2011 Man of The Year: Karl Welzein
April 24th, 2011, 1:34 PM, Gchat
this guy is good
That was how I met Karl Welzein.
Karl Welzein is a middle-aged man. He’s separated from his wife, resents his children, naps on the toilet during work hours and drinks to the point of soiling himself. He’s also a vocal proponent of the Bold Flavor lifestyle, an Original Bad Boy always on the lookout for the next big celebraish. He’s the most hilarious and original voice on the internet. Oh, and most importantly, continuing that conversation:
me: is it a real guy
Andrew: no, just a funny character
Karl doesn’t, technically, exist.
Somewhere in the Flint suburb of Grand Blanc, Michigan, Karl Welzein wakes up every morning in his best friend Dave’s house. That is, if he doesn’t wake up in his beloved Chrysler Sebring. Or next to a dumpster behind the Chili’s. Or on the deck, passed out in front of a grill with an entire package of burnt Johnsonville brats on it. Karl lives with Dave because his estranged wife Ann kicked him out. Karl is fine with this arrangement because Ann and the kids, especially his Harry Potter-loving son, get on his nerves. After he gets up, he’ll probably shamble in to work a few hours late, where he’ll do some pushups in the john after his hated supervisor gets on his case. Afterwards, he’ll head to local watering hole Paddy’s for some Top Shelf Margs, and potentially work up enough energy to show off his dance moves on the floor, working the babes up into a carnal frenzy. He’ll probably sing some Seger.
But forgive me, we were talking about how the man whose average day I just described in more detail than I could provide about any of my friends doesn’t exist…
Karl is completely fictional, the product of an as-yet unidentified creator who has been updating the account since April 14th, 2010. But read the 5.8 posts per day from his Twitter feed @DadBoner (yes, DadBoner, don’t Google Image Search it) for a while, and this is easy to forget. Karl arrived on Twitter fully formed: his first tweet was what has proved to be his most iconic and repeated catchphrase: “Really lookin’ forward to the weekend you guys”, which he’s gone on to repeat nearly every Thursday since he began tweeting. He’s since amassed over 42,000 followers, thanks in part to endorsements from comedy heavy hitters like Patton Oswalt. The list of other Twitter accounts Karl follows is carefully curated to reflect his persona (celebrities he’d want to hang with, babes, Detroit athletes and fast food brands), but he’s only rarely acknowledged that Twitter has the potential to be a two way conversation. And while he routinely addresses his followers with the collective “You guys” , the last time DadBoner responded directly to any of them was May 13th, 2010, when he replied to a Twitterer named WillDavidian. Users TheDaniStew, pricedout, sexcigarsbooze as well as righteous babes @KathyIreland, @JennyMcCarthy and @KimKardashian are the only Twitter users Karl has ever acknowledged.
But this doesn’t mean that Karl’s feed is simply an isolated reflection of his own thoughts. Far from it, the DadBoner Universe has established itself as dynamic a place to live as The Simpson’s Springfield, with colorful recurring characters popping up at every turn. Each one allows a bit more of Karl’s personality to be revealed, from the charmingly clueless racism brought out by black co-worker Vernon, or the hostile disdain for Ann’s friend Tina Carlson, whose thoroughly warranted, appalled reactions to Karl’s behavior get her branded an uptight sack of crap with a catcher’s mitt mug. Though everyone in town is presented to us through Karl’s filter, the reader is always aware what the other characters are actually thinking. Part of DadBoner’s brilliance is that it seamlessly mixes this narrative of ‘reality’ with Karl’s interpretation of it. As he relates to us how a character responded to his new earring or dance moves, we are instantly aware of their revulsion and disgust, while at the same time laughing as Karl puts his delusional, positive spin on it. The fact that the truth is so blatant makes his failure to comprehend it all the more hilarious.
