The legislative rickroll: the back story

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

As Jon Bartholomew noted earlier this week, the legislature got rickrolled on April Fool's Day - a stunt that's now upwards of 175,000 views on YouTube and counting.

Writing for Yahoo News, Holly Bailey has the backstory:

Jefferson Smith loves a good political joke. Early last year, the then-freshman Oregon House member from Portland was getting ready for bed when he and his wife, Katy, began bantering back and forth about what might be the ultimate political prank, something that could lighten the increasingly divisive political mood among his colleagues. As Smith recalls, the idea came almost instantly. "What if we were to Rick Roll the legislature without anybody noticing?" he wondered.

The big question folks have been asking: Did the legislators know that they were doing it? The answer: Yes, except for one legislator who participated "unwittingly".

But assembling the video was about as tricky an undertaking as as one can imagine. First, Smith had to sell his colleagues on the joke--which wasn't as hard as he initially feared. Most of his fellow lawmakers--at the time, the legislature was split evenly, with 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans--knew of Astley's 1987 hit and understood the basic concept of a "Rick Roll," he insists. "I pitched the idea to a few members, and they liked it," he recalls. But Smith--who developed the concept with his wife, a few colleagues and several friends, one of whom is video editor--had a few rules about the joke. The lines had to be delivered on the House floor during a lawmaker's regular floor speech--which is, under Oregon law, videotaped for public records purposes. And the lines of the lyrics had to be spread out, so as not to tip off the state House clerk or other observers to what lawmakers were up to. "It was way harder taking words and spreading them out than simply manipulating them (on video)," Smith says. "There are some easy lines in there to say without getting noticed. 'You're never gonna' is easy. 'I just wanna tell you how I'm feeling' is easy. But an 'ooh?' That's tricky." Smith wrote the lyrics down and spread them out piecemeal among his colleagues--with the Portland lawmaker himself taking on some of the more difficult lines that others didn't want to do, including "never gonna say good-bye" and "hurt you." In the end, he says, only one fellow legislator--who he won't identify--"chickened out," while another lawmaker was filmed saying the Astley lyrics "unwittingly." The elaborate operation was carried out during a special session of the Oregon legislature in February 2010, when each lawmaker was allotted time to speak on the House floor.

After more than a year, the video was done:

The initial plan was to debut the video after last year's elections, but the process of splicing all the words and phrases together was far more time-consuming than Smith and his conspirators originally anticipated. First, they had to file a public records request with the state of Oregon to get a copy of footage from the legislative session. Then, they had to comb through hours and hours of film to find the lyrics lawmakers had snuck into their speeches.

In the end, it took a year and two months to assemble the video--which Smith pointedly notes was carried out "with no taxpayer funds."

Hilarious, folks. Truly legendary.

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    wow. 374,000 plus views now. this went crazy!

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      It got picked up somewhere big today. It was at 175,000 when I posted it -- and in the six hours since your note, it's jumped to 450,000.

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    yahoo picked it up, pundit kitchen picked it up, and I saw it on the local news too. this is also the kind of thing Rachel Maddow likes to do so perhaps she did it too.

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    And Ezra Klein.

    yeah, just google Oregon rickroll and it's all over the place.

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    Nice commentary from LA Weekly:

    ‚ÄčOregon has been enormously jealous and upset ever since we Californians decided to turn our entire State into an elaborate performance art project by electing an Austrian body-builder to our highest office.

    So Oregon has recently stepped up the competition with a series of political/entertainment crossover stunts. First there was Portlandia, where an SNL performer and a former member of Sleater-Kinney drafted the actual mayor of Portland to be one of their little acting monkeys.

    And today, through (yes) a viral video, Oregon has taken another step towards challenging California as the most absurd state in the Union.

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    Andrew Sullivan also picked it up.


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