Pizzamas: How a Bad Mustache Became an Annual Fundraiser & Community Tradition

Pizza John shirts sold to raise money for charity —

Over a decade ago, a meme created by Hank and John Green’s fans became a niche internet joke. Today, Pizza John is recognized with a two-week annual fundraiser and celebration known as Pizzamas, which raised over $100,000 in 2021 alone.

Pizzamas: An internet holiday for good

What is Pizzamas?

Pizzamas is an annual internet holiday celebrated by internet creators and authors Hank and John Green. The holiday was created organically with their fanbase, known as Nerdfighters, and takes on a life of its own each year. 

“Every year I know what Pizzamas is a little less,” said Hank in a 2021 recap of the event. The two-week event is equal parts fundraiser and celebration of community, with a healthy dose of absurdity and nostalgia.

John Green sports a mustache on his YouTube channel, while the closed captioning says, "The most magical time of the year, where Hank and I make videos"
John Green celebrates the beginning of Pizzamas 2022 / Screenshot of Vlogbrothers YouTube

During Pizzamas, Hank and John “return to their roots” — as Hank explained in a 2020 video — by uploading YouTube videos to one another every weekday, just like they did when they launched their vlogbrothers YouTube channel in 2007. 

The topics of these videos range from educational and current events to Q&As and plain goofiness, with one element consistency: the return of John’s mustache. 

Every year, John’s first Pizzamas upload features him with a mustache, marking the annual return of Pizza John.

Who is Pizza John?

Understanding the identity of Pizza John requires a brief Nerdfighteria history lesson. 

In 2009, John uploaded a YouTube video in which he gradually shaved his face, resulting in a brief clip of John sporting a thick mustache. Nerdfighter Valerie Barr then used a still from this video to create the beloved piece of fan art known as Pizza John — a white outline of John’s mustached face against a red background with the word “Pizza” in bold font. 

The original red Pizza John artwork
The original Pizza John artwork created by Valerie Barr

Pizza John quickly became a fan favorite among Nerdfighters, and Hank and John embraced the chaos. In 2010, the first Pizza John t-shirt was officially created by Hank and John. 

Over the years, fans created their own versions of Pizza John art, and a combination of creativity and community led to a fandom inside joke that has lasted over twelve years.

The original Pizza John t-shirt in red
The original Pizza John t-shirt, created by DBFTBA for Pizzamas / Product image via DFTBA

The History of Pizzamas

Screenshot of the 2015 version of DFTBA's website, showing old Pizzamas merch
Pizza John merch for sale on DFTBA in November 2015 / Screenshot via Internet Archive's WayBack Machine

Pizzamas started as a celebration of fandom legend Pizza John by selling various t-shirts and products for a limited time. It began with recognizing the wacky adaptions of Pizza John created by Nerdfighteria, and that legacy lives on every year that the holiday has been celebrated. In 2012 and 2013, the event solely celebrated artistry and fandom through merchandise. 

In 2014, the first year of Pizzamas in its current format came to life, with Hank and John adding additional videos into their upload schedule as a nod to their early YouTube origins. Each year’s event also includes limited-time merchandise that can only be purchased during the duration of that year’s Pizzamas.

How does Pizzamas raise money? 

2022 Pizza John artwork, including a Shrek-themed Onion John shirt
2022 Pizza John merch, created by (from left to right) Dominique Ramsey, DFTBA, and Shannon Wright / Product images via Pizzamas

Each year, Hank and John’s e-commerce company DFTBA partners with independent artists to design and sell a variety of limited-edition merchandise.

The merchandise staple of Pizzamas is the t-shirt — of which multiple designs are created each year — but products have become increasingly absurd over the years, ranging from blankets and tote bags to pizza scented air fresheners and a marble bust of Pizza John.

All of the profits from Pizzamas merchandise is donated to charity. In recent years, including 2022, the profits are donated to Nerdfighteria’s ongoing project with Partners in Health.

Nerdfighteria Gives Back

Since its earliest years as an internet community, Nerdfighteria has held charity as a core value. Over the last few years, the community has stepped up to fund its biggest project yet.

A rendering of the medical facility in Sierra Leone, with mothers standing in the foreground
A rendering of the Maternal Center of Excellence in Sierra Leone / Image courtesy of Partners in Health

Strengthening Healthcare in Sierra Leone

In 2019, John and Hank announced that along with Nerdfighteria, they were making a multi-year commitment to raise $25,000,000 to support Partners in Health (Partners in Health) in decreasing maternal and child mortality in Sierra Leone. When the project was announced, the Kono District of Sierra Leone had the highest maternal mortality rate worldwide. 

