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YouTube’s Filthy Frank and the future of shock comedy

Filthy Frank has become a YouTube star. Should he stay one?

Is Filthy Frank an artist or an asshole?
Phil Edwards is a senior producer for the Vox video team.

YouTuber Filthy Frank lives up to his name — he creates comedy that ignores taboos in order to shock (and delight) his loyal fans. The nom de upload of musician George Miller, Filthy Frank is one of his many characters that blow past the boundaries of good taste.

But the viral hitmaker (Miller can fairly claim to have originated the Harlem Shake) isn’t just an aberration. His success says something about the future of shock comedy in general, in an age in which independent creators don’t need corporate backing for their boundary-smashing efforts.

This new dynamic, in which comedy can gain huge influence without gatekeepers, was evident in the creation of the above video. When Vox asked YouTube commenters to select a topic for a future video, Filthy Frank fans organized on Reddit to storm the comments with requests to do a video about “the lore of Filthy Frank.”

That lore is actually instrumental to understanding how Filthy Frank convinces fans his offensive rants are more than taboo-busting shock comedy. As detailed in carefully edited YouTube videos and scrupulously updated Wikia sites, Miller’s videos have a mythology that spans multiple videos and characters, and it even has its own vocabulary (fans will know the significance of “chromosomes” and “realms” in the Filthy Frank lexicon). For fans, this lore proves Frank is a high-concept artist rather than just a YouTuber with an adolescent sense of humor and access to an upload button.

Filthy Frank and his disgusting, boundary-crossing sense of humor shows how shock comedy in general works in the internet age. As the above video shows, offensive comedy can quickly turn into a debate about artistic intention. The only thing that’s certain? It’s not safe for work.

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