New Video: Two Ally Johnsons Enter...

Even with the accessibility of digital video tools these days, It's rare that video projects--good ones--get made on a whim. This is one of those rarities.

Ally Johnson
Ally Johnson

A favorite comedic actress, Allison "Ally" Johnson, recently moved from the Bay Area down to LA, to pursue her fortune as an actor. Believe me when I tell you that she's a true talent: wonderful actor, great comedienne, flexible voice chops, a great collaborator, attractive--she's even got clown skills! Ally is the real deal. Casting agents take note!

She, like any actor these days, pays attention to where she shows up in search results-especially YouTube, where she has a number of videos showcasing her considerable performance chops.

Ally Johnson / Playboy
Ally Johnson / Playboy

So imagine when she finds ANOTHER Ally Johnson above her in the search results, there by virtue(?) of nothing more than a few videos....shot by Playboy.

You know, "Ally Johnson" writhing on a bed, "Ally Johnson" taking her top off in a shower, and "Ally Johnson" cooing in that sexy-baby voice that is annoyingly de rigueur among the wanna-be-famous crowd.

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 4.34.32 PM
Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 4.34.32 PM

Ally pointed this out on Facebook, and I responded by suggesting this should not stand.

It started on Facebook...
It started on Facebook...

I reached out to one of our favorite KML videographers (and recent LA transplant himself) Rand Courtney, who agreed to shoot it. I wrote up a script that parodied "Ally The Slut" (as our Ally called her) for the shallow, oblivious character that her Playboy videos make her out to be. Our Ally threw her heart into it, as she does with all her roles. Rand made it look great, as he always does. All this, from a few Facebook comments.

So if you enjoy the video we ended up making, please share it. Let's get (our) Ally's view counts up to send a message that bed football and consensual exposure are not actual talents.


And the videos keep on coming! I wrote this one for Killing My Lobster Learns a Lesson, KML's latest sketch comedy show. This is the first of a series of videos that accompanied the show's sold-out run here in San Francisco.

It's not every day that "What if the Nazis made 'The More You Know' PSAs?" crosses my mind (I swear!), but once it did, show director Jon Barcellos and head writers The Bardi Twins trusted me to go for it. Further props go to to my DP and production partner Jon Burton, VFX maven Ty Bardi (who gave us the amazing visual punchline at the end) and actor Jon Wolanske, who stepped in at the last minute to just kill it.

Coming next week: THE GUY FROM T.E.M.P.

temp_logo There are projects you can't help loving, no matter how many pitfalls you hit along the way.

Some years back, in my Brooklyn days, an artist friend of mine had a hankering to draw a comic book. So he and I came up with a character and a plot for him to draw: A temp worker who keeps getting assigned to office jobs in genre fiction situations. Garrett

He sat on it for weeks, then moved to Sweden where he had bigger fish to fry. Swedish fish?

Stubborn bastard I am, I was too in love with the concept to let it go. With his permission, I set out to write the script and hire an artist to draw the blessed thing. James McCarron gave me amazing breakdowns for a first issue. Georgia's own twisted genius Matty Boy Anderson finished that first issue and drew an even better second one.


And that was it. No need to go into detail as to why it didn't continue. Let's just say that team efforts are hard things to keep together. But it resulted in two fun stories, plus a one-page gag strip drawn by the gracious, talented, now-indie-idol Tom Kaczynski. Uber-talented designer Christine Fernandez gave me an outstanding logo. And I'm awfully proud of the whole mess.

So I've formatted the whole thing and will be releasing them every Tuesday for the next two months. I hope you have as much fun reading them as I did putting 'em together.

Come back Tuesday for the first chapter!

