I was reminded last week about one of the funnier things to happen in the history of broadcast television, “Who do you think you are? I am!”
I guess I’ve got bowling on the brain. Last October, this publication covered an incredibly fancy house that had a bowling alley somewhere on the premises and the bowling alley had a terrible, gaudy mural on its wall for some reason. I guess I’ve also got Russia on the brain, because last week I wrote about some baffling Russian content creators. Now I get to combine those two topics. Let’s look at a weird Russian video about bowling.
This morning, while frantically trying to figure out what to write about, I was reminded of a surreal bowling video that surfaced in late 2019, from a barely used TikTok user named @nikita_grandez. It has more than 700,000 views there. On Tumblr, where the clip was reuploaded by the user emergency-broadcast-archive, it has roughly 200,000 Notes (likes, replies and reblogs) since it appeared on October 7, 2019.
“No one in this video is a human,” one observer wrote. Another summed it up as “the sims 9.” It really is an odd video — footage of a TV screen that is playing isometrically filmed footage of a bowling alley. The shaky-cam footage feels as if someone were illicitly recording a bank of security cameras.
In the background, a man in a red shirt bowls. In the foreground, a man in a white tracksuit bends over the ball return, selecting one. A bald man in a blue shirt stumbles up to him and kicks him in the butt, lightly. The tracksuit man stands up, turns around and stares down the bald man. Neither says anything and the baldman walks away, clearly scared. The camera pans right again to show another lanky man, wearing an identical tracksuit walk up to the bowling lane. He lifts the ball over his head and drops it over his shoulder. End of clip.
The erratic off-screen recording style lends this clip a found-footage credibility. Like a local news broadcast using security footage of a bank heist. We know nothing about these men and yet we must know why things are how they are. The odd wordless confrontation, the identically dressed man who has no idea how to wield a bowling ball. A total mystery.
In earnest, I tried to figure out what the hell is going on. The original TikTok video is captioned “#смешноймомент РЕАЛЬНЫЕ ПАЦАНЫ” which Google Translate (which I leaned on heavily for this) says means “#funnymoment REAL KIDS.” This gets me absolutely nowhere. Everyone in this video is a fully grown man. Also, as I will later discover, they are fictional characters.
It is a #funnymoment though. Around the time this clip started floating around in late 2019. It appeared in a number of cookie cutter “Check out this context-less viral video” post. I screenshotted a random frame and plugged it into Yandex, a Russian search engine whose reverse-image search is usually a lot better than any competitors. That led me to a post on VK, a Russian social media platform, which I ran through Google Translate’s mobile app that has cool OCR features.
I guess this is a relatable post? I can’t recall going on any bowling-based field trips and most of the bowling birthday parties I remember had the lights off, and “Mambo No. 5” was playing on a projector screen floating over the lanes. Anyway, Yandex also steered me to a freebooted version on YouTube with 20 views called “боулинг” which means “bowling.”
They said that the clip is from a show called Реальные пацаны (“Real Boys”), which has been on the air since 2010. According to IMDb, the show is about how “Normal, ordinary Russian guy Nickolai could not decide between the life "in the hood" and the world of the Perm elite society. Throughout the series it offers a fascinating and funny stories.”
The commenters likely recognized the bald man, who is one of the three main real boys. According to the Real Boys Russian-language Wikipedia entry and Google Translate — who is at this point my best friend — this character is “Vovan Selivanov (Bald) , the main character of the series, friend of Kolyan and Antokha. Very dumb, but kind.” He is played by a man named Vladimir Selivanov.
Great. We’re making progress! It’s now clear that this is not found footage, but is, in fact, a professionally produced television clip. This happens pretty frequently, and has been happening for years. Someone strips a funny clip of context — in this case by filming the screen it’s playing on with their phone, erratically zooming and panning between details — and puts it online, and then people think it’s real. The best example of this during the Obama years was a GIF of the president walking away from a podium and angrily kicking open a door, produced for Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. If you saw Leno introduce the clip, you’d know it was a joke. If you saw it as a stamp-sized GIF in an email with “fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd:” in the subject line, you might think it was real.
To return to an earlier detail, the TikTok’s caption, translated as “#funnymoment REAL KIDS,” does not actually imply that this is real footage of a genuine event captured by happenstance. It simply means “here’s a funny clip from the television show Real Boys,” which was a bit garbled in translation.
So I spend some time searching for a clip of the Real Boys bowling and mostly thanks to the language barrier, I’m not having any luck. But one of the nice things about search engines is you can let algorithms do the heavy lifting, which I did by copy-pasting “Реальные Пацаны боулинг” (“real boys bowling”) into Yandex.
The first video result is for a video on VK, uploaded on December 3, 2011. There’s no mention of bowling in the title, but it’s the full version of Real Boys Season 3 Episode 17. I scrub through it, and I have no idea what’s happening. A female character has a large mustache drawn on her face in thick black marker for much of the episode. This seems like a hijink.
And then… 20 minutes into a 23-minute episode… it happens.
The Real Boys meet the tracksuit man in a lobby of some sort. They talk. Tracksuit man picks up a remote to play some footage on a TV, and it cuts to:
Mystery solved. We’ve done it. I held the Google Translate app up to the speaker to try to figure out what’s happening here and, I’m still a bit lost. I cross-referenced the VK video’s upload date with an database of Real Boys episodes and found that the episode is called “Алкопати,” according to the big THT archive of episodes. Here’s the Google-Translated episode summary from the network: “Ivanovich defeated Moskvich! Kolyan decided to relax about this and relax with the boys. But no one expected that this simple kid's party would lead to such sad consequences.”
Unfortunately, this is as far as I could get for determining the context. It’s a sitcom, that’s about all you need to know. I hope this helps explain the new weird bowling video I found at least a little bit.
Just a couple of good tweets today.