Jimmy Kimmel both won and broke the Internet last week, depending on whom you ask, with his clever punking of the world in the viral video “Worst Twerk Fail EVER.” Kimmel won because he tricked everyone into believing a girl trying to make a twerking video for her boyfriend got knocked onto a coffee table by her roommate and subsequently caught on fire. Kimmel broke the Internet because he ruined, uh, people’s faith in the infallibility of the Internet. At least that seemed to be the takeaway from some of the more puzzling columns in the wake of the revelation that the viral video was really a prank. So was this a sinister attempt by Kimmel to wreck the Internet? “I wish there was a strategy. There really isn’t. We just like to screw around,” Kimmel tells Newsweek. The twerking gag came about as a Kimmel challenge to his writers: how many views could they get for a YouTube video without any reference to the Jimmy Kimmel Live show? “I’m fascinated with the process by which a viral video becomes popular,” the television host said.
In the wake of Miley Cyrus’s cringeworthy performance at the Video Music Awards, the team started batting around words sure to be popular, including “twerk,” “sexy,” and “fail,” Kimmel said. “We were almost picking words out of a hat.” With the help of stuntwoman Caitlin Heller, the writers created the fake disaster video of a girl twerking for her boyfriend, and the put-on paid off. First the video went viral; then Kimmel could unmask the fakery in a big reveal on his show, earning ratings that he described as “unusually high.” But not everyone was happy. Some columnists complained that Kimmel had damaged the credibility of the Internet. “It’s a hostile, self-promoting act—a covert ad for Jimmy Kimmel Live—rendered as ironic acid that corrodes our sense of wonder,” wrote Daniel Engber at Slate. “If the Web provides a cabinet of curiosities, full of freakish baubles of humanity, the hoaxer smashes it to bits, then counts his money while he preens atop the rubble.”
Kimmel wasn’t impressed with the high-handed cultural criticism. “I have seen some very stupid opinion pieces,” he said. “Saying that this ruins the viewing experience when it comes to YouTube is like saying fountains ruin the natural beauty of geysers.” Still, Kimmel admitted that pranks like his might make people more skeptical of the authenticity of viral videos. It’s just that, to him, there’s nothing wrong with that. For those viewers still confused, Kimmel offered a pointer. “Most people can’t act, at all,” he said. “If you see a good performance, it’s probably real.”
Can Kimmel fool us twice? “If we did do it again, it would have to be really good.”