Opening with a deeply sincere “I don’t give a fuck!” Austin filmmaker Ben Steinbauer’s investigative doc Winnebago Man sets out to prove the contrary. Steinbauer’s mission is to find Jack Rebney, the hitherto anonymous pitchman whose monumentally irascible, fabulously profane tantrum during the course of making a 1989 RV infomercial—amid a plague of insects on the hottest days of an Iowa summer—led to YouTube stardom two decades later.
Rebney’s performance, popularly known as “The Angriest Man in the World,” was a five-minute clip reel produced by the crew as an act of vengeance. (“He was like a jerk all the time,” one survivor tells Steinbauer.) Originally a bootleg VHS tape dubbed and passed from hand to hand, the reel went viral once posted online and subsequently entered popular culture—quoted by Alex Baldwin on 30 Rock and by Ben Affleck in Surviving Christmas, and parodied in Iron Man 2. Steinbauer offers other examples of YouTube boobery—the haplessly uncoordinated “Star Wars Kid” and malapropism-prone positive thinker Aleksey Vayner—then documents his search for Rebney. (As a first-person account, Winnebago Man resembles Mark Moskowitz’s similarly juiced 2002 Stone Reader, in which the filmmaker goes looking for an obscure author who only he seems to have read.) As Rebney has no known address beyond a succession of P.O. boxes, Steinbauer hires a private eye who, almost too good to be true, turns out to be an Angriest Man fan. Even better, Steinbauer finally gets a (casting?) call on his home answering machine from Rebney himself.
Turns out that the Winnebago man is a hermit living atop a California mountain with a dog named Buddha; he’s also a former broadcast journalist (hence the obviously cultivated voice that makes his apoplectic rant so funny) and the author of a screed entitled Jousting With the Myth: An Heretical Analysis of God, Religion, Sex, and Politics. Rebney’s good-natured calm and apparent indifference to his Internet notoriety initially foils the filmmaker. Hoping to re-create the original clip reel, Steinbauer is nonplussed and abashed. Was it all an act—or is this? Pay your money and find out, although it’s a foregone conclusion that had Rebney decided not to embrace his stardom, Steinbauer wouldn’t have had a movie—or at least not one with a happy, or “happy,” ending.