This has lead to a stunning array of misadventures over the past year. Falling for a single mom who clearly just wanted to use Karl as a babysitter. Driving to a Tiger’s game, gin and tonic “roadies” in hand, to track down Guy Fieri and pitch him on his restaurant idea. Kicking the door to his family’s house down in a desperate attempt to retrieve Thanksgiving leftovers, then ignoring his terrified wife’s phone calls when she thinks there’s been a burglar. If Ignatius T. Reilly and the The Big Lebowski adopted a kid, by middle-age he’d likely resemble the Bold Bad Boy from Grand Blanc. And though none of us would want to actually live with the selfish, lying, toilet-clogging, drunk who keeps a fully stocked bar in his car’s trunk, and we definitely wouldn’t want to work with the yogurt-stealing, early-leaving, five beer lunch buffoon with no filter, readers still find themselves rooting for Karl. Why has a slovenly drunk with a mean streak inspired such devotion from so many people?
When the DadBoner author set up the account, they found the perfect, real world representation of what Karl Welzein looks like. Fat and happy, a rascal with his shirt unbuttoned to show off a little chest hair to the ladies. He’s the kind of guy that could easily become the life of a really lame party, then get asked to leave by the uptight host after he breaks something or gropes somebody. The picture that served as his avatar for the longest time is actually of a man named Bruce Audley, who I can only guess was on the ninth page of Google Image results for “fat guy beard.” As the account grew more and more popular, it’s easy to imagine the author becoming concerned that the actual man depicted as the face of his potentially lucrative media property might not be pleased with his portrayal as a boozing, shitting lout. The avatar was switched to a crude portrait that bears little resemblance to the Audley picture. It looks a bit more sinister, less like a teddy bear and more like a guy you’d not want watching your kids Little League games. Seeing the old, jolly avatar pop up in my Twitter timeline always brought a smile to my face. With the new one, I’m still delighted, but it just seems a bit less personal.
Edit: Original detective work regarding the image’s origin done by Steve Spillman
The narrative of Karl’s life is full of wild twists and turns, bawdy hookups, and antics that skirt both societal acceptability and often the law. In other words, perfect comedic material. And yet I feel it would be about 70% less funny if it weren’t called “DadBoner”.
The meaning of the name is never really addressed in the Twitter feed, in fact Karl seems to even forget he has a family the majority of the time. But without the goofy yet shocking name showing up retweeted in people’s timelines, I’m confident the feed would not have spread nearly as fast. Ask yourself: would you rather follow @KarlWelzein or @DadBoner?
We are Karl Welzein
More than anything, Karl is a reflection of our society. A great deal of his personality is derived from advertising. Bereft of any taste of his own, yet considering himself a connoisseur, he gleefully recites slogans he’s heard on TV as he indulges himself to excess in the crummy products they are advertising. He considers a Top Shelf Margarita and Mango-Habanero wings the pinnacle of taste, because that’s what he’s been told by Chili’s ads and Guy Fieri. Events of actual importance, such as the death of Osama Bin Laden or the 9/11 anniversary occasionally pop up on his radar, but he treats them as another excuse to get drunk and repeat more slogans. The presidential candidate Karl identified most with this year was Herman Cain, because Karl also dreams of opening up his own pizza restaurant. When modern elections can actually be decided by the “he seems like a good guy to have a beer with” mentality, Karl takes that notion to it’s logical extreme: he doesn’t mind the sexual harassment allegations about Cain because he admits he’d do the exact same thing if he found himself in a position of power. Karl Welzein has been told to stand by his principles by the very same media that tells him what those principles are. It’s a brilliant, terrifying read on how people come to believe the things they do.
On that note of people being influenced by the media, I will admit that the worst hangover I had in 2011 may have in part been inspired by the below tweet, one of Karl’s weekly odes to Friday. I guess I just found the energy contagious:
Bold flavors, chest beefers, corncobs, sick of this you guys, and many more
As Mike Myers will gladly attest, you can’t underestimate the value of a good catch phrase, and DadBoner delivers them by the pound. In a time when so much “humor” involves restating tired memes, captioning a familiar photo for the zillionth time, or just throwing your hands up and saying “Fuck it, put some zombies in Return of the Jedi, who cares”, Karl’s unique brand of dialogue is a breath of fresh air. To attempt to compile a comprehensive list would be futile, but it’s safe to say I haven’t had this much fun trying to shoehorn quotes and references into conversations since the glory days of The Simpsons. In September, I tried to convince a friend that his movie production company should find out whoever the hell writes DadBoner, and turn it into a movie. I told him that the last time I could remember phrases this catchy was the stretch of time that Chappelle’s Show debuted its Rick James/Lil’ Jon sketches that had every male between the ages of 15-35 shouting “HWHAT??” and wearing “I’m Rick James, Bitch” shirts in public.
