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TED2004

Ze Frank: Nerdcore comedy

February 24, 2004

Performer and web toymaker Ze Frank delivers a hilarious nerdcore standup routine, then tells us what he's seriously passionate about: helping people create and interact using simple, addictive web tools.

Ze Frank - Humorist, web artist
Ze Frank rose to fame on a viral video -- in 2001! He has been making online comedy, web toys and massively shared experiences (like the addictive Young Me Now Me) ever since. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
You know, when Chris first approached me to speak at TED, I said no,
00:26
because I felt like I wasn't going to be able
00:31
to make that personal connection, you know, that I wanted to.
00:33
It's such a large conference.
00:36
But he explained to me that he was in a bind,
00:38
and that he was having trouble finding the kind of sex appeal
00:40
and star power that the conference was known for --
00:44
(Laughter)
00:46
so I said fine, Ted -- I mean Chris. I'll come on two conditions.
00:47
One -- I want to speak as early in the morning as possible.
00:52
And two -- I want to pick the theme for TED 2006.
00:57
And luckily he agreed. And the theme, in two years,
01:01
is going to be "Cute Pictures Of Puppies."
01:06
(Laughter)
01:08
(Applause)
01:43
I invented the Placebo Camera.
01:47
(Laughter)
01:51
It doesn't actually take pictures, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper,
01:53
and you still feel like you were there.
01:57
(Laughter)
01:59
"Dear Sir, Good day, compliments of the day, and my best wishes
02:10
to you and family. I know this letter will come to you surprisingly,
02:14
but let it not be a surprise to you,
02:19
for nature has a way of arriving unannounced,
02:21
and, as an adage says, originals are very hard to find,
02:23
but their echoes sound louder. So I decided to contact you myself,
02:26
for you to assure me of safety and honesty,
02:31
if I have to entrust any amount of money under your custody.
02:33
I am Mister Michael Bangoora, the son of late Mister Tiamu Bangoora --
02:37
(Laughter)
02:43
who was the Minister of Finance in Sierra Leone --
02:44
(Applause)
02:46
but was killed during a civil war.
02:47
(Laughter)
02:49
Knowing your country to be economical conducive for investment,
02:50
and your people as transparent and trustworthy to engage in business,
02:53
on which premise I write you.
02:56
(Laughter)
02:58
Before my father death,
03:00
he had the sum of 23 million United States dollars,
03:01
which he kept away from the rebel leaders
03:05
during the course of the war.
03:06
(Laughter)
03:08
This fund was supposed to be used
03:11
for the rehabilitation of water reserves all over the country,
03:13
before the outbreak of war. When the war broke out,
03:16
the rebel leader demanded that the fund be given to him,
03:19
my father insisted it was not in his possession,
03:22
and he was killed because of his refusal to release the fund.
03:26
Meanwhile, my mother and I is the only person who knows about the fund
03:29
because my father always confide in me.
03:32
I quickly made an arrangement with a Red Cross relief worker,
03:36
who used his official van to transport the money to Lungi Airport, Freetown,
03:38
although he did not know the real contents of the box.
03:41
(Laughter)
03:44
The fund was deposited as a family reassure,
03:45
in a safe, reliable security company in Dakar, Senegal,
03:49
where I was only given temporary asylum.
03:53
I do not wish to invest the money in Senegal
03:55
due to unfavorable economic climate, and so close to my country.
03:58
The only assistance I need from you, which I know you would do for me,
04:02
are the following: one, be a silent partner
04:07
and receive the funds in your account in trust;
04:09
two, provide a bank account under your control
04:12
to which the funds will be remitted;
04:15
three, receive the funds into your account in trust;
04:17
take out your commission; and leave the rest of the money
04:21
until I arrive, after the transfer is complete.
04:24
Sincerely, Mister Michael Bangoora."
04:27
(Laughter)
04:29
(Applause)
04:30
This is really embarrassing.
04:37
I was told backstage that I have 18 minutes.
04:39
I only prepared 15.
04:43
(Laughter)
04:44
So if it's cool, I'd like to just wait for three.
04:46
(Laughter)
04:50
I'm really sorry.
04:58
(Laughter)
05:00
(Applause)
05:03
What's your name?
05:07
(Laughter)
05:09
Mark Serfaas. It's pretty cool, huh? Pursuing happiness.
05:11
(Laughter)
05:17
Are you a virgin? Virgin?
05:19
(Laughter)
05:20
I mean -- no, I mean like in the TED sense?
05:21
(Laughter)
05:23
Are you? Oh, yeah. So what are you,
05:24
like, a thousand, two thousand, somewhere in there? Huh? Oh?
05:28
You don't know what I'm talking about?
05:33
(Laughter)
05:35
Ah, Mark --
05:40
(Laughter)
05:42
Serfaas.
05:45
(Laughter)
05:47
1,860 -- am I good?
05:53
(Laughter)
05:55
And that's nothing to be ashamed of.
05:56
That's nothing to be ashamed of.
05:58
(Applause)
06:00
Yeah, I was hanging out with some Google guys last night.
06:04
Really cool, we were getting wasted.
06:08
(Laughter)
06:10
And they were telling me that Google software has gotten so advanced
06:13
that, based on your interaction with Google over your lifetime,
06:17
they can actually predict what you are going to say next.
06:21
(Laughter)
06:24
And I was like, "Get the fuck out of here. That's crazy."
