Coffee with’s Kirby Ferguson

If you haven’t happened across the work of Kirby Ferguson online, you need to stay in more. His viral smash Do You Take It? (audio likely NSFW) has racked up millions upon millions of views. He’s produced a number of Sex Advice From… video spots for Nerve based on the site’s popular column of the same name, directed an episode of indie feature Infest Wisely, and is currently working on a development deal for a web show, the genesis of which was a contest sponsored by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Yahoo! Canada.

Ferguson is also currently posting new episodes to a newly redesigned, mixing the direct-address sensibility of a vlogger with polished animation and editing — and citing Ze Frank as an inspiration. This hilarious mini-mockumentary, My Afternoon With Reverend Zero, an “atheist preacher” who holds forth on the streets of Toronto, is indicative of the style he’s exploring in posts over the last month. I caught up with him at the Bowery Poetry Club and Cafe during a recent trip he took to New York, where we talked about his background and approach.

Ferguson’s background is in graphic design for publishing, not motion picture production, but’s 3-2-1 Contact-esque intro animation betrays more than a passing familiarity with the vernacular of television in the late 20th century. Other influences include the raft of great sketch comedy shows from Kids in the Hall to Mr. Show. Hence, our talk ranged from favorite fonts to subsidies for Canadian programming meant to stem the tide of American shows flooding north over the border. Below are some of the highlights of our chat.

NewTeeVee: What’s the web video community like in Toronto compared to New York?

Kirby Ferguson: Toronto is pretty small, in that regard. I mean, it is where it’s going on in Canada, but it doesn’t compare at all. It just can’t compete with the density of New York. Here it’s everywhere. I’ve been checking out some of the Meetup groups and stuff like that, and there’s a lot of people there, like real companies, not just hobbyists. It almost feels like there was more, in Toronto, five years ago — comedic short filmmakers on the net. But they’ve all either stopped doing it or they’ve gotten legitimate TV jobs.

I love New York, I think it’s the place to be for Internet video.

NewTeeVee: What are your goals?

Ferguson: Right now it’s just eyeballs. I’ve kind of been out of the game about a year. I felt like after Do You Take It came out, “OK, I doubt I’m going to get bigger than that. That’s probably the end of that trail for a while.” I was getting bored a bit with the kind of format I was working in, so I just took a year and just wrote and thought. The videoblog thing, I decided, was a format I wanted to try. Aside from Ze Frank, I don’t think there’s been much exploration of it, really — except there’s very strict types, formats, and everybody seems to follow them. So I kind of wanted to try something different with video blogging.

I don’t think I’m really a business mind. I would like to, if I could, eke out some sort of meager living, but for now it’s just to get seen.

NewTeeVee: So with Do You Take It?, what were some of the tipping points that drove traffic?

Ferguson: It got on College Humor. I’ve done that more than once, and that’s definitely a lot of traffic. But that one kind of did it’s own thing. I don’t have the knowledge to push something to that level. I think that you can get around 100,000 [views] with good marketing. There was a lot of email, too. I remember looking at the traffic, I had hosted that on my site, because all the hits weren’t on YouTube. I used to have my own server with a terrabyte and a half of bandwidth and I used it up on that one. So a lot of that came from email clients. B3TA I usually get good traffic from. It did get on Fleshbot, which wasn’t huge, but it made the rounds on the sex blogs. It didn’t get dugg. I haven’t had a lot of success on Digg.

NewTeeVee: What defines the “vlog” format for you, and what direction will be taking?

Ferguson: To me “vlog” means direct-to-camera, that’s what I think of it as. I won’t be sticking strictly to the format, at all, if there is a format. And some of the stuff will be more like interviews and features. There’ll still be shorts occassionally, and parodies. The idea with Goodiebag, originally, is that it would just be an “anything goes” type thing. So it’s definitely like I’m not narrowing in on any sort of subject matter, it’s just going to be anything that I think up — aside from my sensibility, and my voice will be there, I guess. It’s kind of experimental in that I don’t have plan, really. I have a lot of stuff built up, so I can keep trucking for a while with the ideas that I’ve got already.

There’s a kind of intelligence in the way that it interacts with the real world. It kind of becomes something different than you thought it would be. And that’s what it should be, that collision between you and the world.