Clearly, you feel somewhat revolted encountering those played out quotes again, and I apologize for bringing them up. As we’ve all survived the great Charlie Sheen blitz of early 2011, we’ve seen how quickly a catchphrase can go from “winning” to infuriating. Twelve years ago your dad may have still been able to get a laugh from his Austin Powers impression three months after the movie came out. Nowadays on the internet, you might miss your opportunity to use a catchphrase without a scathing reprisal if you just show up a few hours late.
What’s amazing then, is that DadBoner’s way of describing his life only seems to grow more endearing as he spins more tales. His entirely unique, entirely quotable way of talking is either the result of a truly creative mind, or an amalgam of several individuals the author has known during his life. I picture it being a combination of a black sheep uncle, the guy who would still buy your high school buddies beer even though he graduated three years earlier and the youth sports coach you’d think was cool because they swore, rolled into one unfiltered righteous renegade. The best ideas make you think “I wish I thought of that.” DadBoner and perhaps the Wu-Tang Clan are the only people that have ever made me think “I wish I talked like that.”
His Life Sucks
When you first start following Karl, your impression is that he’s a fat drunken buffoon. You are correct. But you shouldn’t confuse Karl with other fat drunken buffoons. Unlike Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin, Karl doesn’t just play situations like “having a job that makes you miserable” or “enduring in a failing marriage” for laughs: his life actually sucks. Homer and Peter are (obviously) cartoon characters on the surface, but they are also cartoons inside, moving from one gag to the next and forgetting the crushing blow that life just dealt them. (Note: It’s important to remember that Homer was not always this way. Way before Frank Grimes came by for dinner and marvelled at Homer’s palace of a house and the photos of his many remarkable accomplishments, Homer was justifiably miserable with his lot in life, and at one point in time actually stood on the edge of a bridge with a boulder tied around him, contemplating ending it all.)
Karl has a lot in common with these two: lousy career, family difficulties, a general lack of respect from society as a whole. But unlike Simpson, Griffin and any number of other doltish sitcom dads, it really, really gets to him. It’s therefore fitting that this added dimension makes me want to compare Karl not to a cartoon, but to a character portrayed by a real person. The character he frequently reminds me of is David Brent of the British The Office. On The Office, we had the advantage of not only seeing Dawn glance at the camera after a particularly bawdy joke by David misfired, but also of then seeing David speak to the camera about how well the same joke had gone after it was done. This personality trait is shared by Karl, who manages to pull off the same feat 140 characters at a time. When Karl describes a bitchin’ karaoke performance where he takes his shirt off to sing Bon Jovi, or how he shared some laughs over some grossly inappropriate “guy humor” with a co-worker, we realize what’s really happening even as Karl continues to offend.
But, just like David Brent, this self-delusion of popularity and success is never fully maintained. It would be unrealistic if it were. Despair and depression inch their way into both men’s lives, as co-workers refuse to “lighten up”, and lack of talent and charm manifest themselves in realistic ways. David Brent ended up friendless, reprimanded by his superiors and literally begging to keep his job (he got fired.) Karl’s self-loathing shines through ever time he utters “sick of this” and heads to Paddy’s. Though at times he relishes the freedom of his newfound bachelor lifestyle that allows him to get drunk on a Tuesday, the other side of that coin is dealing with the filthy house that the kind of guy who gets drunk on a Tuesday ends up keeping. He fancies himself a macho cruiser who doesn’t play by the rules at work, but then he’s issued a well deserved week-long suspension for crapping outside the office. He embraces the highs whole hog, but also gets dragged down by the lows, wallowing in self-hatred for days at a time. We know he’ll eventually pull out of it, but the escape provided by a Lions game or a round of two dollar beers is only temporary; squalor and misery are inevitable for someone with as few goals and talents as Karl. But he lives life the same way he likes his Mango Hab wings: bold. And that flavor designation applies to the bad moments as much as the good.
