Monday, July 28, 2008

Citizentube Interview with 23/6's Sarah Bernard

Hilarious, smart, and often politically incorrect, 23/6 is quickly becoming one of the most popular political humor outfits on the Internet. Best known for the web-sensation "It's Raining McCain," 23/6 uses today's headlines as grist for their prolific satire mill. Citizentube caught up with president Sarah Bernard on the eve of the launch of their new animated series "Get Your War On" (see the promo below) to ask her some questions.

Citizentube: How did 23/6 come into existence?

Sarah Bernard: After The Huffington Post was launched, and it was clear that it was going to stick around for a while, Arianna (Huffington) had this idea for a website where people could auction off stuff. That idea was taken, but she also had one for a funny news commentary site. The Daily Show is, of course, the gold standard, but in the age of the web, it seemed strange to have to wait around until the end of the day to get a funny take on the news. Arianna has always loved political satire, even before her days in bed (literally) with Al Franken for Comedy Central’s InDecision ’96. So she and Roy Sekoff, the editor of The Huffington Post, started thinking about how this might work. One day Arianna ran into Michael Jackson, the President of Programming for Barry Diller's IAC, and asked him what he was working on. He mentioned a project they were calling at the time "a comedy Drudge." And that's where the partnership started.

CT: Explain the process of making a 23/6 video, from coming up with the idea to posting it on the web.

SB: Like pretty much everything else on the web, it happens in a very ad hoc way. Sometimes an in-house writer will have an idea, sometimes it'll be a performer that we work with (like Jon Glaser or Eugene Mirman or Jon Benjamin), and oftentimes it will come from Brian Spinks, our head of video content. Brian will oversee the production and final edit, along with help from Holly Schlesinger. After it’s produced, we put it up and wait for obscene comments telling us it's not funny.

CT: How did "The McCain Girls" music videos come about?

SB: We wanted to create our version of those overly-earnest, amateur political videos that have been such a fad this election season. (“Hillary4U&Me” was a favorite.) We thought there was a funny idea there, and Jon Benjamin and Patrick Borelli crystallized it into The McCain Girls. Once we developed the first video, we decided to release it anonymously. A key part of the ‘YouTube star’ phenomenon is that most popular videos are made by amateurs, and we thought The McCain Girls could reach a wider audience if people didn’t realize it came from a professional humor site.

CT: Initially when "It's Raining McCain" came out, it was unclear whether this was an actual pro-McCain video, or if it was a spoof. Where do you stand?

SB: It's different every time I see it – and I've seen it a lot...What I can tell you is that to make a video that seems badly produced and edited takes a lot of editing and producing.

CT: How did "Get Your War On" come about?

SB: 23/6’s video series of “Get Your War On” is based on David Rees’ comic strip that he created in response to Operation: Enduring Freedom. The 1980’s style clip-art strip became an Internet sensation by depicting workers in generic office settings providing acute insights and critiques of U.S. Policy post-9/11, from the “liberation” of Iraq to George Bush’s plans to send astronauts to Mars. Everyone here at 23/6 is a huge fan of David’s work, and we approached him in hopes that he would let us animate the series and focus his clip-art characters to current events, including the 2008 election season. Fortunately for us, David said yes, and Flat Black Films (the animation company behind Richard Linklater’s film, “Waking Life”), Jon Glaser, and Anthony Laurent agreed to help the project.

CT: What reactions are you hoping to provoke with this new series?

SB: Informed outrage mixed with an appreciation of the absurd. And if you’ll let me quote David Rees.... “Anyone who enjoys JibJab animations will have a nervous breakdown watching these things.”

CT: How do you think political humor, especially web-based outfits like yours, The Onion, and Barely Political, has affected this year's election?

SB: It's hard to say whether it's had a strictly political effect -- though we do take full credit for Mitt Romney dropping out. That said, satire has always been a part of politics and the election carnival. This year, the integration of the web and the political process – from fundraising, organizing, advertising, getting the message out – has been one of the biggest stories of the year, and the fact that humor is part of that seems natural. One aspect that’s striking this election season is the fact that the candidates have been forced to respond to all of the online noise around them, individuals with iMovie skills + YouTube views and professional humorists alike.

CT: Any advice for fledgling political humorists?

SB: Our editor, Jason Reich, would say that you have to know what you're talking about first and also have affection for it. The key to making something simple and accessible is having a real handle on it. For us, we’re trying to make politics funny and approachable to a wide audience, but we can't do that unless we have a real grasp of the topic. And, a wide knowledge of pop culture helps, too. (We think) The McCain Girls works because Obama Girl was such a part of the pop culture conversation, and also because everyone knows what good music videos/lyrics look and sound like, and what bad ones do, too. More simply, just go after what interests you. And hope Mitt Romney gets picked for VP.


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