Journalism alum pursues record-breaking career
The record keeper
It’s loud. Not overwhelming loud, but the warm, family-dinner-at- home kind of loud where everybody is trying to talk over one another.
Women and girls dressed in black outfits line the stairs and check-in tables. They whisper to one another in excitement and point across the room at the man in the slick, navy jacket with a little blue circle badge on the left side of his chest.
The room is filled with the sounds of eggs being cracked and whisked in bowls. There is the smell of olive oil drizzling into mix.
Here at Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn, bread is being made.
Backstage, young singers prepare to perform in front of the massive crowd. But first they want selfies.
“You’re the Guinness guy! Can we take a picture with you?” asked one of the girls.
“Of course,” said the man in the slick, navy jacket.
Alex Angert, the 25-year-old dark-haired man in the slick, navy jacket and the circular badge that says “Guinness World Records,” once shook the paw of Sailor, a black standard poodle that climbed 20 consecutive stairs on his hind legs in a world-record-breaking 18 seconds on NBC’s “Today” show.
Angert also took a bite from the largest sweet and savory cannoli in the world in Jupiter, Florida. It was 262.5 pounds, festooned with powdered sugar and large chocolate chips.
In Reno, Nevada, he watched as Cam Zink made the longest backflip jump on a mountain bike — one wrong move and the jump could have been deathly. Angert verified the 100-foot, 3-inch jump and logged it for posterity — or at least until someone else jumps farther.
He spent a summer day in Summerville, South Carolina, sipping from a 1,425-gallon glass of iced tea on National Iced Tea Day.
He met 440 Drag Queen Madonnas on Labor Day, the most drag queens ever in one place dressed in Madonna performance outfits.
Angert’s job titles at Guinness World Records are “client services account manager” and “records adjudicator.”
He’s an ordinary guy with an extraordinary job.
He’s also a guy who keeps a drawer full of Gushers and a value-size bag of Sour Patch Kids on his desk in an office that does not match the colorful things he does. The carpet is gray, the walls are white. It’s quiet.
But behind his desktop is a distinctive montage: laminated press passes of big events he’s judged. He was present, for example, for the National Hockey League’s game with the largest attendance (105,491), the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. He was on hand for the premiere of Blue Sky Studios’ film Rio 2 in Miami Beach, Florida, where attendees participated in the world’s largest samba dance.
Angert holds the power to fulfill – or politely crush – the hopes of the people who seek the world’s most bizarre records.
He travels the world and across the United States to interesting places, he meets interesting people, and he sees one-of-a-kind things. And he gets paid to do it.
“I’m fascinated with all the stories that he’s telling us all the time,” said Alex’s mother, Susan Angert. “It’s amazing. It’s unbelievable.”
Grand Prospect Hall is lined with long tables covered in place settings complete with large plastic bowls and ingredients needed to make challah bread, the special braided bread served on Jewish holidays.
On a chilly October night, 2,200 women have come together to learn about the bread’s significance and how to bake it.
As they work, an already-baked, mother-of-all-challah-breads stretches across the stage before them.
The event has been organized by a group called Project Inspire to bring together the Jewish community of Brooklyn. And to get challah bread in the record books.
Angert makes his way to the stage with one hand steadied on his oversized black briefcase. Inside the briefcase is a Guinness World Record certificate – “just in case it’s successful,” Angert tells a reporter.
A young man with curly brown hair surrounding his black yarmulke on the crown of his head approaches Angert with an iPhone in one hand and crinkled papers clenched in the other. “Here are the eyewitness forms you asked for,” he says. “And we used a GoPro to videotape the actual making of the bread, here.”
In the video, bakers march in and out of the frame making the long loaf of challah bread that now sits on stage. They knead, braid and butter six long strips of dough and shuttle it into a specially constructed oven.
Backstage, Angert had gone through a checklist. He needed to be sure there was proof of the bread being made, since it wasn’t happening live at the event; the video on the iPhone provided this proof. He needed to confirm that the bread would be consumed and not thrown out — a Guinness World Record rule for food-record attempts. And he had measured the bread — a “pre-measurement,” since the official measurement will be on stage.