T.E.M.P. Front cover

Aaaaaand Back To The Wacky Stuff

I like the corporate gigs, no doubt, not least of which because they let me cherish the other projects (where I get to cut loose and get silly) all the more. Here's my latest of the latter, Babies on a Plane. Made for the latest Killing My Lobster show, Killing My Lobster Chops Down the Family Tree, it's a parody that you'll get pretty quickly. I made it mostly in Photoshop, mashing up found photos with a still-shoot featuring KML Actor Andy Alabran. Throw in some royalty-free stock music, intermediate-level sound engineering, excellent VO work from Andy, Allison Johnson, and resident KML Voice-Of-God Calum Grant, chuck it all into iMovie, and the rest is comedy. In theory.

Between this, Bowie, and Human Centipede, I'm on my way to becoming the "Still-Vision" (patent pending) comedy guy. 'Cause the big money is in comedy that doesn't move much, amirite?


Anarchy in the UX: Engineering Desire the Malcolm McLaren Way (From Want Magazine)

An essay I wrote for the now-defunct Want Magazine. Published July 20, 2010

It feels serendipitous that, while closing our first release of Want Magazine, “The Engineering of Desire,” international attention turned towards one of its canniest practitioners.

Malcolm McLaren departed this world in April 2010, leaving behind more than just The Sex Pistols, Bow Wow Wow, and the proto-hip-hop single “Buffalo Gals.” He left a legacy that we as designers, marketers, and other UX acolytes would do well to examine.

No, seriously.

Malcolm McLaren portrait

Photo with permission by © Eva Tuerb

McLaren as UX Practitioner? “We Mean it, Man”

I can hear the flame war already. What can the life of the man who allegedly invented punk rock and brought hip-hop to Britain and suburban America teach we who design smart phone apps and touch-screen PCs?

More than you’d think. McLaren took a startup venture—consisting of four pimply youths who frequented his London fetish shop–and guided it to international recognition and a social impact that popular culture continues to reel from.

He did it by applying a fascinating mix of strategies–some, like denying customers access to his product, would lose today’s UX experts their jobs. Others, like conducting user testing and enforcing a focused product strategy, UX’s leading lights follow every day.

French Marxism Meets Kings Road Retail

From the beginning of his career, McLaren had a talent for picking up existing cultures and philosophies and re-framing them to create something new.

The latter skill came from his late-60s art-school education, where he discovered the political movement, Situationism. Founded by Marxist philosopher Guy DeBord, the Situationists advocated provocative, even absurd actions both as political statement and performance art. McLaren would eventually apply Situationist ideals to sales, management, and eventually, product strategy.

He began his career in retail. In 1972, McLaren and then-girlfriend Vivienne Westwood opened up a clothing store in London’s trendy Kings Road district called Let It Rock, selling Teddy-Boy-style-apparel like leather jackets and skin-tight trousers. Then, during a trip to New York, he discovered the DIY culture of punk rock and the hardware-heavy fashion of S/M fetish culture.

This influenced McLaren and Westwood to change the name of their store to Sex and sell leather and vinyl bondage gear. McLaren would later tell Vice Magazine, “I wanted to sell things that were normally sold in brown paper bags under the table. People were afraid to come in. It was fantastic.”

The store served as his Situationist comment on retail: “A shop in which nothing in it was for sale. I liked the contradictions of that. It turned our shop into a place that people found impossible to leave.” [Swindle Magazine]

Selling such disreputable items in a Kings Road boutique created the political volatility on which McLaren thrived. “We were raided twice by the police and went to court, but I didn’t give a damn…all the kids thought, ‘This is the coolest place on earth.’” [Vice Magazine]

The store failed to cultivate a customer base–but it built a hungry audience. McLaren would leverage this audience for his other products–not the least of which was a band, consisting of four of his most loyal non-customers.

“Cash From Chaos”

As he moved into the music industry with the Sex Pistols, McLaren continued to leverage his Situationist tendencies. He made sure every piece of media the band actually released had some element of inaccessibility–the beginnings of an anti-marketing strategy he would dub “Cash from Chaos.”

This strategy, unheard of today, had dual positive outcomes. One outcome was the creation of publicity.