06:27
(Laughter)
06:30
But they said, "No, but don't show anyone," but they slipped up.
06:32
And they said that I could just type in "What was I going to say next?"
06:38
and my name, and it would tell me. And I have to tell you, right now,
06:42
this is an unadulterated piece of software,
06:45
this is a real Internet browser and this is an actual Google site,
06:46
and we're going to test it out live today.
06:50
What was I going to say next? And "Ze Frank" -- that's me.
06:53
Am I feeling lucky?
07:03
(Laughter)
07:04
Am I feeling lucky?
07:06
Audience: Yes.
07:08
(Laughter)
07:10
Ze Frank: Oh. Amazing.
07:13
(Laughter)
07:16
In March of 2001 --
07:22
(Laughter)
07:24
I filmed myself dancing to Madonna's "Justify My Love."
07:26
On a Thursday, I sent out a link to a website
07:32
that featured those clips to 17 of my closest friends,
07:34
as part of my -- an invitation to my -- an invitation to my th --
07:37
th -- 26th birthday party.
07:44
(Laughter)
07:47
By Monday, over a million people
07:49
were coming to this site a day.
07:52
(Laughter)
07:57
Within a week, I received a call from Earthlink that said,
08:00
due to a 10 cents per megabyte overage charge,
08:04
I owed them 30,000 dollars.
08:06
(Laughter)
08:08
Needless to say, I was able to leave my job.
08:10
(Laughter)
08:14
And, finally, you know, become freelance.
08:18
(Laughter)
08:21
But some people refer to me more of -- as, like, an Internet guru or --
08:24
(Laughter)
08:27
swami.
08:28
(Laughter)
08:29
I -- I knew I had something.
08:31
I'd basically distilled a very difficult-to-explain
08:33
and complex philosophy, which I won't get into here,
08:37
because it's a little too deep for all of you, but --
08:41
(Laughter)
08:44
it's about what makes websites popular, and, you know, it's --
08:45
(Laughter)
08:50
it's unfortunate that I don't have more time.
08:52
Maybe I can come back next year, or something like that.
08:53
(Laughter)
08:58
I'm obsessed with email. I get a lot of it.
09:00
Four years later, I still get probably two or three hundred emails a day
09:03
from people I don't know, and it's been an amazing opportunity
09:07
to kind of get to know different cultures, you know?
09:12
It's like a microscope to the rest of the world.
09:16
You can kind of peer into other people's lives,
09:19
and I also feel like I get a lot of inspiration
09:22
from the average user.
09:27
For example, somebody wrote me.
09:29
They said, "Hey Ze, if you ever come to Boulder,
09:30
you should rock out with us," and I said, "Why wait?"
09:33
And they said, "Hey Ze, thanks for rocking out,
09:40
but I meant the kind of rocking out where we'd be naked."
09:43
(Laughter)
09:45
And that was embarrassing.
09:47
But you know, it's kind of a collaboration
09:48
between me and the fans, so I said, "Sure."
09:51
(Laughter)
09:55
I hear a lot of you whispering.
10:00
(Laughter)
10:02
And I know what you're saying. You're saying, "Holy crap,
10:04
how is his presentation so smooth?"
10:07
(Laughter)
10:09
And I have to say that it's not all me this year.
10:12
I guess Chris has to take some credit here, because in years past,
10:15
I guess there's been some sort of subpar speakers at TED. I don't know.
10:20
(Laughter)
10:23
And so, this year, Chris sent us a TED Conference simulator.
10:24
(Laughter)
10:28
Which really allowed us as speakers to get there, in the trenches,
10:29
and practice at home so that we would be ready for this experience.
10:35
And I gotta say that, you know, it's really, really great to be here.
10:39
(Applause)
10:43
I'd like to tell all of you a little joke. Not just the good stuff, though.
10:46
You can do heckler mode.
10:54
Voice: Hey, moron, get off the stage.
10:55
ZF: You get off the stage.
10:58
(Laughter)
11:00
Voice: We want Malcolm Gladwell.
11:02
(Laughter)
11:04
(Applause)
11:11
In case you run over time.
11:16
I'd -- just one last thing I'd like to say, I'd, really --
11:18
(Laughter)
11:21
like to thank all of you for being here.
11:23
(Laughter)
11:26
And frog mode.
11:28
(Sings) "Ah, the first time that I made love to a rock shrimp ..."
11:41
(Laughter)
11:45
(Laughter)
11:47
(Applause)
11:49
It's true. Some people say to me,
11:53
they say, "Ze, you're doing all this stuff, this Internet stuff,
11:55
and you're not making any money.
12:00
(Laughter)
12:02
"Why?" And I say, "Mom, Dad --
12:04
(Laughter)
12:06
"I'm trying." You know, I don't know if you're all aware of this,
12:10
but the video -- the video game market,
12:14
kids are playing these video games, oh,
12:16
but, supposedly, there's tons of money.
12:18
I mean, like, I think, 100,000 dollars or so a year is being spent
12:20
on these things. So I decided to try my hand.
12:25
I came up with a few games.
12:29
(Laughter)
12:31
This is called "Atheist."
12:34
I figured it'd be popular with the young kids.
12:35
Look, I'll move around and say some things.
12:38
(Laughter)
12:45
(Applause)
12:48
So that didn't go over so well.
12:49
(Laughter)
12:51
I don't really understand why you're laughing.
12:54
(Laughter)
12:56
Should have done this before I tried to pitch it.
12:58
"Buddhist," of course, looks very, very similar to "Atheist."
13:01
(Laughter)
13:06
But you come back as a duck.
13:07
(Laughter)
13:09
And this is great because, you know, for a quarter,
13:15
you can play this for a long time.
13:17
(Laughter)
13:19
And Chris had said in an email that, you know,
13:21
we should really bring something new to TED,