“How long is it?” a woman asks. “Did they do it? Did they break the record?”
Angert smiles politely.
“You’ll have to wait for the adjudication presentation to find out,” he says.
Angert’s journey to this dream job began in Jupiter, Florida, when he became a sports reporter for his high school newspaper during his junior year. About the same time, MTV decided to make a reality TV show about Angert’s high school newspaper staff. For the 2008 series, “The Paper,” MTV followed Angert and six other students and documented their lives.
Angert said he didn’t always like how he was portrayed, but he did get a nice chunk of money for his college savings. And he became a local celebrity.
“They filmed me on my first date and followed us to parties,” Angert said. “It had its ups and downs, but it was an experience that was once- in-a-lifetime.”
Susan Angert said the show was a turning point for her son, giving him the opportunity to not take himself so seriously and just kind of “chill out a bit.” At the same time, she said, the show’s competitive edge made Alex push himself. His parents were going through a divorce at the time, and his mother was impressed with the way he handled himself during that stressful time.
His sister, Carly, said the experience changed Alex. “He used to be so shy he couldn’t even call the pizza guy to order pizza,” she said.
Angert enrolled in Penn State in 2008, majoring in journalism. He joined the Daily Collegian as a sports reporter and became sports editor his senior year, 2011-12.
Angert’s sister claims he “copied her” in his decision to go to Penn State, where she graduated in 2010. She said she had also considered the University of Georgia, but she “fell in love with Penn State.”
“We’ve always been very close,” Carly said. “We both went to Penn State, we travel together, we’ve always done everything together. We even worked at Hollister together at one point.”
During the summer of 2011, after his junior year, Angert was an unpaid public relations intern at Details Magazine, a men’s fashion magazine in New York. His casting director from MTV helped him land the internship. For four days a week he put together lists of media contacts, wrote press releases, worked on social media and covered events.
Through an aunt’s intervention, he got a paying job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other three days of the week. There he was a customer service employee, where he did things like direct visitors and answer questions during the popular Alexander McQueen exhibit featured that summer.
In the little spare time he had in the city, Angert said he enjoyed doing things that weren’t the typical New York City things to do—like going to a polo match sponsored by Veuve Clicquot champagne, or attending the New York City jazz lawn party.
He fell in love with the city; New York, he decided, was where he belonged after graduation.
During his senior year at Penn State, along with being Daily Collegian sports editor, he was also a Penn State football reporter for The Patriot-News of Harrisburg. The story that dominated the sports landscape was the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal and the firing and death of legendary coach Joe Paterno. “It pretty much consumed my entire life,” Angert said. During the scandal coverage he did two live interviews on ESPN’s Sports Center.
Angert’s family and friends expected him to pursue a career in sports journalism. The summer after graduation, he did an internship in Los Angeles with MLB.com., but he wanted to get back to New York.
Angert returned to Florida and began the daunting task of finding a job. He wasn’t looking for any media job; he was looking for something interesting. The search lasted from October 2012 to February 2013. “It was a very dark time,” Angert said lightheartedly. He added, “The story of how I got the job is not as cool as the job itself.”
Angert applied to hundreds of jobs in New York. He didn’t think twice about the application he sent to Guinness, but he does remember the day he received an email from the company asking him to come in for an interview. “I bought a one- way ticket to New York and hoped it would all work out,” he said.
His sister was already working in New York, so he crashed on her couch for four weeks. Finally, after six rounds of interviews, Angert became a Guinness World Record employee.
“It was the best day of my life,” he said.
“Are you Jewish?” asks the man who presented Angert with documentation for the challah bread.
“Today, I am a representative of Guinness World Records and unaffiliated with any religious groups, political groups, things like that,” says Angert, who is Jewish.
Onstage, a woman in a sequined hat and tie opens the event, pacing back and forth and engaging the crowd in chants. “Welcome to the greatest event that Brooklyn has ever seen!” she yells.