The record, “Anarchy in the UK,” needed to create an eruption. After all, it was just a record and somehow that didn’t seem to be enough. I refused to put a pretty picture of a band on a cover. Instead, I instructed the marketing department to produce a plain black cover with no hole in the middle, no name, no title, no record label. Nothing. [The Guardian]

The other outcome was a targeted, passionate audience, much like the one he cultivated among the kids at his store.

EMI were not happy. How, they asked, will anyone find the record? They didn’t understand that I didn’t want just anybody to find it. I wanted only those who cared. [The Guardian]

But the chaos—and the cash—had only begun to accrue.

Sex Pistols: God Save the Queen

God Save the Queen (and the Band’s Reputation)

McLaren made it a point to keep the band away from its fans and the press—partly to maintain that sense of mystery and exclusivity; partly because the Sex Pistols were actually terrible musicians.

Creating an inflammatory image helped. The Pistols lobbed f-bombs on national television—unheard of at the time. Most infamously, during the twenty-fifth anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne, McLaren rented a boat and had the band float up and down the Thames performing “God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the UK.”

This offense on the media actually allowed him to keep his product under wraps, making the idea of the band more popular than their music ever could have been.

Instead of having the band play, I had them judge beauty contests. Town councilors were conducting press interviews. Whole towns and cities across the nation formed vigilante squads, not only to ban the group from playing but to prevent them from entering the city. Congregations were praying they just might self-destruct. The national debate was on. [The Guardian]

Creating this firestorm around the band, as he did with Sex, did the trick. “The fact that (people) couldn’t be at the event made the event an enigma that could never be resolved.” He told the musician Momus in 2002. “And that’s what kept the Sex Pistols on the top of the media pile for eighteen months.”

Shared Experience: Four UX Rules McLaren Followed

Keeping one’s product away from prospective buyers rarely leads to platinum sales, as it did with Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. But looking at the techniques and opinions of some of the leading minds in UX–specifically, those interviewed in Want Magazine’s Release 001–McLaren might not have been all that off-base after all.

1. Have a tightly-focused product strategy.

Take Luke Wroblewski’s interview, wherein he praises the efficacy of the single-focus product strategy:

Many times that (drive) comes from an entrepreneur who has that very, very strong desire. That personal drive to bring something to the world…is an incredibly strong focus point. I think this is why a lot of early-stage companies can deliver something new to the world.

2. Don’t Listen to your users. Watch them.

McLaren relied on user testing–or at least his version of it. He founded punk style by observing the clientele of Sex, his Kings Road boutique. He noted the ones who most frequented the store bought very little, but rather, hung out for the scene, for the style. Malcolm described them in an interview as “The dispossessed fans of David Bowie, Roxy Music, et cetra, who were looking for something of their own.”

3. Find your user’s unmet needs or wants—and meet them.

In our interview with Cordell Ratzlaff, Cisco’s Director of User-Centered Design, he mentions that “A lot of the emotional connection that people have with products goes back to satisfying a need that they didn’t even know that they had.”

As McLaren developed an understanding of what his audience wanted—even before they themselves did–he created ways to capitalize on them without compromising his product’s authenticity. Volatile publicity stunts like the Queens’ Jubilee boat trip resulted in “God Save the Queen” reaching #1 on the British pop charts–building the band’s anti-authoritarian image and moving units at the same time.

4. Cover flaws with an overall enjoyable User Experience.

The cleverest UX strategy applied by McLaren is one referenced by none other than Don Norman. In Norman’s Want interview, Norman applies it to the most un-counterculture experience around: amusement park lines. Norman points out that amusement parks can do little about the lines for their rides, and so try to make every other aspect of the park experience pleasurable.

By making the total experience a great one, people are willing to overlook the minor problems of boredom and standing in line…When something is really good and pleasurable, we do overlook the minor faults.

Which, of course is exactly what McLaren did—i.e., use a publicity smokescreen to hide the fact that the experience of watching the Sex Pistols play was actually unpleasant. While this is a strategy Norman acknowledges, it’s not one he’d have recommended.

