'Pittsburgh Dad' is an Internet sensation

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Yunz wanna laugh 'n'at'?

Well, since you're nebby, check aht "Pittsburgh Dad," on YouTube , and you'll crack up and say "Nuh-uh!!!"

As cool as a Klondike, "Pittsburgh Dad" is an online series of shorts by creators Chris Preksta and Curt Wootton about a blue-collar Everyman with that unmistakably local, vocal inflection who vents his frustrations and world-weariness about the mysteries of Pittsburgh. Such as why kids leave half-finished cans of pop lying around. Or why his neighbor's grass needs cut. And the reason Thanksgiving can't be a simpler affair, darn it.

And why in the world would his wife even think he would join her for Black Friday shopping: "No, I ain't goin' to Kmarts at midnight to wait in line for a toy."

The 45- to 90-second soliloquies in "Pittsburgh Dad" referencing "grass clippings," "slushy puddles" and "freeze pops" include a Mr. Rogers-like piano theme song and an over-the-top laugh track.

Pittsburgh Dad is not Hamlet, nor was he meant to be. For Pittsburgh Dad, the question to ponder isn't "To be or not to be?" but "What the hell?" Think Archie Bunker from Dahntahn or S'Liberty or Little Washington. In short, it is an homage to the charming quirks of all Pittsburgh dads, moms and grandparents.

Be it nostalgia or our ability to laugh at ourselves, the series has become an Internet hit, with more than 168,000 views and counting since the first episode went online Oct. 25. The sixth episode went up Tuesday, the day each week a new one is posted. Another 19 are in the can. "Pittsburgh Dad" has more than 2,800 "likes" on its Facebook page, and fans find out what the character is thinking by following him on Twitter.

No one is more surprised by the success than Mr. Preksta, the director, and Mr. Wootton, the actor playing Pittsburgh Dad. After all, they started the series, appropriately enough, by just jaggin' around.

"When it started taking off and picking up steam, we were floored by it," said Mr. Preksta, 31, of Whitehall. "It was our intention to do this for our own friends and family and make them laugh. There was no grand scheme to make this into a series or anything."

Mr. Preksta, who attended Point Park University and Pittsburgh Filmmakers, thought they might get 50 views the first day, 100 at the most. Instead, they got 1,000.

"Originally, Chris and I wanted to goof around and pay homage to our fathers and mothers, and here we are on this crazy ride," said Mr. Wootton, 32, a Greensburg native who now lives in Los Angeles. "We expected none of this. It's mind-boggling, Look at the numbers. It's absolutely insane. It's so unexpected but such a blessing at the same time."

The collaborators became friends when Mr. Wootton, a West Virginia University graduate, appeared in Mr. Preksta's 2005 short feature, "Captain Blasto," which subsequently became a Web series.

They worked together again in 2008, filming Mr. Preksta's "The Mercury Men," about a couple of good guys battling space aliens with ray guns back in the '70s. It was during breaks on that set that Mr. Wootton entertained the crew -- and himself -- with the Pittsburgh Dad character he created in the image of his own father, Keith.

After the SyFy Channel picked up "The Mercury Men" as a Web series this past summer, Mr. Wootton came to Pittsburgh to meet with Mr. Preksta about other projects. They had some time to kill, so Mr. Preksta suggested they videotape the Pittsburgh Dad character with Mr. Preksta's iPhone as a goof for their family and friends.

They stopped at Goodwill to get the Pittsburgh Dad wardrobe -- oversized glasses, short sleeve, non-stylish shirts, baseball caps. Add a fake moustache and Mr. Wootton's dead-on Pittsburgh inflections and -- voila! -- Pittsburgh Dad was born.

The duo knew they had to tape more episodes after receiving so many hits. They used texts and Google docs to jot down themes and jokes until Mr. Wootton returned to Pittsburgh the week before Thanksgiving.

They shot another 20 episodes including such themes as the Stillers, er, Steelers; chipped ham; screen doors slamming; Klondikes; and a Pittsburgh Dad Christmas. They got many of the ideas from fans, who submitted more than 100 ideas through a Facebook request. Many were incorporated in finished episodes, Mr. Preksta said.

The creators said they think the success of the series has to do with warm memories it conjures of growing up in Pittsburgh.

"When you hear him say the things he says, you're transported to a time when you were a kid and things were a little simpler," Mr. Wootton said. "Those were great times growing up in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas."

Mr. Wootton's father loves the series, Mr. Preksta's father-in-law thinks it's him being portrayed and viewers write that the character nails the memories they have of their own fathers. And everyone, from relatives to strangers, has ideas for future episodes.

As for where "Pittsburgh Dad" might go, Mr. Preksta and Mr. Wootton aren't sure, but they're excited to find out.

"We'll see where it takes us. Is it truly a regional thing ... or are there enough ex-Pittsburghers nationally to keep driving this?" Mr. Preksta said. "And we are thrilled to see if that character and style is funny enough for non-Pittsburghers to watch as well."

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968. First Published December 3, 2011 5:00 AM


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