From his explosively popular movie Young Einstein, to his unusual name that eventually led to a lawsuit, Yahoo Serious became a true icon of the 80s and of Australian cinema. But his fame didn’t last, and instead the star has almost completely vanished from public life in the past two decades.
His exit from the spotlight and refusal of interviews have gained a near-mythical status, as fans of his cult classics were left wondering what happened to this director. In reality, Yahoo Serious appears to have opted for a much quieter life in northern Sydney, where he focuses on his writing and takes the occasional dip in the ocean.
Born on July 27, 1953, Yahoo Serious was first known by the name Greg Gomez Pead. He has described his childhood as “relatively poor, ordinary [and] working-class”. He grew up in the Glendale and Cardiff suburbs of the City of Lake Macquarie, which is in New South Wales, Australia.
He left school at the age of 15 and followed in his father’s footsteps to become a tyre fitter, though he dreamt of becoming a painter or filmmaker someday.
Given his fame as a comedy director, it may come as a surprise that Serious’ roots lie in documentary-making. When he was 21, he wrote, produced, directed and starred in Coaltown, a documentary about coal mining. He then created a TV show, Lifestyle, which won an Australian Penguin Award for Best Educational Documentary.
By 1980, Pead was attending art college. Like many students, he enjoyed a drink or two – but at one point during his first years of freedom, he took this to extremes with a three-day drinking binge. During this episode, he reportedly had an epiphany and decided to rename himself “Yahoo Serious” by deed poll.
The word ‘Yahoo’ was first coined by writer Jonathan Swift, who used it to name a race of fictional creatures in his novel Gulliver’s Travels. Today, it can mean a ‘boorish, crass or stupid person’, or it can be an exclamation of joy.
It is unclear how much thought the young artist put into his name choice. Decades later, when Yahoo Serious went up against the search engine Yahoo! in a trademark infringement case, his name came under particular scrutiny.
One hearing officer described the genius of Yahoo Serious’ moniker: “[it] relies for its effect on the inherent tension explicit in the juxtaposition of two conflicting ideas – on the one side silliness and foolery, and on the other side gravity and earnestness.”
The name suited this eccentric art student, who soon became disillusioned with the art world itself. “I realized that I was doing this thing that perhaps wasn’t art,” he would later reflect. ”I embraced that Marcel Duchamp-Andy Warhol ethic that art is what one decides it shall be, and I set about actually destroying art as the object.”
”And then I ended up going the full circle and making a hot-dog machine, putting four people inside and calling it an artwork – it was a disaster,” he elaborated. “Then I was kicked out of art college for painting all these jokes on the front of the school.”
It was around this time that Serious first thought of making a film about the world-famous physicist Albert Einstein. He spent much of his 20s travelling the world, and a trip down the Amazon River drew him into an unusual idea.
” I saw this T-shirt on this Brazilian native,” he has since said. “On it was an image of the 72-year-old Einstein sticking his tongue out, an image that seems to me very childlike. He saw the world through very childlike eyes – as if looking at them for the first time – which I think is a quality of genius.”
”But I saw that T-shirt and, bang, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, young Einstein’,” Serious explained. “You know everyone thinks of this gray-haired old professor, but he was in fact a 26-year-old office clerk with that haircut who couldn’t hold down a job when he came up with the Theory of Relativity. He was a wild man.”
What followed was a frenzy of creative output and organization. Serious took an old screenplay named The Great Galute, co-written with David Roach, and turned it into an Einstein-inspired tale. The director reportedly kept a low budget by selling his car, borrowing cameras, and asking his mother to cook for the film crew.
Warner Bros. gained the international distribution rights and began an aggressive marketing campaign that cost USD $8 million.
When Young Einstein came out in cinemas, critics were underwhelmed, with one Washington Post writer describing it as “dumber than a bowling ball”. But the film grossed $80 million internationally and became something of a cult classic in Australia and the USA.
Thanks to Young Einstein’s success, Yahoo Serious became a global sensation – albeit for a brief period. He spent nearly four years touring the world to promote his brainchild, but also took a six-month break to marry Lulu Pinkus in 1989. The pair spent their lengthy honeymoon travelling around Africa.