The Project Inspire organizers want to unify Jewish people all over the world and encourage them to share the beauty and wisdom of Jewish ways of life. “The challah brings us all together,” said a small woman with bright red lipstick and thick glasses standing backstage. “It’s as if we’re all family.”
There is a narration of the bread- making process as the women follow along at their individual stations. Friends catch up with old friends. Older women help girls make the perfect loaf of challah bread.
Angert waits backstage for his cue.
In November 1951, Sir Hugh Beaver, chairman of the Guinness Brewery, was hunting game birds in County Wexford, Ireland, and shot at a golden plover bird. He missed, and he wondered if this elusive bird was the fastest game bird in Europe.
Unable to find a reference book that answered his question, Beaver three years later invited two sports journalists to provide facts and figures to newspapers in London. That was the prelude to what would become the Guinness Book of Records.
The first book came out on Aug. 27, 1955, and it’s now published annually in September or October. More than 130 million books have been sold during the last 60 years, and about 2.5 million books are sold all over the world each year – in more than 25 languages.
The 2016 version contains more than 250 pages.
“We’re a book unlike any other book,” said Kristen Ott, public relations manager of Guinness World Records. “There is this natural, human instinct and curiosity that people are always going to be interested in it.”
The company has seen a business opportunity in the changing times, so it created the client services team and increased the number of adjudicators in the office.
Angert said there are more than 50 people around the world trained to judge records, and about a dozen or so are in New York.
The client services team reaches out to large companies and explains to them how they can incorporate record-breaking into their marketing campaigns, Angert said, in order to boost sales, increase customer engagement or reach new audiences.
Angert recently adjudicated an event for President dairy products in which the company built the world’s largest butter sculpture (2,000 pounds) of a Parisian skyline as part of a “Best of France” festival in Times Square. The business purpose was to increase brand and product awareness.
The starting price for a client to have a Guinness representative come to judge an event publicly and conduct the certificate awards ceremony in North America is $8,000.
Record-seekers can also apply for free and send in proof of their feats. Guinness employees will review those entries, and if they are deemed records, Guinness awards a certificate. Two examples from this year: the largest collection of sheep-related memorabilia (1,365 items, such as stuffed animals and ornaments, from a woman in Houston, Texas) and the world’s oldest best man (a gentleman from England, who was 102 years and 85 days old).
The Guinness Book of World Records aims for a target audience of boys aged 7 to 12. Angert thinks this builds a tradition within families so the book will get passed down through generations.
Ott said that some records are included year after year “that are really iconic and people love, like our tallest man to ever live, or our oldest people.” Guinness also is constantly adding new records, which keep the book relevant and successful. The affiliated website allows for constant updates.
“There never used to be records in relation to selfies,” Ott said. “And now we have tons because it’s something that you have to adapt with culture.”
For example, the most selfies to be taken in an hour – 1,449 – was achieved by Patrick Peterson and NBC Sports with students and faculty at Deer Valley High School in Glendale, Arizona.
Angert’s first job at the Guinness Book of World Records was to go through thousands of applications that arrived each day and determine which met the requirements to become potential world record holders.
To this day, Angert still has a big cardboard box of evidence of would-be records next to his desk that other members of the Guinness team are still reviewing. Some are in golden envelopes; others are in manila folders or on crinkled sheets of paper.
Some applicants seek records that Angert said can’t be measured, such as the world’s most beautiful daughter. Others can be considered — the most basketball shots to be made in a minutes, and the most people to hula hoop for 24 straight hours.
After a year and a half of reviewing applications, Angert moved to a new job of dealing solely with sports-specific records.
It was a case of matching job duties to Angert’s sports fanaticism.
Mark Angert, Alex’s dad, said, “He loves sports but he wasn’t always the best at playing them. He was always the best at watching them.”
Angert has gone to Nickelodeon’s Kid’s Choice Sports Awards and gotten carried off the stage—literally—by NFL Hall of Famer Michael Strahan. (Angert said he is 5-feet-10 and “Strahan weighs nearly twice my weight.”)