I would hate to have that used, though, as a way of deliberately allowing ourselves to have faults and making up for it by some other thing, say by the packaging or styling.

As such, it’s unlikely that Don Norman would approve of the Sex Pistols.

Steve, Malcolm. Malcolm, Steve

McLaren melded disparate elements of culture and politics as a UX designer or strategist does with metaphors and design patterns. He knew how to create ideas at the big-picture level, and shape and lead a team that could execute on them.

Was his ability to combine fringe cultures of late-70s New York City with fashion retail to create a million-selling rock band terribly unlike today’s product innovators? Is it so different from Steve Jobs, who looked at a hotel concierge desk and thought “Genius Bar,” or Jonathan Abrams, who took a profile as his inspiration for Friendster? Can’t innovation come from anywhere, into any industry, provided it’s sufficiently fueled by passion and imagination?

If Malcolm McLaren’s career is any indication, of course it can. Part P.T. Barnum, part Fagin-esque entrepreneur, he spent his life trusting his gut and failing as often as he succeeded. Yet his successes influenced design and technology in ways most of today’s innovators can only dream of–all with a minimum of cash and resources; mostly wit, drive, and an eye for talent.

Perhaps it’s that path to DIY success where McLaren truly resonates with us in the UX field. His work permeated our culture in a way that today’s tech start-ups aspire. “If you play your cards right,” He ranted in the film The Great Rock N Roll Swindle, “You can capture the imagination of the entire world.”

by Ken Grobe Managing Editor,

Ken Grobe is a UI writer, editor, and award-winning copywriter. When he’s not helping Want Magazine to increase the general profile of User Experience, he writes comedy for San Francisco’s Killing My Lobster.


Thanks to David Gomez Rosado for procuring the McLaren Photo.

Lucha Libre Purim!

Some of my comedy videos, even *I* can't believe I made them. Others, I can't believe how good they turned out. This one is in both of those categories, to the extreme.

Unbelievable because it was inspired by, off all things, the Jewish holiday of Purim, and created for the annual KML show produced in that holiday's honor.

Good because I handed off my outline and few storyboards to the talented Bardi Twins, a husband/wife writing team (who are also an animator and a librarian to boot!).

Ty and Gina turned it onto a killer script with layers of inside jokes, then cranked out an SFX-heavy blood-and-guts ad spot for the ages. In Spanish! Add a pitch-perfect VO from Lobster alum Jon Wolanske and we could do no wrong.

Think we can't do edgy comedy based on something you'd normally see in a synagogue? This video suggests otherwise. Imagine what we could do with Flag Day.



Written for the Fall Killing My Lobster show, the Sci-Fi-themed Killing My Lobster Conquers The Galaxy. I've always gotten a kick out of the bombastic Mr. Heston, and besides, why should the Statue of Liberty get all the props? We had a hell of a time matching the classic footage, and getting the audio on a beach where f**king cargo ships blare their horns every ten seconds. But I'm over the moon with the results.

Acted by the ever-charismatic Calum Grant, shot by the excellent Jon Burton, and written & directed by me. But watch it anyway, won't you?

New video: SKETCH WARS 2

Done for my sketch comedy compatriots Killing My Lobster. A long day but the results are just damn funny. Sketch Wars 1 was executed by rival gang PianoFight, but I think we out-did them. Thanks to MURDER.

Shot by Jon Burton with awesome new DP Paul Burke. Acted by some of my faves. Idea by Chris Parisi (who also donated his truck) & Miriam Wild-Smith (who did the FX makeup). Written and directed by some hack.

National Debt Fun Quiz Time!

A series of four quick, fun quizzes to take your mind of our country's crippling financial debt! Answers are uʍop ǝpısdn to prevent cheating!


Sure, we’re deeply in debt and risk a nation-wide financial default. But we’re interesting! Distract yourself from our national dilemma by answering these questions:

QUESTIONS: [table id=1 /]


Severely broken financial system troubling your pretty little head? Take your mind off our current crisis for a split-second with these adorable bits of stock-focused trivia.

