Strongbad DVD is Strong-Good

On the homestarrunner.com homepage, in the upper right-hand corner, there’s a ‘first time here?’ button. It leads to a Flash-animated introduction to the site, hosted by none other than Homestar Runner. He attempts to recite a welcome speech, but Homestar is soon punched out of the way by his nemesis, Strongbad, who says “…I’m Strongbad. You don’t know it yet, but I’m the reason you’re here.” If you’ve ever been to the wildly popular Homestar Runner website, you know that there is much truth to that statement. Strongbad, the boxing-glove-wearing, shirtless wrestler long ago supplanted Homestar Runner as the star of Mike and Matt Chapman’s online universe. And now he’s got the DVD to prove it.

That’s right – in late 2004, the Atlanta-based brothers Chaps released their first offline animation project: strongbad_email.exe, a 3-disc DVD featuring the initial 100 Strongbad emails. I just finished watching the whole set, clicking on the various easter eggs and sifting through the copious extras packed into this $30 buy, and I loved every DVD minute of it.

For the unannointed, Homestar Runner is an internet juggernaut. Nearly a half million people visit the website each and every day, and by nighttime, some 5,000 new emails sit unread in their overflowing inbox. It’s simply staggering, especially when you consider that an ESPN hockey game (when the NHL wasn’t on strike) used to pull in about the same number of live bodies. And it’s all produced by three friends in a home office with off-the-shelf computer equipment and software.

To capitalize on this flood of eyeballs, the Chapman gang began offering merchandise, a CD compilation and now the new DVD. Their Yahoo! storefront delivers hundreds of orders a day to a fulfillment company that dutifully ships out t-shirts, hoodies, figurines, stickers and plush. The ensuing revenues are enough to support the site’s traffic, the team’s salaries, and the construction of a 10-foot long guitar in the shape of the popular character ‘the Cheat.’

The DVD set is well produced (minus a healthy dose of ringy, clipped audio) and each disc opens with a hilarious 3D menu introduction. And these intros aren’t the only non-Flash elements in the compilation. The extras section on disc 3 boasts several live-action shorts with a Kermit-sized Homestar hand puppet that I’m guessing will be offered at the Yahoo! store any month now.

But the main attractions are the 100 Flash-animated Strongbad emails, which average around 2 minutes in length. Most are simple, one-shots of Strongbad in front of his computer, reading and replying to the various correspondence he receives (and, yes, the emails he’s responding to are actual submissions). Others take Strongbad away from his early 1990s PC, but it’s usually just Strongbad punching away at the keyboard with his big, red boxing gloves.

There’s little to remark on as far as animation quality or design, but that’s not the point. Strongbad is funny, and the laughs wouldn’t be any less hearty if his bits were acted out by popsicle stick puppets. His voice is half the hook, and once you get past the similarity to Triumph the Comic Insult Dog, you start to wonder why the site’s URL hasn’t switched over to strongbad.com.

On the second disc, during an episode titled Morning Routine,’ Strongbad’s younger brother Strongsad quips ‘…there needs to be a better word for ‘weird.’ I couldn’t agree more. Strongbad’s emails take weird to a new level; a land where characters have keyboards for heads, a microwave worries about her popcorn maker son, cardboard boxes covered in syrup are on the breakfast menu and a bear hoisting a shark guards an empty lot know as Strong Badia. But once you’re on the inside of the biggest inside joke since ‘All Your Base Are Belong To Us,’ you never want out. Whether the jokes center on 1980′s text-based computer games, hair metal bands, or spamvertisements, the gags come fast and furious. Strongbad accounts for most of the big laughs with lines like:

Do I look like some kinda tape-leg?

On a scale from one to awesome, I’m super great.

You computer has too much computer in it, and not enough typewriter.

Okay, you had to be there. But trust me – this is the real deal. Strongbad is one of the funniest personalities in entertainment today – and I’m not just talking internet here. He’s Southpark’s Cartman meets Taxi’s Reverend Jim (boy, am I dating myself here). So, why isn’t this animated series on a TV near you? Well, because they don’t need your stinking ad dollars, that’s why! The Chapman brothers, who don’t even cash-in on internet pop-up ads, seem more than content counting their merchandise moolah (it should be noted that, in the late ’90′s, they actually shopped their show in front of Cartoon Network). One would think that their off-cable presence would entice the Homestar team to explore the R-rated topics that so many internet shows seem to thrive on. But just the opposite holds true. The material on this 3-disc set is suitable for the under-10 market, with very few exceptions.

The Strongbad DVD is the entertainment story we’ve been expecting since the dotcom sensation first bloomed 10 years ago. Along with the popular ‘Happy Tree Friends’ DVDs and Newgrounds.com, strongbad_email.exe represents a new model of home entertainment. The rules are being made up with each click, and the laughs are culled from homegrown petri dishes filled with inside jokes.

Since the DVD’s release, 30 new Strongbad emails have debuted on the Homestar Runner site, so expect more shrink-wrapped releases in the near future. And don’t be surprised to see shelf space opening up at your local Tower Records. I believe the ‘weird’ section is between to ‘cult hits’ and ‘new releases.’

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