Pull My Finger (AUS) is a triumphant 7 part saga, where a son pulls his father’s finger when asked. In each episode, we are presented with the same scenario, each time taking a wildly different turn.

Director Justin Villar and director/creator Jesse Vogelaar spoke to Melbourne Webfest, telling us how an idea mentioned over Facebook Messenger evolved into a web series, that dives deep into the wormhole of surrealist comedy. Proving to the world that the classic pull my finger joke is thriving in a society ruled by meme culture overlords.

How did you come up with the idea to make a web series about a classic dad joke?

Justin: The first hint of Pull My Finger Jesse ever mentioned to me was a web series about a Rube Goldberg machine, where every episode would feature a machine which would elaborately end in pulling some random’s finger – I think it slowly morphed and fermented (in the best possible way) into a “heartfelt” story about a dad asking a kid to pull his finger instead of a machine. More emotion that way.

Jesse: This was kind of the finale to what I personally consider the “Got Em” trilogy. My first viral short was about the schoolyard circle game, which was followed up with “Taxi!” – about the first man to ever yell, “Taxi!”, in a bar. This series epitomises the low-concept, high-execution ethos of a certain part of my career. It doesn’t get any more tedious than a “Pull My Finger” joke, which makes it the perfect starting point to launch into anything and everything.

What was your release strategy for Pull My Finger?

Justin: We wanted platforms which catered to a 2-3 minute attention span (max), so IGTV and Facebook were the natural choices. Jesse had this idea of releasing all 6 episodes in batches over the span of a week, which gave time for people to get interested in-between the episodes being released.

Jesse: Every episode has its own standalone concept, genre, story etc. They were designed to grab attention and weird people out. From my previous work, I was able to open up a dialogue with influential memers and get the ball rolling that way.

Pull My Finger – Episode 1

Are there any limitations when creating absurdist/surreal humour in the web series sphere?

Justin: Personally, I was curious to see how Australians would take to this type of humour. American audiences seem to like it (think Adult Swim, whose network is based around this type of bizzaro-humour), so I wondered if there was an Australian audience for that. Comedians like Auntie Donna definitely proved that people had a taste for it, and I guess we wanted to continue further tests haha

Jesse: For web series, I’d say absolutely not. As I mentioned, I had experience with this on my previous projects. People online want to be surprised and confused. You can really go all the way— in fact, it’s more challenging to be genuinely surreal in this day and age than people think.

How long have you been working on your series?

Justin: So I just scrolled through my Facebook Messenger history and it looks like Jesse messaged me about it in December 2018, and we had a screening in November 2019, so almost a year from start to finish. What a ride.

Jesse: The project was shot over two weekends. I think we got everything together fairly quickly. We really let it simmer in post-production where a lot of the crazy magic happened.

What is your favourite part of the series?

Justin: The mushroom cloud from the nuke in the finale. Me, Jesse, and Josh (our VFX Assist) actually stayed up till midnight the night before our screening trying to finalise it and I loved how it turned out. We spent hours finding anime and movie references, trying to finesse how to properly obliterate the father and son. Throw in the amazing sound design by Mario Hannah and you get a beautiful final shot to close this wacko project.

Jesse: I think the wholesome letter that Caitlyn wrote was delightful. It was like putting the anthesis to the show in the show. It’s an episode that is just genuinely nice with nothing more to it.

Pull My Finger is ideal for internet audiences due to its vignette format, humour and even aspect ratio. How have audiences online reacted to the web series?

Justin: I think people liked how “meme-able” it was. The most valuable of millennial currency.

Jesse: Essentially they are designed to be enjoyed like memes. We created our own format and repeated the same joke over and over, just like a meme. I think across the board it got the response it deserved, “omg, I can’t believe someone made this”.

How much do I need to pay Ben Russell for the chance to pull his finger?

Justin: Slightly more than the amount you need to pay to pull his toes. Slightly.

Jesse: I think it’s $40 per pull, $100 for the family package.