by the Italian restaurant.
In August, Macdonald was filming at a car gathering in Carmel-by-the-Sea when he noticed a $500,000 silver Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. When asked what he did for a living, the driver said: “I have rich cars, play golf and fondle big-breasted women, but I take weekends and major holidays off.”
Viewers identified the driver as Tony Blevins, Apple’s vice president of procurement, who was loosely quoting from the 1981 rom-com “Arthur.” After employees complained, the 22-year Apple veteran was asked to leave the company.
“It was honestly a sad situation. Like, he’s kidding and his wife is in the passenger seat and she’s laughing,” Macdonald says. “The video didn’t even do that well.”
“Then again, I will say, if you’re an Apple exec, you can’t really be making jokes like that on camera.”
Macdonald, one of four children raised in an upper-middle-class family — his dad was a doctor, his mom a nurse practitioner — didn’t aspire to be a top influencer, nor did he expect his videos to gain traction immediately.
“I had zero followers on TikTok when I posted my first video — it was just like a couple of my fr—” He is suddenly interrupted mid-sentence.
“Are you the what-do-you-do-for-a-living guy?” asks a woman in a black zip-up sweater and shiny leggings, her chestnut hair piled into a high ponytail. She comes closer and then says, in a slightly sultry voice: “You want to do my car?”
“Uh, where is it?” says Macdonald, halfway through his plate of “Paccheri alla Justin Bieber,” wide tube pasta smothered in pink sauce. “What do you drive?”
“Oh! Oh really!” He is ecstatic — the car is a gray Mercedes AMG G 63 upgraded with a kit from German automotive aftermarket tuning company Brabus for a total cost of $600,000, by far the most over-the-top car we encounter that afternoon. “Is it parked right here? I’ll do it right now — a Brabus?! Sure!”
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” she says as Macdonald leaps from his chair, “but you’re going to like it.”
Moments later, Jenna DeMaio from Calabasas is pulling her boxy gray Mercedes out of the valet lot, practically every inch of the SUV’s interior covered in a shocking shade of orange. They film the bit as if Macdonald just happened to see her in the car.
“I’m a celebrity wardrobe stylist,” DeMaio says over the throaty thrum of the engine. “I style a bunch of rappers like DaBaby, Tory Lanez, Fivio Foreign.” She, like Macdonald and Thompson, is 25.
Back at the table, Macdonald reflects on internet fandom, well aware that viewers are fickle and trends can grow stale without warning.
“You really have to keep innovating or you’ll fall off, and you can’t take much of a break,” he says. “Like, I could go travel for three months, but if I did that, then I’d have a dead account when I came back.”
He feels the constant pressure of “what’s the next thing?” and is expanding his repertoire. He has filmed videos at marinas, asking yacht owners what they do for a living, and has queried first-class airline passengers, too. His agent is helping set up some “MTV Cribs”-style mansion tours featuring uber-rich homeowners for a new online entertainment series.
In March, Macdonald will host his second annual car rally — a multi-day caravan event with roughly 100 people who will drive their supercars from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree to Las Vegas, wining and dining and staying at resorts along the way. Tickets cost $3,750.
“It’s like ultra-luxe,” he says. “Once you get it going and you have sponsors who are paying $100K for a title spot, you can make lots of money eventually.”
He and Thompson are also starting a video podcast, with filming set to begin this month.
“You’re only as good as your last video, for the most part,” Macdonald says. “Right now we’ve posted like five videos in a row that haven’t done that well, then you’ll go through a wave where you’re getting five in a row that are crazy. It’s cyclical. So it can beat you up a little bit.”
“It feels like you have to outdo yourself on every video,” Thompson says, “but realistically, you just keep doing what works and you don’t mess with it.”
“We don’t want to stray too far,” Macdonald agrees, but “you want to obviously build up other stuff so you’re not completely dependent on one idea.”
After asking thousands of people what they do for a living, “I’ve gotten every job ever,” he says.
“People that design stoplights, or like, I’ve gotten porn stars, which my family doesn’t approve of me posting,” he says. “But they go viral, obviously.”
Despite his bro-y demeanor in videos, Macdonald is mild-mannered and polite off camera. He says he has funneled nearly all of his earnings into index funds, ETFs and real estate, with a tiny percentage invested in crypto, and pays $1,400 a month for his portion of a two-bedroom apartment just off Sunset Boulevard that he shares with a roommate.
“It’s funny because yeah I’m in the luxury sphere, but I wouldn’t want to like ball out,” he says. “I don’t buy name-brand clothing. Like I’ve been on Rodeo Drive this whole time and I’ve never, ever in my life gone into one of the stores. Why would I spend $400 on a T-shirt?”
Even though he travels the world going to automotive events and spends his days talking to loaded car owners, Macdonald says he always tells people: “Don’t waste your money on a crazy car unless you’re like really, really rich.”
Macdonald isn’t really, really rich — at least, not yet — but he did go against his own advice recently by splurging on a $150,000 Porsche GT4, which he says he bought in part because he was showing up to car meets in his Chevy and “people were like, ‘Come on, you need to get a nicer car.’
“So I got a Tesla, which I love, and then I ordered a Porsche,” he says. “It’s like an investment for myself because as the car guy, I need a car to show off. It’s kind of ridiculous.”
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