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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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