In just over three years, nearly $30,000,000 has been pledged for the construction and staffing of a Maternal Center of Excellence at Khoitou Government Hospital in the Kono District. The center will also serve as a teaching hospital to educate and provide employment to future healthcare workers from Sierra Leone. The center officially broke ground in April of 2021.

Partners in Health

Sierra Leone is just one of many projects from Partners in Health. The organization’s goals are “to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair,” with projects across the globe ranging from pediatric care to AIDS treatment and prevention. 

At the core of every project is the idea that simply providing a one-time solution is not adequate to solve structural problems. That’s why simply building a hospital is not enough; the funds raised for Sierra Leone will also provide staffing, training, and supply to create a sustainable healthcare center for the community.

One of the most influential forces behind Partners in Health was its co-founder, Dr. Paul Farmer. As the Chief Strategist at Partners in Health, Dr. Farmer forged new pathways to create access to healthcare in the face of extreme social inequity. Devastatingly, Dr. Farmer passed away in February of 2022.

“Paul Farmer’s loss is devastating, but his vision for the world will live on through Partners in Health,” said Partners in Health CEO Dr. Sheila Davis. “Paul taught all those around him the power of accompaniment, love for one another, and solidarity. Our deepest sympathies are with his family.”

Nerdfighteria in Action

Pizzamas is far from Nerfighteria’s only form of giving back. Each year, the community comes together for the Project for Awesome, a 48-hour charity live stream known for raising millions. In 2022 alone, the Project for Awesome raised over $3 million for Partners in Health and various other charities.

Beyond events, Hank and John have launched two subscriptions devoted solely to fundraising for Sierra Leone. The Awesome Socks Club allows members to receive a monthly pair of socks with surprise designs from independent artists, and the Awesome Coffee Club delivers ethically sourced, high-quality coffee monthly or bi-weekly to subscribers. 

All profits from both subscription services go directly to supporting the community’s work with Partners in Health.

How can I get involved in Pizzamas?

Pizzamas is essentially a made-up holiday, meaning there are no right or wrong ways to celebrate. Community members and curious onlookers alike can watch videos, receive pizza-adjacent dad jokes by text, and shop the Pizzamas merch

“I get the joke… but why?”

Pizza John shirt that says "Yes I get the joke, but why?"
A Pizza John shirt featuring the iconic "Yes I get the joke, but why?" quote / Product image via Pizzamas

This exact question was asked by John’s son Henry in the 2022 Pizzamas kick-off video. Henry was referring to a Shrek-themed Pizza John shirt, but the same question can be asked of Pizzamas as a whole. Why does Pizzamas exist?

“There’s something confusing but also really lovely about doing a thing that isn’t a thing,” said Hank of the two-week event. This description holds true, as fans come together to celebrate a low-stakes, lighthearted recognition of community and charity.

Even more than the fun, though, Pizzamas is a reminder of the change that can occur just from making noise around a charitable cause. 

“Whether you can donate or not, please know that paying sustained attention to the structural system-wide challenges of poverty really can lead to change,” said John. It turns out that sometimes, that attention comes in the form of a slightly confusing piece of fan art with a haunting mustache.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Pizza John shirt?

Pizza John shirts are worn to celebrate Pizzamas, an annual charity event hosted by Hank and John Green. The first Pizza John shirts were made in 2010, and have since  become a symbol of the Nerdfighteria fan community. Wearing a Pizza John shirt is recognized as a way of finding other Nerdfighters in public. The proceeds of each shirt goes to charity.

When is Pizzamas each year?

Pizzamas takes place annually in the fall. While the specific dates vary year to year, John’s infamous mustache typically makes its debut in October.

When is Pizzamas 2023? 

DFTBA has announced that in 2023, Pizzamas will take place from September 25 to October 8. Hank and John Green will upload videos every weekday, and 2023 Pizzamas memorabilia will be available on the DFTBA website for the full two weeks.

How long is Pizzamas?

Pizzmas officially lasts for two weeks. During this time, Hank and John will upload 10 YouTube videos — one each weekday. 

When was Pizzamas 2022?

Pizzamas 2022 lasted from September 26th - October 7th. Videos were uploaded each weekday, and 2022 Pizzamas memorabilia was available on the DFTBA website for the full two weeks. 2022’s Pizzamas included a live event in Indianapolis on October 5th.

Where do proceeds from Pizzamas go?

All proceeds from Pizzamas merchandise go to Hank and John’s continued work with Partners in Health. Since 2019, the brothers and their fan community have been committed to raising money in for the building, staffing, and supplying of a Maternal Center of Excellence in the Kono district of Sierra Leone, an area known for having the world’s highest maternal mortality rate. 

In just over three years, Hank, John, Partners in Health, and the Nerdfighter community have raised over $30,000,000 through donations, matching funds, and charity events.

Article Details

September 28, 2022 5:29 PM
September 5, 2023
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