The Righteous Life of 'Reggae Shark'

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Why you should care

For every silly song you’ve made up and forgotten an hour later, let this cartoon inspire you to save that gem for posterity.

If incongruity is at the heart of why we laugh, what could be more amusing than a ganja-smoking, mostly nonviolent, bass-playing Rastafarian shark? With nearly 8 million YouTube views, “Reggae Shark” recounts the tale of an affable carnivorous fish, fashionably outfitted with dreadlocks, a beanie and half-lidded eyes. It’s the brainchild of writer Mark Douglas and animator Kieran Michael O’Hare, and their simple animation and playful lyrics are absurdly whimsical enough to make you believe in the novelty song again.

Douglas, one of the driving forces behind YouTube’s Barely Political channel as well as the “magical musical comedy show” The Key of Awesome, came up with Reggae Shark while on a snorkeling trip with his wife in Hawaii. “Any place tropical, Bob Marley’s Legend is going to be playing on that boat,” Douglas explains. A perfect musical storm struck when someone spotted a shark in the water, the boat stopped and “Get Up, Stand Up” hummed through the speakers. Naturally, Douglas broke into an ad-libbed song about Reggae Shark. A legend was born.

… a shark with a righteous soul and a hefty amount of cheeba-infused cartilage.

“It was just a two-note thing,” Douglas says of the initial premise. He started messing around with it on his guitar, and noticed that people would always want to join in. Since live shark wrangling would have been an extremely poor (and dangerous) production choice, he got in touch with O’Hare to see if they could animate this thing.

O’Hare began work fairly quickly, combining his hand-drawn character designs with his computer animation skills, banging out a shark with a righteous soul and a hefty amount of cheeba-infused cartilage in several weeks. When Douglas, who’d been away for much of the animation process, finally took a look, he realized that he’d been handed something that was already “kind of finished.” That sort of instant collaboration, he says, “rarely happens.”

One of the keys to Reggae Shark’s success, O’Hare suspects, is its popularity with a certain type of herbal enthusiast. “During the first week, it was tooling along OK,” O’Hare recounts. “A week or so later, the stoners found it.” While that’s just a theory he’s batted around with Douglas, it seems like a pretty solid one.

If you enjoy a dash of silly, infectious jams with your morning coffee (or whenever you surf vids online), take heart, because another Reggae Shark episode is circling the waters. As Douglas tells it, after his fishy creation blows up (figuratively, not in the literal Jaws sense), he’s preparing to deal with the heavy price of fame. O’Hare is also working on an independent Web series about “two decapitated heads who take a bunch of Adderall and come up with small-business ideas.” Now if they can only combine the jabbering, disembodied noggins with Reggae Shark, the incongruity dynamics will be off the charts. What, too much?

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