Who Is Ze Frank and Why Is He Fingering a Banana?

093007My first Ze Frank sighting took place at the WeMedia conference in Miami last week. One moment a portly man is talking about “Media Game Changers,” eliciting eye rolls, and the next Ze is projected 10 feet tall, discussing the size of his “weness.” (As in, “because this is WeMedia, I assume that I’ve won the award due to the size of my weness.”) When I hear that a guy’s weness is large enough to win him an award, I have no choice but to look into the matter further. A few minutes of e-stalking revealed an entertaining Twitter with 21,439 followers, an intimidatingly jam-packed website and a new media-centric career that can’t be summed up in a sentence. Not even a run on.

He’s spoken at TED, just got back from Webstock in New Zealand (like Woodstock, but for internet geeks) and he has a bizarre fascination with putting his Fingers in Food. All of this has somehow combined to make him very popular. Rather than trying to figure out exactly what it is that makes Ze Frank such hot web property for myself, I asked him to do it for me.

Local: Can you sum yourself up (career-wise) in twelve words or less?
Ze: No. I more or less define myself by what I’m doing most recently.
Right now, the main thing I’m trying to do is write. But that’s probably going to shift over the next few months back to online stuff.

L: Tell us more about the writing.
Z: I wrote a screen play last year for Universal. I’m trying to write another on spec, instead of writing it for a company, then trying to sell afterwards.

I’m also filming a television pilot for the Discovery Channel. It’s a general science oriented general show. Really, really fun.

L: Do you get to wear a lab coat?
Z: No lab coat. I’ll get to wear a parachute though.

L: You’re cuter than the average internet dork, do you get batshit crazy women saying they want to have your babies via Twitter?
Z: Not via twitter. It’s pretty remarkable, over the last ten years or so, I’ve gotten a very small percentage of batshit crazy people, regardless of gender. I’m more and more surprised by how many cool people there are. There was a time when the general mood was ‘when you meet people you don’t know online, they’re going to be crazy.’ I’ve found that that’s not the case.

I’ve actually ended up having some really cool times using Twitter. In New Zealand [the land from whence he’d returned mere hours before our interview] I met some kids who wanted me to parkour with them. They described it as the martial art of running away. I met up with them in Wellington and they kind showed me a little bit of what to do. It’s part acrobatics and part martial arts. If success if measured in how cool you look, I was probably a miserable failure. If it’s measured in how much fun you have, I was like a fucking rock star.

L: Any other bizarre reader requests? How weird does it have to get before you decline?
Z: I don’t know if that’s been tested

L: What’s with the ducks all over your site and video blogs?
Z: What is not to like about a duck? I mean, perfectly structured named and they’re pretty adorable. What’s with the duck hate?

L: Where does your attraction to simple web apps (like his voice controlled, “meditation flower) come from? What’s so great about them?
Z: in the late 90’s there was this kind of resurgence in trying to understand the basic principles of interactivity and fun and I became really, really interested in that. How can you sort of engender feelings of joy in small little projects?

Combined with that, I code when I get anxious. I find it super soothing to do.

L: Top three websites you visit regularly:
Z: Google, Facebook and Twitter. Those are such big utility sites, especially if you do things with audiences. Google’s the prime source of info on so many different levels. Facebook is just inescapable right now. And a really cool place to watch how people are creating projects on their own. And then Twitter, because I love the limitations of it. I like what’s missing. It really does allow you to get a feeling for this part of call and answer aspect of the web now.

L: What’s the best episode of The Show? Why’d you stop recording the daily current events weblog?
Z: Not sure if I have a favorite. It was fairly early on in the whole video blogging thing. I had been doing a lot of stuff that was specifically focused on getting audiences to rethink creativity and do stuff. So I wanted to see what it would be like to create a video blog that didn’t really have a set goal or premise in the beginning.

As for ending it, for a long time, up to ’06, ‘07, there were very few projects online that ended. They’d end when people lost interest or could no longer afford to fund them. But time limits weren’t really set. In media in general, you kind of reflect on things when they end. Having a defined time limit allows you to think about things as they progress. I like that.

*This post originally published on NYU Local. And I stole that picture from his Twitter.

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