Pure snark: St. Clair Shores man scores with video spoofs

A slow fade in, and a tinkling piano picks out a familiar phrase. The camera watches a familiar Metro Detroit main drag bathed in the golden light of a summer afternoon, while a mellow man’s voice speaks: “Downtown Royal Oak brings to mind one word.” The shot dissolves to a quartet of young men walking in super slow motion.

“Douchebag.”

And welcome to another of John Kerfoot’s Pure Michigan parodies. The photography’s the same, the music’s the same, the narration is not Tim Allen, but close enough. The script? Definitely not the same. At all. Profane, adolescent, hilarious, but close enough to the truth that approximately 9 million sets of eyeballs have clicked on his YouTube links, watched, forwarded to friends and posted on Facebook.

There are 20 in all, covering the state from Lake St. Clair to Saugatuck. All have gone viral to some extent, and have generated a tidy income stream via YouTube ads for Kerfoot, who makes his living mostly as a wedding videographer. He says he might stop now that he’s at a nice round number of videos, but notes he’s said that before. The fact is, he never knows when another opportunity will arise to spoof his native state, and the sentimental campaign that promotes tourism here.

“I’ve always liked (the original spots),” Kerfoot, a 36-year-old St. Clair Shores resident, said. “They’re awesome. You hear one, and you think, ‘Oh God, I love it here. I should go up north.’” But the ads’ distinctive trademarks – the music, the beautiful landscapes shot in slow-motion, Allen’s voiceover and the unabashedly goopy scripts (“There’s something special about coming from a small town. An honesty. An integrity. A simple, down-to-earth goodness not found anywhere else. The kind we find in towns with names like Conklin, Dexter and Sparta. Towns that grow Michigan apples.”) – cry out for parody. And so, one day in summer 2010 when Kerfoot was burning up some free time shooting scenes of Lake St. Clair, he had an idea.

The first spot started with the music, the beauty shots, the voiceover about beautiful summer days and cool waters. And then, a shot of the hexagenia limbata, the local mayflies that hatch in June in such numbers that they must be removed from traffic lights with high-pressure hoses: “The goddamn fish flies. They look disgusting, and they are.”

“It was OK,” Kerfoot recalled. He posted it on YouTube, but it didn’t do much. It wasn’t until his second effort, which made fun of the commercial district in Grosse Pointe in somewhat meaner language (“You might even see some black people.”) that they started to go viral. He knew he had something when he got a call from a Grosse Pointe police detective, warning him to blur faces of children, especially if he was going to say the district was a great place for pedophiles to people-watch.

“But then he said, ‘We all really like them,’” Kerfoot said. That’s when he knew he had something. The Royal Oak spot came next, and it was followed by more on college football, Lions football, fashion choices in Metro Detroit’s Downriver communities, potholes, road construction – whatever struck his fancy when he had his camera handy.

WARNING: The following video uses strong language. Viewer discretion is advised.

The focus has widened every time, he said; the more people who watch them, the bigger the subject matter has to be, otherwise viewers won’t get it. And now they’re making requests of their own. He’s been offered commissions to do spots on individual businesses, but he’s turned them down. Mostly they’re simply uninspiring, or the photography opportunity isn’t right: “If I don’t have enough light, I can’t do super slow-mo,” Kerfoot said. If it doesn’t match the original, it’s not a good parody

As for the originals, the minds behind the original Pure Michigan campaign aren’t bothered.

“From our point of view, people don't parody things that aren't successful,” said George Zimmermann, vice president for Travel Michigan at the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which conceived the campaign. “Pure Michigan has resonated with people in so many ways, for which we're grateful. We see the parodies as just another sign of its success.”

Kerfoot has put the series on pause while he considers his next move. A quick turnaround parody piece on any bit of breaking news can quickly gather hundreds of thousands of eyeballs if it catches on; one he did mocking LeBron James, using footage from “The Decision,” the basketball star’s ESPN ego-fest, got a million in a week and was No. 1 on YouTube for a day. That might be his next direction.

“There’s a niche to do spoofs and national parodies, if you can be immediate,” he said. Experience has taught Kerfoot that if you can get something up in the morning, before 10 a.m., it has a good chance of going viral. That’s when people are most likely to be sitting at their computers, checking their Facebooks and clicking videos forwarded by friends.

At some point he may have to change direction. As the videos have gained viewers, the complaints from people captured by his camera have grown as well. Or, as Kerfoot himself put it on a note attached to his Royal Oak spot:  “This video has been pulled 3 times, due to complaints from a douchebag, a gay douchebag, and even some biker douchebags. Such complaints only verify my accuracy in pegging them as douchebags.”

Now that’s Pure Michigan.

WARNING: The following video uses strong language. Viewer discretion is advised.

Nancy Nall Derringer has been a writer, editor and teacher in Metro Detroit for seven years, and was a co-founder and editor of GrossePointeToday.com, an early experiment in hyperlocal journalism. Before that, she worked for 20 years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she won numerous state and national awards for her work as a columnist for The News-Sentinel.

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Comments

Nancy Duemling
Thu, 01/26/2012 - 10:32am
Speaking as someone who grew up in St. Clair Shores, there is a HUGE difference between St. Clair Shores and St. Clair. Start with what county the cities are in, then look at the median income and political persuasion of the populace. Do you want Kerfoot to do a parody pointing out how "Bridge" can't get its facts straight? That's like saying Clinton Township and Clinton are the same, or Shelby Township and Shelby, or Harrison Township and Harrison. Confusing, yes, but not impossible to get right.
Derek Melot
Thu, 01/26/2012 - 11:18am
Yes, The community name was shortened in the original headline by yours truly to tighten up the headline. My apologies to everyone in the two communities. Derek Melot, senior editor
Jeff
Thu, 01/26/2012 - 11:11am
FYI, the music is the soundtrack from "The Cider House Rules."