Oneupmanship, Dopplegangers, and Citizen Newsmen – Viral Video Round Up

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Another week, another round of awesome viral video success stories—that’s kind of the beauty of a series like this Viral Video Round Up… there’s always something fresh to talk about coming around the corner. Let’s begin:


You may remember last week’s featured video starring Merton, the piano-playing improv comic who made up songs on the spot about the people he randomly connected to on Chatroulette.  If so, you might also remember that a lot of people thought Merton was actually Ben Folds—to the point of him having to clarify in the video description that he was not, in fact, Ben Folds.  You can see why folks would think that, as Merton does look and sound quite a bit like Ben Folds, and even has the same musical style.

That video amassed millions of views within a week’s time—and for good reason… because it’s hilarious.  (Interestingly, the video was pulled early this week by YouTube for terms of use violations, but was re-uploaded by Merton again on Monday and has quickly racked up another million views.  I guess that Merton must have cleared up whatever violation the YouTube team saw in the first version).

Sometime during Merton’s initial run to the top of the viral heap, the real Ben Folds took notice.  And it seems that he could appreciate Merton’s humor and creativity, because he created his own response video of sorts.  To set the stage, Folds was giving a concert in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday the 20th.  There were about 2,000 in attendance.  Folds set up his web-cam  to display himself at the piano, with the crowd behind him… put a giant screen on stage for the audience to be able to see, and hooked up to Chatroulette right there in the middle of his own concert to put his own spin on Merton’s shtick.

The results are pretty awesome:

Now, it’s clear that Folds appreciates Merton’s video—he’s even titled his version Ode To Merton—so there’s no animosity here.  At most, it’s a playful bit of one-upmanship combined with a tip of the hat.  The live audience in the background adds a new layer to the gag (one that adds entertainment value to the viewer as well), and you can tell that Folds has been doing this piano/improv thing longer than Merton has, because it’s simply effortless for him.

The Ode To Merton has over two million views in under a week.

So what makes this video work?  Why is it a success?  Well, there are a lot of reasons.

First, it’s piggybacking on another white hot viral success—a tactic Merton himself put to use by capitalizing on Chatroulette’s insane popularity with his first video.  But more than just copycatting him, Folds adds his own spin with the live audience.

Second, this video benefits from the fact that so many initially confused Merton for Folds in the first place, thereby associating him with the video despite his complete lack of involvement.  People were probably beginning to expect a similar video from Folds to come eventually, giving him built-in anticipation and demand.

Third, it’s hilarious.  Humor trumps almost everything in the world of viral video.  It also shows off immense musical ability and comic timing.

Finally, the fact that it’s a capture of a live event—an intimate moment that no other Ben Folds concertgoer will ever get outside of this show… which lends a bit of “you have to see this” quality to the piece.  Watching Ode To Merton gives those of us not in attendance a chance to experience a unique live concert moment.

I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of this.  Merton is already promising a new video will appear soon… who knows if it will contain any reference to Folds’ Ode.  But it’s a sure bet it will be funny, nonetheless.

The Talented Twin

When I was in college, I attended a variety show put on by fellow students.  One of them—perhaps the most talented guy I’ve ever known—came out with an accordion and sang a song with another version of himself that was up on a giant screen playing the guitar.  They interacted with each other, made jokes, and even sang in impeccable harmony together.  It darn near blew my mind, and it’s still one of the most creative pieces of entertainment I’ve ever witnessed.

Our second spotlight video for this week hit the web a little over a week ago, and features the same kind of thing.  Freddie25 is the uploader, and he’s recorded a video that contains two versions of him sitting side by side on a couch—one that plays guitar while singing lead, and another that plays a keyboard and sings backup.  Together, they perform a medley of 22 television theme songs.  And it’s pretty seamless:

It wasn’t that long ago that even Hollywood had trouble splicing in two performances by one actor into the same scene without it looking fake (like Multiplicity, for instance).  But technology has progressed to the point where your everyday YouTube user can splice together two videos of himself and make it look like his twin is accompanying him.

He’s also pretty talented as a musician and singer—something you know I like to harp on as a general rule of viral success.  It’s charming and humorous, which always helps.  And combining all those television theme songs into a medley means that he’s hitting a pretty wide audience of TV fans who may be interested to see his take on their favorite show’s opening song… again we see a success story that taps into a pre-existing fan base.  Toss in the gimmick of playing the songs with a double of himself, and the obvious effort that went into the timing and creation of this video, and you have a heck of a great mix of ingredients for viral success.  I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more videos like this from Freddie25, especially since there are hundreds of popular TV theme songs for him to choose from for the sequel.

Captured On Film

Have you ever been out in public and have something happen in front of your eyes that made you wish you’d brought a video camera with you?  It happens to me all the time.  I’ve yet to find a practical way to simply film everything I see and hear so that I can ensure I capture these things on film, but others have more luck than I do.

Like the guy who shot this footage of a truck pushing a car down the highway… oblivious to the fact that there’s a car stuck to the front of his rig:

For some reason there are a bunch of instances of this video on YouTube, which combined have probably a couple million views.  The version I’m embedding has 250,000 after being online a week.

Thankfully, the driver of the car was okay—otherwise, this would be far too grim for me to feel comfortable posting it.  But the reason this video went viral should be pretty obvious… and it’s all in the reaction it elicits from its viewers:  shock, surprise, and incredulity.  If you can capture an event live that most people would only read about in the newspaper… you have a hit.  If you capture something nearly unbelievable to viewers (except for the fact that they’re watching it)… you have a hit.  And if you can somehow time it so that you’re near a car being pushed on the highway at 60mph by an oblivious truck driver—and you manage to have the presence of mind to whip out a camera and film it—then you definitely have a hit.

The proliferation of cheap video cameras that take high-quality video is doing something interesting and borderline-revolutionary:  it’s giving us a chance to see actual video of the kinds of things we used to only hear about from newscasters… or see video of the aftermath… or hear eyewitness accounts.  Flip cameras and their brethren are removing another layer of buffer between us and news events, giving us a look at things we previously had to use our imagination to “see.”

In summary, it’s becoming quite clear that choosing a hot topic or trendy subject for your viral video efforts is a trampoline to some extra views.  Additionally, creative and musically-gifted individuals will always have a viral audience.  Finally, capturing some amazing live event on camera—while incredibly difficult—is as close to a sure thing as viral video has ever seen.

Honorable Mention:

If I had room, I would have included:


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