Video of the week: "the show with zefrank"

ze frank logoIt’s a bit odd to be writing a review about a video podcast that began on March 17, 2006 and ended on March 17, 2007. Today, in case you don’t know or have to look it up, is August 3, 2007.

But this is no ordinary video podcast. It’s living beyond the end. “the show with zefrank” is still a Featured Video Podcast (comedy) on the iTunes Music Store. “zefrank the songs”, a soundtrack for “the show” featuring such ditties as “If the Earth Were a Sandwich” and “Stinky Nipples”, is also being sold on the iTMS.If you’ve never seen “the show with zefrank,” go to the archive section of his website and begin watching. Ze (rhymes with “say) Frank suggests that, “like any good conversation, it can be a bit confusing if you join in the middle. to get caught up, watch some popular episodes and check out what the sports racers created.”

The sports racers are us, the viewers, and we’ve — well, not me personally, but the fans — have kept “the show” alive by creating and maintaining a comprehensive wiki and a forum dedicated to all things ZeFrank. It’s well worth the time and effort. And contrary to what ZeFrank says, you can start with almost any show and work your way through the catalogue, using the wiki for help if you don’t understand a particular term, but it’s not really needed.

zefrank up closeZeFrank, born Hosea Jan Frank, once studied neuroscience at Brown University and somehow ended up as an online performance artist, humorist, and public speaker based in Brooklyn, N.Y. As an experiment in 2006, he created “the show”, a 3 to 4 minute video podcast in which he speaks to us, the sports racers, about current events and news of the weird, provides us anecdotal observations about life, and throws in the occasional stunt.

“The show” is sort of like Andy Rooney meets Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, although the visual style of “the show” is more “YouTube” than “60 Minutes” with edgy, quick-video edits and severe close-ups. ZeFrank’s eyes bulge and he rarely blinks as he looks at us directly through the camera lens.

“The show” is completely improvisational (except for two episodes) and topics range from George Bush and the bomb in North Korea to theme parks and the Super Bowl (transcripts). He’ll talk insightfully about Robert Putnam and his book “Bowling Alone” in one episode and in another pour chocolate milk over himself in a non-slapstick, I’m-making-a-point sort of way. He’s as insightful and self aware as any of the top stand-up comedians performing today.

His sign-off line — and I love this — is, “This is ZeFrank, thinking so you don’t have to.”

Early in Ze’s experiment, more than 10,000 viewers visited his website daily for “the show” and more than 50 million people have spent time at the site, which features other work besides “the show”. He reached Internet fame long before the video podcast: in 2001 he threw together an online listing of silly dance moves he called “How to Dance Properly” and sent it to 17 friends. They in turn forwarded it to others, and it became one of the early viral hits on the Web having been viewed more than a million times in a week.

ze frank by scott bealeSadly, ZeFrank ended the show as planned but at the peak of traffic and the height of popularity. He’s been featured in articles from “Slate,” “The New York Times,” the “Los Angeles Times,” “The Guardian”, and “Newsweek” and has spoken at the TED Conference, among others. He’s signed with the United Talent Agency of Beverly Hills, Calif., and has also served as an adjunct professor at ITP/NYU, Parsons School of Design, and SUNY Purchase.

The ending of “the show with zefrank” reminds me of the recent ending of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, although on much less of a grand scale. “Harry Potter” ended at its peak, and so did “the show”, but the work of Rowling and ZeFrank live on for the next generation of readers and viewers.

“the show with zefrank” is best available at ZeFrank’s website in Flash format. “Best Of” episodes are currently available at the iTunes Music Store in the iPod-compatible format and may be subscribed to via an RSS feed.

Photo credit: Scott Beale, Laughing Squid.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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