When it comes to a classic viral video, the “Winnebago Man” has to come to mind. If you’ve never seen the video, here’s the description from the user who was the first to upload it onto YouTube:
“…Jack Rebney is Winnebago Man. These are the outtakes and tirades pieced together by the video crew Mr. Rebney hired to assist in making a promotional video for marketing RVs… and features Winnebago Man’s hatred for flies and several long swearing and cursing montages. enjoy!”
Jack Rebney became one of the first Internet stars with his constant swearing, temper tantrums, and random flailing of his arms.
We decided to pose the question that could be applied to other Internet celebrities – Where is the “Winnebago Man” today? – Let’s first take a step back and look at the origins of this video.
In August 1988, Winnebago Industries hired a video crew to shoot two 10-minute long sales videos. They tapped salesman Jack Rebney, a former broadcast news producer, to star in these commercials. They shot the videos in Forest City, Iowa – the headquarters of Winnebago Industries.
Just like any other video shoot, outtakes and mistakes were to be expected, but no one could have anticipated Jack Rebney’s melt down. The RV salesman would constantly yell and curse at himself, his crew, and at the flies that were swarming him.
After the gruelling two week shoot, Winnebago Industries got their commercial, but the video crew got so much more.
They spliced together the outtakes of the shoot and circulated the video amongst themselves and their friends. Basically, the “Winnebago Man” was passed around on VHS tapes for around 15 years before being posted on YouTube for the world to see.
Filmmaker Ben Steinbauer first saw the “Winnebago Man” in 2002 and claims that he and his roommate “re-watched the clip every night for about a year.” Steinbauer became obsessed with the clip and wanted to know more about the man in the video – Jack Rebney. Steinbauer decided he would find Rebney and shoot a documentary based on THE “Winnebago Man.”
Steinbauer spoke to the video crew that shot the 1988 commercial, and he found out that they had very different opinions on Rebney.
- “(Jack Rebney) was like a jerk all the time. I actually think when the camera was on, he was a little bit better behaved.”
- “I felt bad. I felt bad. I think Jack was getting a bad rap. I thought he wasn’t as bad as the video indicated.”
- “There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think about that shoot.”
Steinbauer also found out that none of the video crew knew about Rebney’s whereabouts no less heard from him since the commercial shoot. He then went so far as to hire a private investigator to find out if Jack Rebney was still alive. Here’s what Steinbauer found out:
“I found Rebney living in a small cabin in a remote forest in Northern California. But it turned out that he hadn’t retreated there to escape his online fans – he’d moved there more than 15 years ago. Not only was he unaffected by his popularity on the Internet, until recently, he was completely unaware of it.”
Jack Rebney saw the video of his outtakes for the first time just before Steinbauer began shooting in 2006. While not affected by his video’s massive popularity, Rebney doesn’t know exactly why his profanity-laced tirades attracted so much attention.
“Why the hell they would watch a lousy f—cking video like that is something I will never know,” says Rebney in the documentary Winnebago Man.
In the filmmaker world, Jack Rebney is a legend. Winnebago Man Producer Joel Heller told Business Insider that “there’s a painting of Jack Rebney as Shrek that hangs in the Dreamworks Animation offices.”
There are even rumours that film director Spike Jonze once made 100 different VHS copies of the “Winnebago Man” and gave them away as Christmas gifts.
Today, Jack Rebney is 80 years old, retired, and still lives in his cabin in Northern California near Mount Lassen. The documentary Winnebago Man has won several awards and was an “Official Selection” at South by Southwest. Winnebago Man premieres on July 9, 2010 in New York City, and Jack Rebney will supposedly leave his cabin to attend the premiere.
Here’s the video. Obviously, it might be a little unsafe for your workplace.
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