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January 06, 2009

San Francisco, California
Here's a Little Clue for You All,
The Walrus is Animatronic

I've gone and made a mess for myself and now I have to clean it up.

Before I get started, let me state it front and center for those who don't want to read a lot: the dancing video is not a hoax. It was not made with a green screen. It was not "photoshopped." I really did travel to all those places.

Now, moving on...

About a month ago I went to a conference in Monterey called EG; short for Entertainment Gathering.

It's sort of a spin-off of TED, founded by the same guy, Richard Wurman, and organized by Michael Hawley. It shares a similar format and venue, and brings things back to how TED initially started, which is an intimate gathering of nerds with diverse backgrounds.

I was invited to talk for a few minutes, and then bring everyone up on stage to dance with me. Here is what I did.

I haven't spotted him myself, but I'm told if you look closely you can see Steve Wozniak dancing up there at the end, as well as several other luminary eggheads.

The idea for this talk came a couple weeks prior, when a video called Bike Hero came out. It showed a kid riding his bicycle on a street with Guitar Hero note tracking etched in chalk onto the ground.

The chalk marks are in perfect time with the music, and at first glance it appeared that some enterprising youngster had put a tremendous amount of time and effort into creating something genuinely clever and cool.

The next day the internet was abuzz with word that it was a hoax, created by some viral marketing ad agency. Turns out it was done the cheesy way, with a whole lot of CG. I found that incredibly depressing, and of course got to thinking: What if MY video turned out to be an elaborate hoax? And if it was, to what extent would that devalue the end result?

I asked my friend, Elan, for his opinion, as he's somewhat of an expert on pulling off stunts. His sage advice was to make it totally absurd or else people would wind up believing it. And so I made up a story involving an airplane in a swimming pool and an army of animatronic puppets.

Turns out I didn't make it absurd enough.

The video was posted online on January 2nd. Within hours a post appeared on Digg with this title.

Confession: Where the Hell is Matt? An Elaborate Hoax

MetaFilter ran this one.

Matt Harding Comes Clean

I'm pretty sure the people who posted both those links had watched the lecture and were aware it was a prank. They crafted attention-grabbing headlines that avoided spoiling the joke, so that others could go through the same process of irritation followed by relief. Unfortunately, a whole lot of people simply read the headline, took it as fact, and ran with it.

Within days, the story had filtered through a series of increasingly credible sources into a legitimate news article (which has since been removed) that appears on wire services and makes no mention of the blatant ridiculiciousness of the claims.

I did not foresee this. I am surprised, ever-so-slightly annoyed, but mostly amused.

Had I given it any thought, I would've assumed that any journalist who failed to get the joke would've done a little research. Maybe they would've checked to see if "Buzz!Brain" is a real company. Maybe they would've IMDb'd my claim of being a corpse actor on CSI. Maybe they would've glanced at the six years' worth of detailed travelogues on my site. But all that aside...seriously, did the "army of animatronic puppets" not set off any credibility alarms?

If my delivery seems a little stilted and unrehearsed, it's because I scribbled the whole thing on notecards the night before and I was terrified out of my mind. I got up in front of an audience of people I admire a great deal and spouted complete nonsense at them.

In the minutes before I went onstage, Melissa saw me sweating profusely and shaking in my seat. To help me through my panic, she asked "What can you do if this isn't working? What's your escape hatch?"

It did not help with the sweating and the shaking.

And by the way, if I was really an actor, wouldn't I have bothered to memorize my lines?

At the end of the talk, I show a final budget for the make-believe version of the video. Unfortunately, I used a small font on the pie chart and you can't read the budget items without switching to high quality mode on YouTube. The budget was intended to seal things up for anyone who still wasn't sure it was a joke. My favorite was the "Robot Uprising Insurance." That got lost in compression.


I get the feeling this is going to follow me around for a while. I'm going to be hearing a lot of, "Wasn't your video a hoax? Someone told me it was a hoax."

