Brandon Scott Wolf wouldn't call himself the next L. Ron Hubbard, but he does need 100,000 people to join his new religion.
Otherwise, the 2011 Pennsylvania State University grad, 27, won't be able to register it for tax-exempt status -- which, of course, is the whole point.
Wolf, a Philadelphia-born comedian and television writer (he's freelanced for Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" and was a staffer on the Neil Patrick Harris variety show Best Time Ever) who now lives in New York, recently launched FollowBrandonScottWolf.com. He calls the site a performance art piece targeted at getting people to follow him on Twitter to join his religion, the Followers of Brandon. Once the account reaches 100,000 followers, Wolf plans to file 501(c)(3) paperwork with the IRS as an actual religion, which he says will allow him to avoid paying taxes.
Although Tax Day has already passed, he's up to about 9,000 Followers, whom Wolf calls his devotees. "A lot of people say it looks like I am starting a cult, and I want to be clear: I am not a cult leader, I just have a cult following."
Wolf, who was raised in Bucks County, says his religion has only one commandment: "Thou shalt like AND retweet," with and in all capitals because it is imperative that followers do both, as the tweets are his gospel. Otherwise, he says, he hopes to "make it as enjoyable as possible for everyone."
Comedy fans may recognize Wolf's name from projects such as "DateBrandonScottWolf.com" and "FightBrandonScottWolf.com," a pair of 2015 online performance art pieces that went viral. Wolf calls his dating site the "No. 1 dating site for me, Brandon Scott Wolf"; the other was a tongue-in-cheek challenge to boxer Floyd Mayweather.
Despite the success of those projects, Wolf found his social-media accounts weren't growing at the rate he had hoped for, stalling at between two and 10 new followers per week. That's when inspiration struck.
"I said to myself, 'Brandon, how can you actually grow your following?' Most religious people who start religions end up having a following. And since there are legitimate religions that kind of have based their [beliefs] around what seems to be getting tax breaks, I thought, 'Why not make my own religion?' "
Wolf's account has grown significantly, adding about 1,200 Followers in the last week. The account has even gotten the attention of celebrities like former President Barack Obama, comedian George Lopez, and Pussycat Dolls front woman Nicole Scherzinger, all of whom are Followers. Apolo Anton Ohno, Olympic speed skater, was also a Follower until recently -- a development that Wolf says cut him deep.
"Now, I notice everyone who strays from my flock," he says. "I'm saying this to the media right now because I'm hoping [Ohno] sees this and comes back home."
Most recently, however, Wolf says he has noticed an influx of alt-righters and supporters of President Trump joining his ranks. He's unsure what to make of that segment, saying he isn't clear whether they want to be Followers or "want to kill me one day." After all, he says, he has offended some folks with the project, but they usually "kind of laugh it off."
Either way, Wolf says he is happy to die for his humor -- particularly because he has a killer pinned tweet at the moment.
"If I do get murdered, and my pinned tweet is the one I have now that's a GIF of me saying, 'I can save you' on loop, the joke is going to be so much funnier," Wolf says. "Dying would be bad, but everyone is going to be laughing so hard when I return in three days."
Wolf, who was born into a Jewish family, says he knows where he stands in history when it comes to creating a religion. And though his idea may not be original, he plans to make it his own.
"I'm not the first person who is Jewish to start a religion," he says, referring to a certain carpenter. "I understand others have done it, but I'm doing it my way."
That includes tongue-in-cheek plans for a church, which he refers to as a "denominational spiritual religious center." He is tight-lipped about those plans at the moment, but he indicated he wants to foster an online relationship with Tom Cruise's Twitter account in hopes that the actor might appear at a future ribbon-cutting for the spiritual center, which Wolf notes will have free WiFi.
"My version of the Vatican is coming, and it will be made," Wolf says. "I can assure you of that."
In addition to Hubbard and Wolf, among others, comedian John Oliver started a religion, "Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption," in 2015 as a way to illustrate how some organizations abuse tax exemption. Oliver shut the project down shortly after its start and donated money given to the church to Doctors Without Borders.
Wolf acknowledges he sounds crazy, but that's what makes convincing performance art. The project, he says, "gives a look into my personality" and serves as "a great way to showcase who I am."
"There are lots of funny comedians in Philly and New York," Wolf says. "And you can be great, but you're still not going to stand out. I use these websites as a way for people to take notice of my work, and, thankfully, people seem to enjoy what I do, and they follow."
When folks contact him to let him know he's gained a Follower, he likes to make it official with a direct message back. Essentially, he tells new members of his flock they are "good and devout," and thanks them for following. And, in his mind, it is official.
"If you're getting DM'ed by the person in charge of your religion, it's official at that point," Wolf says. "If @Pontifex reaches out to you, then you are officially a member of the Catholic Church."