He has flown to Los Angeles to witness a game in which the Dodgers gave away Vin Scully bobbleheads. It happened to be the night that Scully officially set the record for the longest broadcasting career – as of Sept. 23, 2015, Scully had been in the booth 65 years, five months and 22 days.
He has met with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to recognize him as the first quarterback to pass for 300 yards and run for 100 yards in a game.
And this past summer, Angert went to Alpine, California, to watch professional skateboarder Danny Way get the highest air on a skateboard off a quarter pipe—a breathtaking and dangerous 25.49 feet.
Kim Partridge, his former boss and head of the records management team, said Angert “plays the role that people kind of have come to expect from an adjudicator. He’s there to enforce the rules. He is extremely engaging when he does that, but he does have that official persona. He just plays that part extremely well.”
One by one and then in a group, the girls wait to get their picture with the guy in the slick, navy jacket. Flash after flash, and then a redo because one “didn’t fix her hair.”
“Sometimes I feel like a character in Disney World,” Angert says.
The time has arrived. The room is quiet as Angert stands on stage doing his official measurement. He stands at one end of the table while coworker Partridge carries the tape to the other end.
He takes the microphone and lets the entertainer in him come out.
“First I would like to confirm that this was a valid Guinness World Record attempt,” Angert says as he points his clipboard to the audience.
Kristen Ott said Angert meets the qualities she looks for: “comfortable, experienced, well-spoken and all-around good on TV.”
Angert said he thinks his boss chose him because he has something in common with other employees at Guinness: “Everyone at work is interested in the world and the things that are out there and kind of ... unusual.”
Partridge also was on the team of Guinness World Record employees responsible for hiring Angert. She said that although his passion for sports shined through in his interviews, his passion for storytelling was what caught their attention.
“As he spent a couple years with the record management team, his sports passion kind of evolved,” Partridge said. “He became one our best records nerds, to be honest.
He is passionate about making quality rules and enforcing rules and telling stories in a little bit of a different way.”
Instead of writing about events as a reporter, Angert now creates stories. His job is a part of who he is. It ties in so many aspects of his life, mixes them all together, and sends him off on new adventures on a weekly basis.
“Growing up, we always played fun games,” Angert’s mother, Susan, said. “Whether it was Trivial Pursuit or name-your- favorite-top-5 this or that. We’ve just grown up playing all these silly fun games and the whole trivia and all the facts with Guinness, it’s such a matchup.”
Kellie Ferrick, human resources and office manager, admires the way Angert handles himself in public, which often presses him to step outside the lines.
But he never does.
“Alex is really unique in that he has this really great blend between someone who is very professional and also someone who is very passionate,” Ferrick said.
Angert said his journalism background prepared him for an unbiased professional persona. But Guinness World Records allows him to step inside the realms he loves, such as sports and travel.
Angert said he chose to adjudicate the challah bread event because he could relate to the community involved.
It’s obvious he’s found a place where he belongs.
“We hired Alex because he is just naturally a very curious person who is interested in learning about new things and talking to people,” Partridge said. “His openness and his personable approach come out immediately. And he is never sick of learning new things.”
For Angert, work and life go hand in hand. He gets to live his life through his job. His curiosity and love for the world’s biggest and smallest facts has brought him to a place where his life story and his “office stories” overlap.
“‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ is not a question I like to give the answer to, because it kind of means that you’re pigeonholing yourself ...,” Angert said. “I like to keep things open-ended. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be in the role I’m in now. Maybe I’ll be backpacking the world. Maybe I’ll be at a new company.”
“With the final measurement of exactly...,” Angert pauses slightly, building suspense, “20 feet, I am thrilled to announce that Project Inspire has set a brand-new Guinness World Record.”
As the women start screaming, Angert addresses the crowd:
“Guinness World Records is all about bringing together communities behind a common goal to be the best and the greatest in the world. And that’s what I see here tonight.
“It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all into the Guinness World Records family. You are all, officially, amazing.”
(This story also appeared in The Lion's Roar on Dec. 1, 2015)