The angriest man in the world abides

Winnebago Man explores found-video fave Jack Rebney

“I don’t want any more bullshit from anyone and that includes me!”

It may not have been the most articulate phrasing but this poignant and profane expression of frustration (and many others) won Jack Rebney a devoted following among found-video fans in the pre-YouTube era. The arrival of the video-sharing site won him more admirers still. And count Ben Steinbauer among them.

Steinbauer an Austin Texas documentary maker was in his own words “mesmerized” by Rebney’s profanity-laced tirades taken via outtakes from a promotional video he’d filmed for RV maker Winnebago in 1988. But unlike most people Steinbauer wasn’t content to merely click on the clips when he needed a chuckle. He was determined to track down Rebney — sometimes billed by YouTube posters as “the angriest man in the world” — to find out who he truly was. And the result was Winnebago Man a film festival hit Michael Moore has called “one of the funniest documentaries ever made.”

The documentary’s critical and popular success has surprised Steinbauer although he understands Rebney’s appeal. He’s a figure many have said reminds them of someone they know sometimes including themselves.

“There have been some negative reviews” Steinbauer says. “But by and large the reception has been incredible. People are laughing all the way through it and some cry at the end. Really it’s been this incredible outpouring of compassion for Jack. It’s been wonderful to see him become kind of this symbol of free speech and this kind of Everyman who’s not afraid to vent his frustration.”

But when Steinbauer first encountered Rebney almost 20 years after his initial video living on a secluded mountain in northern California Rebney was indeed afraid or at least reluctant to vent his frustration. Soft-spoken and even-tempered he seemed worlds away from his earlier angrier self; initially this left Steinbauer feeling like he no longer had a story to tell. As he soon learned though Rebney is a complex figure: alternately charming and cantankerous reclusive yet attention-seeking. But with Winnebago Man he seems to have resolved the latter conflict appearing at screenings to meet audience members while still maintaining his hermit-like existence.

“He’s really enjoyed I think re-engaging with society in that way” Steinbauer says of Rebney who was also a TV news producer in his pre- Winnebago life. “Having found an audience that eluded him when he was in media now as an 80-year-old hermit has been a total surprise (for him). But it’s something that I think has reawakened his hope. Or at least his appreciation of other people.”

It was in fact his growing lack of faith in America that motivated Rebney to contact Steinbauer after their initial meeting seeking a broader forum for his wacky views on subjects including but not limited to foreign policy and Wal-Mart. He’d inadvertently become a symbol of the common man but that hadn’t yet rekindled his faith in humanity.

But now when he draws thunderous applause while attending found-footage festivals in San Francisco he seems to realize the error of this thinking.

“He no longer thinks people who are idiots are watching the clips” Steinbauer says. “He was worried that they were room-temperature IQ idiots. It turns out they’re clever quick observant people.”

Though he still has little contact with most of society Rebney has stayed in touch with Steinbauer talking to him on the phone every day. And they’ve even come up with an alternate title for the film that forged their touching relationship.

“We sort of jokingly describe the movie as Tuesdays with Morrie crossed with Shit My Dad Says ” he says.