Asthmatic. The unquestionable, definitive word that comes to mind when looking at a hospital bed-ridden José Rodriguez. Typically an animated character, the likes of which could be found on “The Simpsons,” confinement is not the ideal situation for him, especially in a hospital during the worst of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
His hair is unkempt, his beard scruffy, both of which are not a frequented look for the Rutherford, New Jersey resident. Despite his surroundings, a very in-character toothy grin forms on his face, turning him back to the typical Rodriguez that can be found doing TikTok dances in the later hours of the night. The positivity is radiant, even when looking at him through a phone screen.
Though admitted to the hospital due to lungs so inflamed he could barely breathe, Rodriguez is just grateful he has been taken off oxygen tanks. Even the smallest progress is progress.
On the surface, Rodriguez is a typical college student; a junior theatre studies major with a minor in film, to be specific. What you cannot see on the surface is his thousands of online followers, to whom Rodriguez is better known as, “The Geek Reporter” or @geek_news14.
Rodriguez started the social media alias as a junior in high school to report his takes on the latest “geek news,” fittingly naming his social pages, “Geek News.” Now at 22 years old, he has accumulated nearly 40,000 followers across his social platforms.
“It was a slow increase, but when it broke two thousand followers, probably two years after I started it, it kind of just snowballed into more people following the account,” Rodriguez said.
While two years is a reasonably slow turnaround and discouraging to most people, Rodriguez is no stranger to persevering.
Initially attending community college, Rodriguez has since transferred to Montclair State University, all while working multiple jobs, building a social media presence and still finding time to act and work behind the scenes on a number of small-scale film productions.
Jokingly spitting out, before kindly being interrupted by a nurse asking if he was doing any better, Rodriguez described his newest venture.
“I recently started working a corporate office job at this little startup, McDonald’s,” Rodriguez said.
Those who know Rodriguez know how much he is constantly juggling, but few understand it as well. Sharif Hasan, a senior communication and media arts major, has worked with Rodriguez on a number of productions, most notably the show Hasan created, “Major Problems.” He is able to understand Rodriguez on a deeper level than most.
Describing him simply as “determined,” Hasan recalled his first interactions with Rodriguez.
“I started talking to him at Video Production Club meetings, but I really got to know him better through ‘Major Problems,’” Hasan said.
The two started working closely through the show, eventually writing an episode together.
“He’s just always trying to get things done,” Hasan said.
This can-do attitude, while being Rodriguez’s most prominent quality, can be overbearing at first exposure. This idea is one that Andreas Loizou, a senior television and digital media major and castmate of Rodriguez’s, is all too familiar with.
“I slowly had to warm up to José in the beginning,” Loizou said. “He, on the other hand, insisted on heating every interaction we had whether it was on set or later on in classes when we’d help each other on assignments.”
Though it can be a lot for those who are not used to it, this attitude is what makes Rodriguez the people person everyone loves to be with.
Louizou recalled their first time shooting on “Major Problems” together.
“Once we started shooting the [‘Major Problems’] pilot, he always maintained an energy on set that fed the cast and crew,” Loizou said. “José played the role of Luke on set, but no matter how long we ran on filming, he’s always playing the role of a person who carries a whole new perspective. I think that’s what makes José so refreshingly funny.”
Refreshing. A thought Rodriguez presumably had as he washed his medication down with a glass of water. It is a thought he also needs to have before posting anything under his “Geek News” alias. As someone posting in such a saturated market as popular culture, he needs to be able to make what he posts feel refreshing.
“It’s a constant struggle,” Rodriguez said. “They can get breaking news anywhere, so I have to always come up with new ways to present the same ideas that people have already seen.”
Rodriguez’s commitment to making what he does feel fresh is what separates him from anyone in a similar situation.
When thinking ahead to the future, Rodriguez has no small ambitions.
“I want to be able to do it all, with acting, films and Geek News,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
If there is one person with the means to facilitate that range of success, it is seemingly José Rodriguez, but before he is able to do that, he must face his greatest challenge yet: being discharged from Holy Name Medical Center.