For Ali Shahriari and Dave Irwin, advertising is a funny business.
Under the name Zebra Corner, they’ve earned their stripes with a series of outrageous online parody videos, frequently zinging Chevrolet’s “Real People” commercials. Their latest work is approaching 1.6 million YouTube views since it dropped last Thursday.
It features the hyper-sarcastic Irwin, aka “Mahk,” edited into actual Chevy ad footage, and doing his best Baaa-ston Mark Wahlberg tough-guy routine. He poses some pressing philosophical questions, like “Who is JD Power? I mean, honestly, it sounds like a porn star’s name” and “Did you guys rent this whole building out just to show off all the cars you couldn’t sell?”
UPDATE: And here’s another new parody, which rolled out March 23.
Both in their early 30s, Shahriari, a videographer for an engineering firm, and Irwin, a software configuration analyst (and former Army paratrooper), have been friends since high school and currently reside in the Tampa Bay area.
“Dave and I were always the funniest guys in the room and knew we should work together, but it was just a question how and what,” Shahriari, who directs the parodies, tells AdFreak. “We both tried the standup route. But ultimately, local standup is an unappreciated, thankless art that limits your comedy to only a roomful of people. Standup comedians deserve so much more appreciation. I can’t respect those men and women enough, but Dave and I wanted a bigger audience.”
So, where did they get the notion to spoof ads?
“We’ve always made fun of commercials during our weekly Sunday football games,” Shahriari says. “We kind of did our own version of Mystery Science Theater, but for commercials instead of B-movies. It wasn’t until we saw this trend of ‘real people’ commercials that it clicked. We were watching TV and a DealDash commercial came on. It was awful. The acting was horrendous, and they weren’t acting like normal people would act in that situation. So, we asked ourselves: ‘What if a brutally honest jerk was in these commercials?’ Well the commercial came back on again, and we started making funny comments to make each other laugh, except this time we wrote it down. Then I mentioned I’d been messing with a little greenscreen work recently, and that I could put Dave right into the commercial. That’s how the magic started.”
“My main inspiration for inserting Mahk into these commercials was actually Billy Crystal,” Shahriari says. “Every year, when Billy Crystal would host the Academy Awards he would insert himself into that year’s group of Oscar nominees with greenscreen. I remember one year he inserted himself into a variety of classic films from Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush to Spartacus to E.T. I thought it was just the funniest thing.”
Many viewers assume that “Mahk” Irwin pahks his cah in Hahrvard Yahd. But in reality, “I don’t have a true Boston accent,” he says. “I know that’s gonna break a lot of hearts. I was born and raised in St. Pete, so I don’t have much of an accent at all.”
Pissah! Anyhoo, when seeking targets to skewer, “We pick the ads based on which ones we dislike the most,” says Irwin. “Also, it has to have several opportunities for jokes.”
That was certainly true for their inspired send-up from a few months back, in which Irwin’s choice of emojis to describe the Chevy Cruze takes him out of his shell and straight into the crapper:
Shahriari estimates there have been 5 million total views for that clip across various platforms (it’s their biggest hit so far), and nearly 10 million for all of their videos combined. (Wicked pissah!)
Next, Movantik gets a taste of the duo’s reality treatment:
Whoa, in that one, Zebra Corner didn’t hold anything back! “They were asking for someone to parody it. I mean, come on!” says Irwin.
He and Shahriari have also worked on some real ads, including “Bacon Cops,” a sizzling effort for Hormel Foods screened a few years back at an International Bacon Film Festival in New York:
Not necessarily. Their videos take about a day to film and a week to edit (on virtually no budget), so for now they plan to stay focused on parodies. (In fact, they have a new dig at Chevy that’s set to roll out any day.)
“We’re happy that something we created is making people laugh, excited that now we can build on this new following and create more content,” Shahriari says. “We currently don’t make any money off these videos because Dave and I decided not to monetize our parodies. Our reasoning being: First off, we don’t want to become YouTubers, we just want to use YouTube as a platform for our comedy. Second, what ad do you think will show up before our Chevy parody? A Chevy ad! Just seems wrong and totally against everything we stand for.”
The team’s advice for “real” commercial creators?
“All we ask from ad companies, as consumers, is not to insult our intelligence,” Shahriari says. “Either tell us a story, be creative or be funny. People are wicked smaht.”
See what he did there? And that dude’s from Florida (by way of Tehran)!
Oh, and if you’re wondering why they choose the name Zebra Corner, Shahriari explains, “Dave and I tripped on psychedelic mushrooms and went to Busch Gardens. That’s as far as I’ll go with that for now.”