Catching the comedy virus

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Very Angry Neighbors Web site, designed by Heather O'Quinn.

Viral videos-the new out-of-control showcase for actors.

By Victoria Talbot / Special to The Malibu Times

Ryan O’Quinn came to Los Angeles to be an actor, which is not unusual. A graduate of The College of William & Mary and a legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Charles Robb, O’Quinn was planning to study law, when he realized he was spending all his extra time doing commercials and theater. He was a big fish in a small pond. He took great pains to explain to his family that Los Angeles was where he needed to be. His boss told O’Quinn that his job would still be there when he got back.

In Los Angeles, he was a little fish in a big pond.

“I spent a lot of time waiting around,” O’Quinn said. “I realized that an apartment and a telephone were not enough; you need to do things for yourself.”

That is when he started to take viral videos seriously. (Viral videos are online video clips, usually homemade, that garner widespread popularity, with hits in the hundreds of millions.)

O’Quinn saw “a natural avenue that required very little investment to get noticed,” he said. “We’ve stumbled on something neat.”

Tall with a lanky frame and unruly dirty blonde hair, O’Quinn speaks with a soft Virginia accent. He smiles broadly when talking about the recent wave of success he is experiencing with viral videos.

O’Quinn and seven other actors and techies, with their comedy troupe called Very Angry Neighbors, are the newest stars of the king of online viral video domains: YouTube.com. Their comedy skits, shared on the Internet and sent around the world, have been viewed by thousands; their latest skit has, so far, received 331,000 hits on YouTube. They were recently named YouTube Star of Month” and have been featured on “Good Morning America” and “Inside Edition.”

O’Quinn declined to say where the name Very Angry Neighbors came from, instead, perhaps in a marketing savvy step, mentioning an upcoming contest in which YouTube users will be asked to guess the origins.

The “troupe” is a multitalented mix of actors; Amy Jo Steele, Danielle Weeks, Jeff Cannata and O’Quinn; and technicians Steve Koncelik, Michael Steinbach, Chris Fisher and Andrew Zilch. They came together, O’Quinn said,” to produce funny, original content. We’re not trying to be political; we just want to show the humor in life.”

To hear O’Quinn tell it, much of the production phase is brainstormed without a script. Over breakfast at his home with his wife, Heather, a photographer, they came up with the idea for “Father’s Day of the Future for Celebrities:” a low-key, but funny look at “Blanket” Jackson, Suri Cruise (“As soon as my parents contract was up …” the character Suri says in the video and then, when tapped on the shoulder by an unseen monitor, she continues nervously, “um, when my parents got divorced…”) Sean Preston-Spears, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt and Rocco Ritchie, 25 years from now. Other shorts include a “Reality” TV show where a stranger asks what time it is, a kidnapper who borrows someone’s cell phone to make ransom demands, a divorced father who tries to make a Merry Christmas video for his estranged children, and a home improvement show where the unsuspecting owner surprises the crew and finds his kitchen being disassembled.

When he isn’t making videos, O’Quinn, who also writes for this newspaper and its sister publication, Malibu Times Magazine, can be found working as a summer camp counselor in Korea for children interested in acting. He is also in the middle of post-production on a serial subscription video in which he stars. Like the Book of the Month, there will be a new video each month designed for events and youth groups, with an optional study guide. O’Quinn also does voice-overs in post-production dubbing because he has an uncanny ability to mimic dialect and tonality, such as critically acclaimed actor Don Cheadle (“Hotel Rwanda”).

The new media of the Internet has launched him and his fellow comedians onto a possible successful career path. O’Quinn said there are nibbles coming from the likes of MTV and even corporate stakes at hand. Less expensive than a professional commercial, with the added bonus of being user-driven, viral video is becoming the new wave for advertisers. O’Quinn describes Very Angry Neighbors as being the “One-Stop Shop” for advertisers because the work is entirely done “in-house,” including writing, dubbing, acting, editing and everything in-between.

In his spare time, he helps feeds the starving children in Darfur and does stand-up comedy at the Improv. Heather and Ryan are also expecting their first child in December.