13:23
something that we haven't shown anyone.
13:25
So, I made this for TED. It's "Christian."
13:26
It's the third in the series.
13:31
I'm hoping it's going to do well this year.
13:32
(Laughter)
13:37
Do you have a preference? Good choice.
13:40
(Laughter)
13:44
So you can wait for the Second Coming -- (Laughter)
13:48
which is --
13:50
(Laughter)
13:51
a random number between one and 500 million.
13:52
(Laughter)
13:55
So really, what are we talking about here? Oh, tech joy.
13:59
(Laughter)
14:03
Tech joy, to me, means something,
14:05
because I get a lot of joy out of tech.
14:07
And in fact, making things using technology --
14:10
and I'm being serious here, even though I'm using my sarcastic voice --
14:14
I won't -- hold on. Making things, you know --
14:17
making things actually does give me a lot of joy.
14:22
It's the process of creation that keeps me sort of
14:25
a bubble and a half above perpetual anxiety in my life,
14:27
and it's that feeling of being about 80 percent complete on a project --
14:31
where you know you still have something to do,
14:34
but it's not finished, and you're not starting something --
14:36
that really fills my entire life.
14:40
And so, what I've done is, I started getting interested
14:42
in creating online social spaces to share that feeling
14:45
with people who don't consider themselves artists.
14:49
We're in a culture of guru-ship. It's so hard to use some software
14:52
because, you know, it's unapproachable,
14:56
people feel like they have to read the manual.
14:58
So I try to --
15:00
(Laughter)
15:02
-- I try to create these very minimal activities
15:03
that allow people to express themselves, and, hopefully --
15:06
whoa, I'm like -- on the page, but it doesn't exist.
15:14
(Laughter)
15:20
It's, like -- seriously, though --
15:21
(Laughter)
15:24
I try to create meaningful environments
15:27
for people to express themselves.
15:29
(Laughter)
15:31
Here I created a contest called, "When Office Supplies Attack,"
15:32
which, I think, really resonated with the --
15:36
(Laughter)
15:38
working population.
15:39
(Laughter)
15:41
Over 500 entries in three weeks, toilet paper fashion.
15:42
(Laughter)
15:48
Again, people from all over the country doing --
15:51
the watch is particularly incredible.
15:53
(Laughter)
15:55
Online drawing tools -- you've probably seen a lot of them.
15:58
I think they're wonderful.
16:00
I think it's a chance for people to get to play with crayons
16:02
and all that kind of stuff. But I'm interested in the process,
16:04
the process of creating, as the real event that I'm interested in.
16:07
And the problem is that a lot of people suck at drawing,
16:11
and they get bummed out at this, sort of, you know, stick figure,
16:15
awful little thing that they created.
16:19
And eventually, it just makes them stop playing with it,
16:22
or draw, you know, they draw penises and things like that.
16:25
(Laughter)
16:27
So, the Scribbler is an attempt to create a generative tool.
16:29
In other words, it's a helping tool.
16:32
You can draw your simple stick figure, and then it collaborates
16:35
with you to create, sort of, like, a post-war German etching.
16:38
(Laughter)
16:41
So you can -- in fact, it's tuned to be better at drawing things
16:43
that look worse. So, we go ahead, and we start scribbling, and --
16:49
so the idea is that you can really,
16:55
you know, partake in this process,
16:59
but watch something really crappy look beautiful.
17:02
And here are some of my favorites. This is the little trap marionette
17:05
that was submitted to me. Here we are, very cool.
17:10
(Laughter)
17:16
Darling. Beautiful stuff.
17:18
I mean this is incredible. This is an 11-year-old girl -- drew this
17:22
and submitted it. It's just gorgeous.
17:26
(Laughter)
17:28
I'm -- I'm dead serious here. I'm actually -- this is not a joke.
17:30
(Laughter)
17:34
But, I think, it's a -- it's a really fun and wonderful thing.
17:36
So this is called the "Fiction Project." This is an online space,
17:39
which is -- it's basically a refurbished message board
17:44
that encourages collaborative fiction writing.
17:48
These are haikus.
17:50
None of the haikus were written by the same person,
17:52
and in fact, no line was --
17:54
you know, each line is contributed by a different person
17:55
at a different -- at a different time.
17:58
I think that the "now tied up, tied down,
18:00
mistress cruel approaches me, now tied down, it's up."
18:03
It's -- it's an amazing way, and I'll tell you,
18:07
if you come home, and your spouse, or whoever it is,
18:11
says, "Let's talk" -- that, like, chills you to the very core.
18:16
But it's peripheral activities, like these,
18:24
that allow people to get together, doing fun things.
18:27
They actually get to know each other,
18:30
and it's sort of like low-threshold peripheral activities that I think are the key
18:31
to bringing up some of our bonding social capital
18:36
that we're lacking. And very, very quickly --
18:38
I love puppets. Here's a puppet.
18:40
It dances to music. Lotte Reiniger,
18:44
an amazing shadow puppeteer in the '20s,
18:46
that started doing more elaborate things.
18:50
I became interested in puppets,
18:51
and I just want to show one last thing to you.
18:53
Oh, this is how you make puppets.
18:56
(Applause)
18:57
Chris Anderson: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ze Frank.
18:59
(Applause)
19:01

