There’s a sarcastic meme going around on TikTok in which a guy brags about making a million dollars in the “stonk” market.

After a show of bluster and ego, he begins going into details on how he did it. He starts by showing off his portfolio of one million, and then says, “I started when my Dad loaned me two million, and a month later, after all my investments, I’ve got a million dollars!”

It’s funny, but it’s also true. And it’s often overlooked when we’re considering people that the media tells us to regard as massive successes in the business and entertainment world. So many of them started with inherited money and a head start on things, and they just spun their brand off of that. Whether it’s the Kardashians or Donald Trump, it’s always easier to be a success when you begin with several million dollars in the bank. You don’t have to worry about failure, and you’ve got the capital to begin in a place far ahead of most which have to work arduously for years to amass that type of head start.

That mainstream media emphasis on those born of those circumstances, and the media’s laziness in pointing out the inherent advantage of them, draws an occluded line in drawing a picture of real success. It also diminishes the real efforts and the much more arduous task of those who actually live up to the mythology of the self-made entrepreneur, who are very often ignored by that same front-running

Anthony Natarelli, left, plays Carl and Mike Turczynski played Jody in “Lonely Planet.”

mainstream media.

One of those people who actually lives up to the standard of being an entrepreneur and one of distinctly spartan work ethic and manic creativity is Anthony Natarelli.

Natarelli celebrated a birthday this week, with very little fanfare outside of his circle of friends and the random messages on his Facebook page. But as the local actor/comedian/musician/producer/etc. marked another year around the sun, it was interesting to look back upon his previous 365 days, and unfortunate to think of how little credit he’s been given for all he’s accomplished during that time, and those previous years before.

I first met Natarelli back in 2015, when I directed him in a series of sketch comedies. He was a regular performer for my production company, My Verona, as well as Tristan Tapscott’s various productions for District Theater. But beyond that, he was a jack of all trades and an interesting creative talent who should’ve, at some point, gotten a lot more recognition than he’s been accorded.

Natarelli acted in “Something Intangible” at Playcrafters, with Bruce Duling, in July 2019.

Natarelli has been a fantastic actor over the past few years, giving incredible performances in shows from “Rocky Horror” to “Hedwig,” but it’s his strange and singular entrepreneurial tangents which have set him apart from most and which have been, sadly, his most ignored ventures.

Natarelli was one of the first creators, along with Khalil Hacker, to quickly identify the emerging trend towards virtual theater, particularly during a pandemic which wiped out live performance as we knew it, and shuttered up every theater in the Quad-Cities and beyond. Natarelli’s $1 Producer Project began putting out more video and multimedia productions, culminating in the brilliant comedy/drama “Lonely Planet,” this past summer, which was staged and filmed in Natarelli’s apartment.

The project showcased all the talents for which Natarelli should be far more lauded and recognized than he is — it’s brilliantly acted and directed, cleverly staged, and demonstrates a vision and creativity of incredible energy, the kind of imaginative electricity which helps

Anthony Natarelli in his apartment set for “Lonely Planet.”

invigorate an arts scene, and which is sorely needed, especially after the year we’ve had in which the arts have been hobbled by covid.

Natarelli followed that up with a pair of complete and utter oddities which were nevertheless hilarious and welcome in their absurdity and unique nature.

Khalil’s Covid Christmas Special” and “The Unofficial Tabasco New Year’s Spectacular” were both amazingly strange, random and funny, the type of dada-ist absurdism that seemed perfectly appropriate to end the woebegone chimera of a year of 2020. Neither of them gathered a titanic audience, but those that watched them definitely enjoyed their bizarre humor and off-kilter world.

But, again, as with most of what Natarelli pulled off in the past year, they were audacious and admirable, albeit largely ignored.

It’s unfortunate, because it’s people like Natarelli, and various others like him in the local scene in recent years — Khalil Hacker, Andrew

Khalil Hacker in a scene from “Khalil’s Covid Christmas Special.”

King, Jon Burns, and more — who have produced some of the most innovative and interesting creative projects. And yet they’re typically overlooked, often in lieu of those who are able to make a bigger splash, in part because they’re more generously financed and more uniformly praised and recognized within the mainstream.

However, eventually, hopefully, that’s going to change.

It was about twenty years ago, that I met and began working on short comedy films with a couple of young local filmmakers, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who took about 15 years to become “overnight

Anthony Natarelli

successes” with a little movie called “A Quiet Place.” Since then, they’ve struck big with another film, “Haunt,” and just wrapped up their first big directorial effort, “65,” which stars an actor you might have heard of — Adam Driver. At one point Scott and Bryan were pretty much unknown as well, and yet they kept on plugging away, making films, doing what they loved, creating interesting and cool projects, until eventually they got their break.

Some folks never get that chance. Some folks never get that break.

I’m hoping Natarelli does. He’s one of several creative types on the local scene I think have a talent that should be given far greater recognition than it currently holds. But, like so many of them, he’s a struggling artist, who’s got to pay the bills, and is running on that never-ending treadmill to keep up while pursuing his dream.

A dream that’s a lot harder to pursue when you’re the head of the one dollar producer project, rather than the one million dollar producer project.

But there are some things, like talent, like vision, like imagination, that are incredibly valuable in their own right, and he, and many others on our local scene, are rich in those.

Keep that in mind, as the doors begin to open for local businesses in the coming months. Keep those folks in mind, the people doing the offbeat and quirky and imaginative things. We write about them all the time here on our own shoestring budget entrepreneurial project,, alongside some of the higher profile attractions around the area. Mix it up, give them a try, check out something they’re doing, something strange and new and exciting. You never know, you might find something you never knew you loved.

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Tony. I’m looking forward to seeing what your odd and warped imagination has in store for us this year. Cheers!


Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.