WonderGlen Comedy Portal Designed to Plumb Internet’s Unreality, Says Karlin

1/30/09Follow @wroush

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comedic voice that comes from a weird combination of just being really smart and having interesting life experiences. And because they’ve performed, they have that added element of knowing how to write for character. Those guys have just been unbelievable.

WR: What about FanRocket, the digital marketing studio in West Hollywood? From what I understand, they’ve been helping with the viral marketing and building out the details of the WonderGlen world.

BK: When we originally had this idea, the question was how do you market something like this. And one of the ideas we had was that we should create as long a tail as possible of back stories on some of these characters, to make them feel as real as possible—never with the idea of fooling people, but more so that people would appreciate it. Things like the idea of posting job listings at WonderGlen on Craigslist, and going to Comicon and interviewing people about what kind of reality shows they wanted to see, and building basic MySpace pages. FanRocket helped tremendously with all of that.

WR: I know artists probably hate this question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. It’s about your vision for WonderGlen. It seems to me that the Internet is a place where the boundaries between what’s real and what’s fiction are very easily blurred. You don’t have to be an actual person to have a MySpace page, for example. I’m wondering if part of what you are doing with WonderGlen, by starting out with this pretend company’s intranet and then extending it out to all this other pretend content, but putting it on the Web right next to real content, is consciously trying to call attention to that blurring.

BK: Well, first of all, thank you for calling me an artist. But without sounding more pretentious than I already do, which is really hard: Absolutely, the point of the site is that those lines have been virtually obliterated online. It starts with something as simple as communication—when you’re chatting with someone who presents themselves as a 28-year-old woman from Tarzana, California, there is a better than average chance that they’re not that person. And it goes all the way down the line, to companies going to enormous lengths to mask their connections to a website. You may think it’s cool, and then you find out that Sprite is behind it. It exists elsewhere in the economy, too, but it’s so widespread online it’s unbelievable.

I love the idea of a website that fluidly moves between all those worlds. You’re on this fake site with a fake message board and the employees are talking about furnishing a fake office, but they have their ideas about furniture, and if you click on the links, they’re for real furniture that you can actually buy. That is, for me, the glory of the Web—that you can go from a site that’s not even based on anything real, that is a fictional fabrication, to a corporate site with a real business model where you can buy a chair, and they both exist in equal measure. Behind one is a billion-dollar industry, and behind the other is a guy at home with his computer, but they are equal.

WR: What do you want to do next with WonderGlen?

BK: I want to get the site out there more. Only a fraction of the people who would like the site have actually seen it. Some of that has to do with getting press, some of it has to do with getting up that terminal velocity where people start showing it to other people. We haven’t really had that breakthrough moment yet.

And consequently we probably need to make some tweaks to make the site a little more friendly. If it’s living more in that idea of having to function as an intranet for an office, then it’s not a comedy portal. It’s not doing anybody any good if there is a barrier to entry. There is no glory in people not getting it. So we’d like to make it so that if people don’t like it, at least we’ve showed them.

WR: If I could hazard a guess about why you haven’t picked up that momentum yet—I think one of the reasons people become fans of other pseudo-documentary-type productions, like The Office, is because they come to like or dislike certain characters, like Michael or Dwight. Some of the WonderGlen characters, like Aidan Weinglas, sound really funny when they’re writing a memo or an e-mail, but I’m not sure whether that makes them strong or quirky or sympathetic enough for people to care about them.

BK: Yeah, the problem is that the point of reference we have for this is things like TV shows and things like lonelygirl15 that are focused on this one thing, video. I didn’t want to do something that has one flavor, where we serve up these first-person testimonial videos, or whatever. I wanted the site to have so much breadth that it is ultimately a commentary on the entire Internet. That’s ridiculously ambitious, probably too ambitious. But we really want to poke around with every single way we use the Internet—and that’s probably caused some distortion or dilution of the message.

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Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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