Serious appeared on 60 Minutes and even had his own short-lived TV show in the late 80s: MTV’s The Yahoo Serious Show. His face appeared on a 1989 cover of Time Magazine.
But the hype around this budding Australian star wasn’t to last, and the opportunities started to dwindle. In March 1990, SPIN Magazine reported that, after Young Einstein, Serious had “apparently slunk back to Australia, never to dare these shores again.”
However, three years later, Yahoo Serious returned to the USA to make a new film named Reckless Kelly. This satirical movie imagines the infamous Australian gang leader Ned Kelly becoming a Hollywood celebrity.
This popular director has claimed he “didn’t make a penny” from Young Einstein, stating that he even invested his own wages back into the film. With Reckless Kelly he took a similarly ruthless approach, admitting that he was something of a workaholic.
“I just worked longer hours than everybody else,” he told one magazine. “You are up at seven and working until 10 at night… The pressure of making a film is absolutely enormous.”
The new film parodied many aspects of American culture: even the fearless Ned Kelly himself is horrified at the nation’s gun violence.
“I’m an anti-violence freak and I learnt that, if you want to get a point across, then the best thing to do is to have the main character embrace that aspect,” Serious commented on the movie’s politics. “In this case, he’s the best shot in the world, but then he comes to see that guns are the wrong way of doing things, especially when confronted with the madness of American society and all that it offers.”
Australians loved the movie, which opened at number one at the nation’s box office and grossed over $5.4 million. Americans, however, were less impressed, and its flat reception in the States was the beginning of the end for Serious’ Hollywood career.
He would go on to make his third and to date last movie, Mr. Accident (2000), which likewise met with a lukewarm reception outside of Australia.
In the aftermath of Mr. Accident’s less-than-impressive box office performance, Serious fuelled his energy into an unexpected lawsuit. His target was Yahoo!, a web directory and domain dating to 1995. The lawsuit fell through because the star could not prove that his brand suffered due to the existence of Yahoo!
The star’s personal website still maintains that Serious was wronged by the Internet giant. ” Understandably there were people assuming this new internet Yahoo must be Yahoo’s company,” the site states. “If it wasn’t another of Yahoo’s creations why was it using his name? From the public in the street to the Post Office mail sorters, people were genuinely confused.”
“After the internet company took the name Yahoo, their mass marketing backed by huge advertising budgets destroyed the name’s uniqueness and associated goodwill,” it states.
Though his public appearances faded away after Mr. Accident and the Yahoo! lawsuit, he and his wife became regular attendees at Australian film festivals and red carpet events. In February 2000, he was spotted at the Australian premiere of Bootmen. One year later, he made an appearance as a celebrity driver at the Melbourne Grand Prix. However, this celebrity couple broke up in 2007.
As Serious was spotted in public less and less, he became the stuff of legend. Between 2007 and 2019, fans heard hardly anything about the Australian star or his movements. One film critic noted that Serious’ rise and fall felt “like we had experienced a collective dream”.
In 2019, he returned to public life for one night only, at a 30th anniversary screening of Young Einstein at the Hayden Orpheum in Sydney. With around 500 fans in attendance, he answered a few pre-chosen questions. On his most famous movie, he said: “It was quite strange that it was a bit of a hit around the world. That very much surprised me. I wasn’t ready for what happened.”
Serious evaded questions about his reclusiveness in recent years, only saying: “I have been writing and I hope to continue to make some more movies.”
The following year, he resurfaced in the news as he faced eviction from his three-bedroom rented home in Avalon Beach, Sydney. The star owed over $27,500 in rent and was ordered to pay up and leave the property.
In court, Serious claimed that the global pandemic had affected his income, and stated that he had been advised to seek the old age pension, as he was on the brink of turning 67.
Now aged 70, Serious remains as private as ever, but it is likely that he continues to write and build on his famously unique creative visions. A long-time fan of surfing, he has been spotted swimming with his pet dog at Palm Beach, Sydney in recent years.