Who the hell is doing this? How have they resisted the urge to reveal themselves to the public for over a year and a half? What do they think about the enthusiastic replies and retweets their account generates? What is their plan? The internet is in the business of providing us with much more information than we want or need about so many things, it’s refreshing and a bit strange to encounter a real mystery. Whether I want to know who is responsible for DadBoner is something I remain extremely conflicted on. Would I still be able to read it the same way if it was revealed that it wasn’t the product of some clever unknown guy, writing from his basement, overwhelmed that his creation had taken off? What if it actually turned out to be a viral marketing campaign, or worse, some gigantic douche?
There’s also mystery built into the story line. We don’t know where Karl works. We don’t know Nosey Lady’s name. The story functions perfectly fine without these bits of information, but their omission is clearly intentional, which intrigues us further. What could Karl possibly do for a living? How long has he been doing it? Reading back through his old tweets brings up other questions. Karl didn’t tweet for an entire month between 9/3 and 10/3, 2010. When he got back, he said he’d had a mild heart attack. Was this an early break from an account that wasn’t getting the attention he hoped, or did the author just go on vacation? (Clearly, as someone who’s decided to write 3,000 words about DadBoner, I have thought about questions like these too much, but I did want to make it clear that I have REALLY thought about it too much.)
I also wonder why more people aren’t paying attention? A natural comparison, @shitmydadsays seemingly had over 500,000 people following it, a book and a TV deal in its first year of tweeting, and it was just posting every couple of weeks. DadBoner has steadily increased its following but still languishes with 4,000 less followers than novelty account @common_squirrel (sample tweet: “blink blink blink”.) There are fewer media properties that so obviously lend themselves to merchandising opportunities, but we don’t have Karl’s friendly face or quips on tshirts or coffee mugs. DadBoner the Movie or webseries seems like the rare sort of inevitable seeming event that might actually not suck. Are talks about this happening behind the scenes?
Speaking of the potentially lucrative value of Karl’s twitter feed, where are the imitators? I won’t claim that DadBoner is the first example of the long form fictional character Twitter feed. But on the internet, it doesn’t seem to matter who does it first, but who does it well first, and there’s no doubt that anyone else who decides to launch their own Twitter character will be pegged as doing “a DadBoner type thing.” In the previously linked AV Club interview with Patton Oswalt, he mentions two other accounts that are often tossed around in the same conversations as DadBoner: PeanutFreeMom and teendad13. Both accounts have not yet found the audience that Karl has, and though I haven’t spent much time reading them, both left me cold. There’s even someone running an account for Karl’s Wife Ann, which the less said about the better. Will someone else be able to create a Twitter character as beloved and developed as Karl? Or is DadBoner the first and last word on the art form?
Sidebar: Months ago, I figured my best shot at finding out who was behind the account was buying DadBoner.com. I just set up a crappy site that publishes his tweets. On October 25th, this comment was left by someone named Chris Cook, who apparently works for a production company named Madhouse Entertainment: “E-mail me Karl. Would love to talk further.” So at least someone in Hollywood is aware. Oh, and if you run DadBoner and would like the domain, please email me, it’s yours, I’m not holding it for ransom or anything, I just wanted to make sure some corncob didn’t get ahold of it.
In conclusion, holy crap, I just wrote the longest thing I’ve written since college and it’s about DadBoner. That fact alone should be enough to at least get you to follow him on Twitter, if not read his entire saga from the start. Will I be as excited about Karl at the end of 2012? That’s hard to say. Did the bold daily flavor he provided help 2011 go down smooth? Undoubtedly. When all is said and done, I’ll remember 2011 as the year an imaginary middle-aged man from Grand Blanc won the internet over with his carnal moves and take no prisoners lifestyle. And that’s no small feat, you guys.
Update: Joshua Slone has created Kindle files of all of Dadboner’s exploits from 2010 and 2011. There is no better way to read them. Get them here, just copy the .prc files over to your Kindle