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Ze Frank - Humorist, web artist
Ze Frank rose to fame on a viral video -- in 2001! He has been making online comedy, web toys and massively shared experiences (like the addictive Young Me Now Me) ever since.

Why you should listen

Ever since his "How to Dance Properly" viral video -- born as a party invite for 17 friends -- hit the Web in 2001, Ze Frank has been making people giggle, guffaw and gasp out loud whilst procrastinating at work. He defines, in many ways, the genre of online comedy, and continues to innovate madly on the form. 

In 2006 he launched a year-long daily video blog called The Show with Ze Frank, which Slate.com called "the best sustained comedy run in the history of the Web." His rapid-fire delivery and absurd explorations in audience participation (like Earth Sandwich) has influenced a generation of digital native YouTubers. Perhap his most brilliant move: calling on fans to write the show for him. Using collaborative tools, online viewers collectively put words in his mouth (and props in his lap); he faithfully performed this wiki-comedy each week for his "Fabuloso Friday" show.

In 2008, along with Erik Kastner, Frank launched Colowars, the first massively multiplayer game on Twitter, which featured two months of sponsored online events and competitions. Recently he has worked with his audience to create a series of projects based on shared emotions such as pain, fear and the pang of nostalgia. Frank works as a consultant to range of industries on audience engagement and is a public speaker on the subject of the virtual life.

In 2012 he returned to the internet airwaves with "A Show." About which a MetaFilter commenter wrote:

If this were a cult, I would join.

If this were a religion, I would attend services.

If this were a band, I would not torrent the albums, but buy them, full price, from a local independent record store.

If this were a telethon, I would buy multiple tote bags.

Welcome back, Ze.

The original video is available on TED.com
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