Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Meet Merton, the Chatroulette Piano Guy (Who Isn’t Ben Folds)

The intrepid team at Mashable has an excellent get: An interview with “Merton,” the Chatroulette Piano Guy.

The important takeaway, which I’d basically deduced on my own: He’s definitely not Ben Folds.

Merton declines to identify himself for Mashable’s Brenna Ehrlich. Though I gather that once his identity is unmasked, it won’t be anyone you’ve ever heard of anyway.

Ehrlich’s Skype chat with Merton runs 15 minutes, and if you’ve got time, I suggest watching the whole thing, because it’s both fascinating and charming. It also rubs off just a bit of charm from the phenomenon, though. Because the truth is always a bit less fun than the story you cook up in your head.

If you’re time-pressed, here are my notes:

  • Merton plays piano all the time, though it’s not clear if he’s a professional. He’s not in a band. He primarily does improvisational stuff in the “brooding, introspective” vein of Keith Jarrett and Tori Amos.
  • He filmed the Chatroulette videos over two nights, in three-hour sessions. He and his pals edited the footage to three five-minute clips.
  • He put the clips up on YouTube as a lark and initially kept them private. Now they’re approaching five million views, but he says that wasn’t his intent. “i didn’t give it some huge web site like College Humor… i guess that’s why they call it viral.”
  • He did a new session a few days ago, and not surprisingly “my experience was very different because everyone knew who I was…it’s more fun one way, and a little less fun another way.”
  • What about all the naked dudes Chatroulette is famous for?  “I’m not deeply creeped out by those people.” But he understands why other people might be. “I don’t think there should be any children on Chatroullete ever, for so many different reasons.”
  • He loves Ben Folds’s tribute, of course. He also understands why casual observers might think the two men were the same person. “We’re both white guys who play the piano.”
  • Putting the stuff up anonymously “wasn’t really a strategy,” but it was “empowering.” Merton knows this can’t last forever. “Eventually, someone’s going to find me out, and that’s fine…I’m pretty sure that I would have the most fun if i went undetected for as long as possible.”

Not addressed in the interview: How is Merton going to cash in on this? And why did Google (GOOG) force him to take down his clip yesterday?

I think I can answer the latter question. It seems that some of the Chatrouletters in the clip made privacy claims, and you can figure out which ones when you watch the re-edited video.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus