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Turning laughs into pageviews - SXSW DAY 5

blog by S.J. Velasquez  • 

SXSW Interactive is filled with the typical media, tech and startup folks, but there’s also a good number of comedic types who show up, drawing massive crowds at panels and lines seemingly miles long at book signings.

Comedians—some of whom qualifying as legitimate celebrities—and other comedy-minded speakers at SXSW provide more than just entertaining sessions. As we’ve seen in the development of the internet and buzz-worthy content, comedy is often a key element when it comes to going viral. With that in mind, I spent my last full day (Tuesday) in Austin focusing on the use of humor in creating and marketing content.

jonah perettiBuzzfeed founder and Huffington Post co-founder Jonah Peretti harnessed the power of humor on the internet early on. During his keynote address at SXSW, Peretti shared his humble beginnings as a viral sensation, telling the story of how he tried to customize a pair of Nike sneakers with the word “sweatshop” stitched along the side of the shoes.

Peretti, no powerful human rights advocate, just wanted to see what would happen. His mission was not to start a revolution, but to simply mess with Nike. Once Nike rejected his shoe design, he kept the situation moving, later sharing the collection of emails on the internet. Before long, he would appear on newscasts and morning shows talking about the sneaker situation. And after that, he’d recreate the seemingly serendipitous virality—over and over again.

To create content worth sharing, thus becoming a viral senstation, there are certain factors to consider when producing that content. One of those eight factors highlighted by Peretti is humor, which, he said, “is inherently social.” A funny message, photo, blog post of other piece of content has the potential to make rounds in emails and on social media. From that point, the possibilities are endless in terms of visibility.

Later Tuesday evening, Kat and I attended the premiere of “We Cause Scenes,” a documentary film about the history of Improv Everywhere, a “prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places.”

Improv Everywhere creator Charlie Todd explained in the film that the group’s beginnings, much like Peretti’s humble buzz-making beginnings, were simple. It was just him and a small group of friends stirring up a little mischief to have some fun.

Todd’s first prank involved convincing girls in a bar that he was Ben Folds. He recruited a few friends to help run the prank, and it was a success. A few years later, he and his friends organized the first no-pants subway ride. That particular event is now annual, with about 60 cities around the world participating.

“We try to keep the element of surprise,” he said of the evolution of the group’s missions.

Improv Everywhere, unlike other groups of wannabe flashmobbers, has hit success after success with its videos. Others have tried to replicate the group’s success but fall short, very short. What makes Improv Everywhere different, more successful? I asked Todd this question during a What’s Trending interview (embedded below).

“It seems like in the last few years ‘flashmob’ just means dancing like a cheerleader squad in a public space,” Todd responded, adding that his comedy background and interest in the particular project set Improv Everywhere apart from the less popular mob projects.


Fred Armisen“Portlandia” star Fred Armisen, before heading to his anticipated panel discussion at the festival, sat down for a What’s Trending interview, too. Kat and I joined a few bloggers to watch the interview, talk to Armisen and get a picture with the “Saturday Night Live” legend.

Mentioned briefly is the viral success of “Portlandia.” According to an Oregonlive.com article, that’s due to the show’s digestible bits, easily segmented into clips and shared on social networks:

“Although episodes have bits that continue throughout, most of the sketches can stand alone and be pulled out of context and shared on the Internet. ‘Portlandia’ owes much of its buzz to the fact that even people who don’t get IFC have seen big chunks of the show courtesy of Facebook, Twitter and other online outlets.”

Not included in the video above is Armisen’s Q&A session with the audience. I was fortunate enough to speak candidly with Armisen about comedy outside of major comedy training hubs like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City.

Armisen encouraged Buffalo’s funny-in-training to “make your new thing.”

“You’ll be less disappointed. And then everything else will fall into place after that,” he said.

TAGGED: buzzfeed, comedy, flashmob, fred armisen, improv everywhere, portlandia, snl, sxsw, viral videos, we cause scenes

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