In a nondescript studio on the ground floor of Park Auditorium, four Ithaca College students are dressed in prison jumpsuits. Taking on the personas of an angry madman, a neo-Nazi, an Hispanic criminal and a hopelessly insane inmate, they orchestrate their version of a chatty morning talk show with a prison bed as a table and the façade of a brick wall behind them.
“Jail Time,” as they plan to name it, will be the latest sketch by the online comedy troupe Cannibal Potluck. Their comedic short film is one of several they’ve filmed for their Web site, which has grown to feature seven video sketches.
CannibalPotluck.com launched May 1 with the videos “Discontinuous,” “Fabulosos” and “Sticky Tweet Tweet.” The group behind the video-site is comprised of juniors Zach Capp, Harrison Flatau, Dave Newberg, Sean Brogan, Matt Portman and Jake Alinikoff, who write, produce, film and edit the clips that appear on their site.
“Discontinuous,” a sketch about continuity errors that has a continuity error in every shot during a seemingly coherent conversation between Brogan and Portman, gained popularity on Will Ferrell’s video Web site Funny Or Die this summer when it received more than 55,000 hits.
The group is one of many eager to create the next hit viral video — a short, made-for-Internet clip that can gain rapid popularity through YouTube or other video sharing sites. Viral media gets its name from the way videos and other media can quickly spread on the Internet, like a computer virus, without the machine ruining effects.
Capp said Cannibal Potluck is a chance for the troupe to market their creative skills to the entertainment industry.
“Ultimately, the goal for Cannibal Potluck is to get recognition,” Capp said. “We each want to move on to bigger and better things and we’re trying to use this as an outlet to reach that point.”
The students said they are inspired by successful comedians who have capitalized on the viral media and YouTube craze that has swept the Internet in the past few years. In 2005, Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg made the leap from Internet star to television after appearing on the popular comedy site “The Lonely Island.”
Online video is no longer a realm for amateurs like YouTube sensation and superfan Chris Crocker. A-list celebrities like “Knocked Up” director Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell have taken part in their own brand of Web comedy.
Corporations are quickly catching on, with new video portals launching every few weeks. Ram Calley ’07 was hired by CBS to be a Digital Media Specialist for their newly launched Interactive Audience Network in August. The network is a series of content deals between CBS and many of the Web’s largest online video distributors like AOL and Microsoft.
Calley, who produced his own viral video with the sketch comedy site SweatPantsBoner.com while studying at the college, said it’s difficult to determine if viral media is a fad or a revolution.
“I can’t say if it’s ever going to peak or plateau,” he said. “I think it’s doing nothing but gaining speed and popularity right now, and I can totally see why big companies are getting in on it.”
The WashingtonPost.com has gained rave reviews for its online video project, “OnBeing,” a series of short clips of confessionals from individuals of all ages and backgrounds.
Doug Feaver, former executive editor of WashingtonPost.com, was instrumental in pushing video content in the Web site’s early years. Two years after he retired, Feaver said the Internet is still far from being chartered territory.
“We’re still very much in the infant stage, like television was in about 1955 or 1956,” Feaver said.
As both a former television-radio student and a new CBS employee, Calley said he is eager to find out what kind of online video will prevail in the years to come.
“It’s going to be interesting to see if the homogenized network version of the online video community works as well as the organic YouTube online community,” Calley said.
Zack Wilson ’07, the winner of last year’s CellFlix Festival — a competition founded by the Roy H. Park School of Communications and the nation’s first student cell phone produced film festival — has been able to gain considerable success in the “organic” community. He posted the trailer for his senior thesis film project, “Grief Assurance,” on the video sharing site Stage6 and has received nearly 400,000 views.
“Pretty much all through Ithaca College, any video I ever created I made sure I put online,” Wilson said. “It’s definitely a really good marketing tool. People are a lot more familiar with your work if you have it readily accessible.”
Wilson uses the Internet to distribute his videos and photographs while trying to make money as a commercial photographer and freelance filmmaker in New York City. Unlike Calley, he is less neutral about the effects major networks distributing video online will have on underground viral media.
“I feel like people are becoming less interested in [amateur video], especially now that ABC, NBC and other major players are moving their content online.” Wilson said.
Cannibal Potluck has received some negative comments from viewers who disagree with the comedic use of homosexual undertones, but the group has also received positive feedback from Internet audiences across the country. Alinikoff said the controversial aspects of the work sets them apart. He is confident that Cannibal Potluck’s racy humor will eventually lead them to viral success.
“A mind-altering response doesn’t necessarily happen overnight,” Alinikoff said. “It needs time, it builds gradually. We just need to be patient, and we are.”