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“Winnebago Man,” the Story Behind an Unwitting YouTube Sensation

“Winnebago Man,” the Story Behind an Unwitting YouTube Sensation (photo)

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I have this really funny video of my father. My family was on vacation in Aruba years ago. We were hanging out by the pool and we had brought one of those inflatable rafts. My father tried to get on it, and slipped off. Then tried again, and fell. Again and again and again. You’d think he’d covered himself in castor oil before he got in the pool or something. It’s absurd. I have no doubt that if I put this video up on YouTube eventually thousands of people would watch it because — trust me — this video is funny. But I wouldn’t do it because it might embarrass my dad or hurt his feelings (though I seem to think writing about it won’t piss him off. Let’s hope I’m right).

The people in the YouTube videos we pass around to our friends and co-workers are exactly that: people. And after they recover from the physical pain of getting run over by a car or falling out of a tree, they have to deal with the shame of becoming famous for being the guy who got hit by a car or fell out of a tree.

The only way pre-Internet you could accidentally find yourself known by millions of people was by either sleeping with a celebrity (in which case you kind of have to know what you’re getting into) or by being the center of some sort of media circus (like, say, if you accidentally fell down a well). Now, it could happen to any of us who’ve ever done something stupid in front of a camera (Lord knows that includes me) at any time without our consent.

07092010_winnebag2.jpgThe absorbing and thought-provoking documentary “Winnebago Man” is about one of the men who holds this kind of unintended and unwanted celebrity. His name is Jack Rebney, though fans of his “work” know him as “The World’s Angriest RV Salesman.” He’s the star of a four-and-a-half-minute series of profane outtakes from an industrial video for Winnebago Industries that’s been viewed millions of times on YouTube. A University of Texas film professor named Ben Steinbauer became so obsessed with this clip he decided to make a movie about it.

Above all, Steinbauer effectively provides the key thing these hilarious YouTube videos do not: context. Steinbauer tracks down the film crew of the Winnebago video shoot, who describe the awful working conditions and their star’s incredibly poor attitude, the key factor that led to the group’s decision to capture and then compile Rebney’s outbursts and hand them over to their bosses at Winnebago. (The decision got Rebney fired.)

He finds the folks most responsible for spreading the tape: the hosts of “The Show With No Name” and The Found Footage Festival, who cherished and shared their VHS tapes of “The World’s Angriest RV Salesman” back in the day when each new copy had to be made one at a time in a tape-to-tape deck. And after an exhaustive search that includes hiring a private detective, Steinbauer even locates Rebney, living a quiet life of seclusion in a mountain cabin in Northern California.

As the expression goes, it’s sometimes better to be lucky than good, and Steinbauer was one lucky documentarian throughout the making of his film. Not only was he lucky to find Rebney at all, there’s no way he could have known when he started “Winnebago Man” that the hilariously foul-mouthed guy at the center of all of this would turn out to be such a fascinating, complicated subject.

07092010_winnebago3.jpgRebney is all contradictions: a former newsman longing for the days of impartial journalism who spends most of his free time calling Dick Cheney names; a hermit living in total isolation who hates the fact that he’s become known for “the historicity” of his youth, who nevertheless clearly loves the spotlight and the platform he’s suddenly been given; a man who became famous for acting like an idiot who is clearly very intelligent, never more so than when he accurately sizes up Steinbauer and his agenda by snarling at him, “You’ve got zilch unless you’ve got me.”

The relationship between Steinbauer and Rebney is a strange and compelling mix of mutual exploitation and friendship. Watching the film a second time (after enjoying it once before at CineVegas in 2009), I remain impressed by Steinbauer’s ability to draw honest, candid material from a tough interview like Rebney and by the film’s humorous but respectful tone.

I did find myself more troubled by the ending, which in some ways negates all of the thoughtful criticism and self-analysis Steinbauer provided for the previous 90 minutes by reversing course and encouraging the consumption of the same viral videos it had so thoroughly demystified. In Steinbauer’s words, being remembered, even if it’s not what you want to be remembered for, is better than being forgotten.

So I guess I will be putting my father’s pool escapades online. How’s “The World’s Slipperiest Father” sound for a title?

“Winnebago Man” opens today in New York before expanding into limited release on July 16th.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.