BitDepth 784 - May 30

What do puppeteer Roger Alexis and The Lonely Island have in common?
Viral video
Roger Alexis and Nicholas Attin recording Santana’s lines at the filmmaker’s home/set/recording studio in Trincity. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The Lonely Island are a trio of young comedians who have found a popular audience on Saturday Night Live (SNL), but only after they brought a new generation to the often faltering live show on YouTube.

Roger Alexis is a young film student in Trinidad and Tobago who couldn’t find any actors to work with him for a class project and turned to hand puppets to tell his story.

Here’s the thing though, they’re both doing exactly the same thing in almost the same way.
Both achieved their initial fame with unassuming but heartfelt short video clips that soared over homespun production with a passion that resonated with viewers.

For The Lonely Island, it was an ode to blandness called Lazy Sunday, better known as “Narnia.”
For Alexis, it was a school project, The Fete, which introduced Santana, the badass rasta from Lexo Street, a very Trini place that’s just a stone’s throw from where you live. If Santana lives near you, he’s already measured it by throwing stones.

The character dresses in Michael Jackson leather, channels David Chapelle with every howl of “I’m Santana, bitch,” and generally seems to be Alexis’ darker side, a wild, sometimes surprisingly tender and always brazen version of the close shaved, reticent filmmaker.
There’s a moment in the new Lonely Island release, Ronnie and Clyde, that clinched it for me. There is some comedy that’s best when it’s brief, culturally specific and definitively hip.

In the video, Rihanna, playing Clyde turns to her terminally shy partner in crime and advises him to picture the bank victims naked so that he’ll speak up. Hilarity ensues.
The clip, one of more than a dozen on Lonely Island’s YouTube channel, builds on an earlier Rihanna appearance on SNL in which the same basic scenario played out.

What makes the joke click twice instead of chambering a dud is the exasperated chemistry that Rihanna shares with Andy Samberg, playing Shy Ronnie, the brevity of the piece and the sharp increase in production quality readily evident in the sequel video.
The same jump in quality is clear in Pastor Stewart (very NSFW, even with bleeps) a recent instalment in the story of the characters at Lexo Street. In the clip, Stewart, voiced by jounalist Gyasi Gonzalez, jumps quickly from being an unctious creep to being an abusive match for the unflattering comments made about his lecherous lack of piety by a parishoner.

Of course, there are a few resources available to the Lonely Island, Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, that have so far eluded Alexis. SNL has a contractual relationship with the trio, who have leveraged it into two albums, a series of high visibility videos, an Emmy award (Dick in a box) and a Grammy nomination (I’m on a boat).
Roger Alexis hasn’t entirely been struggling, though he admits “To be honest, things didn't start out too well financially. My work was famous, but I saw no returns.”

He would find out during Carnival 2011 that the artistes he loved were equally smitten with his work, which stealthily worms its way through situations that should play out as Best Village clichés but instead emerge as deft commentary and hilarious skewerings of the lives we live.
Fay Ann used his puppets at the Soca Monarch Finals and Dil E Nadan let him remake venal Suhani as a saucy puppet who reduced Raymond Ramnarine to drink in Alexis’ video for the song.

The clips Pastor Stewart and Patsy are currently clocking more than a million views on Alexis’ YouTube channel (search: rogera43) and the filmmaker has built his own home for the series at
Alexis has worked on Herman Tales, which has run on local television, but remains a believer in the power of the web. 
“On the net, I can put up my shows at no cost, generate an audience bigger than any local TV can boast of and measure how many people watch. I can interact with the fans to keep them interested. It's a poor man's television station.”

Alexis may have launched his I’m Santana series on a shoestring, but he plans to make some real money out of it and is busy working on a movie version of his character, but while he’s working on that, he’s planning to add the short films of other producers to his website.
“Soon television will be getting competition,” he promises.

Read more about Roger Alexis
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