[table id=3 /]


Who says debt and bankruptcy can’t put a smile on your face? Check out this fascinating trivia quiz about money and not having any!

[table id=4 /]


Crippling financial debt got you down? WAY down? Why not distract yourself with this creepily foreshadowing quiz about suicide?

[table id=5 /]

New Video: "The Phone"

Don't worry, I didn't direct this one. Fellow Killing My Lobster-ites Chris Parisi & Damon Brennen asked me to play "a surly scientist" in this video, and as they make killer vids, I rushed to accept. Written & shot for the latest KML show, Killing My Lobster Reboots, here's "The Phone":

It's been up for about four days and has topped 53,000 views as of this writing. No doubt as a result of my bravura performance. Enjoy!

The Lonely Venus Guide

My latest video is a collab with some great folks: Killing My Lobster writing compatriot Annie O'Rourke, actress Lauren Burns, and Adult Swim & Funny or Die staple Brian Burgoyne behind the camera. Produced by the effervescent Natacha Ruck, natch.

A parody of dating advice videos, it's also the perfect way to ring in the first day of Spring! Enjoy!


Creative Commons License
The Lonely Venus Guide to Meeting Men in a Park by Ken Grobe & Annie O'Rourke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

A Day Job and a Dream

This latest KML video has a special place in my heart--and not just because I co-wrote and co-produced it. It's because I've spent the better part of my career juggling vocation and avocation. When I was an editor, I would write prose and comics scripts on nights, weekends, and, one very lonely Key West holiday. While in advertising, I performed weekly gigs with an improv troupe, wrote and produced a sketch comedy show, and played Joe's Pub and CBGB with my comedy/rock band. My point being, more often than not, I've used my day job to fund the stuff I loved.

That's what inspired our second of the two "Feed the Lobster" campaign spots: There's just too many of us out there with a day job and a dream.


Ably directed by the legendary Chris Parisi and my co-writer/producer, Miriam Wild-Smith. See for yourself, feel free to donate, and have a great 2011.

"Feed the Lobster" in the SF Egotist

If there's one thing I've learned from my comedy-rock-band days, it's to be grateful for any press, good or bad. So I feel extremely fortunate that two of my KML videos received positive pixels within a day of each other! The SF Egotist, my favorite resource for local Advertising industry news, just big-upped our Feed The Lobster year-end appeals campaign, calling us "a great tax deduction." That's miles better than what AgencySpy called me the other month over "Coffee Wars." And no, I won't link to it (although I'm still grateful for it!).

"Coffee Wars" in the Bay Citizen

From my flu-sick-bed, I sat--okay, laid down--for an interview with Thalia Gigerenzer of The Bay Citizen, a very cool and objective BA news source. She wanted to know about The Coffee Wars and how much it holds a mirror up to SF coffee culture. I was not at the top of my game, but my answers were surprisingly coherent, if a bit rambling. I'm a rambler. Read the article here. The article, in turn, seems to be touching off another twitter-eddy (tweddy?) of activity about the video, which I hope leads to more YouTube views etc. It's pushing 65,000 views as of this writing!


Unfortunately, I wasn't lucid enough to plug my latest KML video, Feed The Lobster: Costumes, which could use more views, as we made it to generate donations to KML itself. See that vid here.

Thanks to Thalia and Queena Kim for their interest and for the coverage!

Feed The Lobster.

Folks, my latest video for Killing My Lobster is up and I'm proud as hell of it. It's an ad for, what else, KML. They're a non-profit, after all, and they provide a valuable service for the Bay Area and beyond: make people laugh. If you're down to donate a couple of bucks, please do.


Thanks to the fine folks at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, who loaned us their ArtWorks studio space, and GSP's Eric Herron, who helped us out with equipment, elbow grease, expertise, and good humor.

Directed by me, co-written and co-produced by my buddy Miriam Wild-Smith, and costumed, acted, and edited with love by a plethora of Lobsters. Enjoy!