Barth goes viral

First of all, if you haven’t seen Jeff Barth’s new online campaign ad, take five minutes of your time and watch it. It’s well worth every minute:

From the never-ending stroll to the mannequin to the gun to the horse’s rear end to the Irish fiddle music to Barth’s slight shortness of breath as he walks down the trail, the ad has it all.

(Edit: Don’t miss the whisky ad that seems to have inspired Barth.)

And the Internet noticed.

BuzzFeed, which specializes in viral online culture, picked up my colleague Jon Ellis’s post of the video. Other people saw it there: Political Wire called it the “most bizarre campaign ad of the year”; MSNBC said it might be so-bad-it’s-good but probably qualified as a brilliant “deconstruction of the art form known as the political ad.” The Huffington Post said it was the strangest ad since 2007, while ABC just marveled at the whole thing. Barth’s even gotten calls about a possible appearance tomorrow on a cable news network, though he wouldn’t say which one.

With all that, I couldn’t help but call Barth up to ask him about how the ad was made — and what the heck was up with that ostrich story?

There were less than 10 people involved in the production, which took place May 15 at Great Bear Recreation Park in Sioux Falls. Earlier that day Barth and his Democratic rival Matt Varilek sat down for a joint interview with the Argus Leader editorial board, in which Varilek came out against same-sex marriage — a decision that has caused him some problems with the Democratic base.

Barth said he showed up about 5 p.m. to the trail, along which volunteers had set up some of the many props used in the ad. Though the ad is filmed in long chunks of Barth walking and talking, he said the final product was spliced together from several different takes — in part because he couldn’t remember the entire speech.

"I had originally tried to memorize the whole thing," Barth said. "Then when we were unable to shoot it the first time, I lost some of my edge on that."

Some of the zany edge to the ad that so captivated the Internet audience may have come from Barth’s ad-libs.

"I absolutely was kind of winging it a little," he said, though he generally followed the script.

Some of the props in the ad were added digitally, such as the explosion. Others were definitely real, such as the rubber chicken that fell from the sky after Barth appeared to fire an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle into the air.

The rear-facing horse was a cardboard cutout, with a digitally added wagging tail.

One thing Barth wouldn’t confirm is whether the gunshot was real.

"No comment on that right now," he said.

Barth was there until around 8 p.m., when “we all went for an adult beverage and a snack.”

I asked him about the strong reception the ad has gotten.

Barth has raised very little money for his campaign, keeping it afloat by loaning himself money. Barth’s Democratic rival, Matt Varilek, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, while Republican incumbent Kristi Noem has more than a million bucks in the bank.

All that means Barth has to rely on odd, attention-getting things like this ad.

"Let’s face it, that’s my best chance," Barth said. "I can’t compete dollar for dollar with a candidate that’s tapped into a United State’s senator’s fundraising machine. I have to try to use my imagination."

Varilek is a former aide to U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, who along with former senators Tom Daschle and George McGovern has endorsed Varilek.

Barth hopes people enjoy the ad, but also that they get more from it than laughs.

"On the one hand it’s a little bit humorous," he said. "On the other hand, you learn a lot about me watching it, and you also feel my passion. I hope it continues to get out there."

And as for Barth’s (in)famous ostrich ride?

"I was 16, I think," Barth said. "When I lived in South Africa, we went to an ostrich ranch. They said, ‘Anyone here want to ride an ostrich?’ I said, ‘Sure, I will.’"

The ride, Barth said, was “very comfortable” and “very smooth.”

But the ride ended ingloriously.

"When I fell off, just imagine the droppings left by a 300-pound chicken," he said.