Now I have my own little "Paul is Dead," and the kicker is it's my fault. But it's a bit of intrigue and it's all good fun.

When things went pear-shaped today with the news article, I asked Elan for advice again. He told me to set the record straight on my site to give folks in the talkbacks something they can link to.

So here it is, stated definitively once more for the people in the back row:

The dancing video is not a hoax. The EG lecture announcing a hoax is itself a hoax. I did not make the video by dancing in front of a green screen. I did travel to all those places. No swimming pools were used to simulate weightlessness. No one (that I'm aware of) built an army of animatronic robots in order to fake a viral video. And Walt Disney never (to my knowledge) said that thing about puppets knowing how to keep their damn mouths shut. I don't think he'd really talk that way.


Wow. Humanity is so diverse. From all the wonderfully positive things your video has done to make people smile around the world, to complete and total nincompoops.

I am concerned that my spellchecker had no issues with "nincompoops". I must have spelled it right, at least.

I like the word "ridiculiciousness." Does it rhyme with deliciousness? Can you please list all the left-right asymetric animals you've seen or thought of? I can only think of three: Halibut, flounder and male hermit crabs (plus the bird on your blog). It's driving me a little bit nuts.

I've read your whole blog, and am particularly impressed with your increasing grasp of English/American spelling. Usually, a bad speller will always remain a bad speller, but you've improved considerably since 2003.

Finally, anyone who thinks it's a hoax deserves to think it's a hoax.

Matt harding's videos are 100% genuine!

Funny you should mention that bit about Walt Disney. As I'm sure he probably would have preferred a comment like that to be stricken from the record, Alfred Hitchcock IS quoted with saying : "Walt Disney has the best casting, if he didn't like an actor, he could just tear him up".

Your posts have become too few and far between.

Happy New Year!

I meant fiddler crabs... der.

I saw this video several days ago and laughed heartily. Then I watched amused as people initially thought it was true, were sad, then recanted after they watched it. Then I watched in disappointment as I saw people who watched it through and still thought you were 100% serious. The sarcasm deficiency in the intertubes is frightening sometimes.

I think I need to watch the dancing videos again to feel better about the human race...

P.S. You should post the image of the "budget".

Brilliant stuff, especially the dance at the end.

Be careful with sarcasm. Sarcasm is the sign of intelligence, but not recognized as a sign of leadership. For some people sarcasm is also a sign of lack of self confidence.

I guess a lot of people who visited your site and watched your VISA ads are non-Enlish-speakers, and the lecture was too hard to be caught as a prank. I am just glad the whole thing was not a hoax. (the rumor actually broke lots of hearts!)

As all my colleagues know I danced with you in the movie in Belgium, they have spread the rumor in the office that everything was fake and a hoax. They read an article on the internet.

Yes, they've read something on the internet, but didn't watch the video to get the real presentation you gave. Brilliant. I can't understand that there is somebody who has seen this video and started to write an article saying that everything was a hoax.

What astonishes me the most is that people believe just everything they read. One of my colleagues repeated that it was a hoax even after I showed my own presence in the movie. It makes me think of what we might expect in the future.

I only can say that it was a great joke. I hope that people still see the joy of the message you spread. Anyway, thanks again for the great experience and hope you can keep up traveling! Always welcome in Belgium!

That's hilarious.

That's was a great video...although that's not real...but i really touch when i watch it!!I love your video!!I hope one day you can dance around the world and make the video with people around the world!!I hope i can see you in Hong Kong at the future!!You are great !!

I'm a Belgian girl, and believe me: we understood your lecture :) I love your 'Where the hell is Matt'-video's after your stunt even more. You're such a clever guy. Keep on traveling and making people smile!

If it's any consolation, I got a good laugh out of it.

But you've once again gone and proven that you should never underestimate the gullibility of the media or the general public. Legitimate claims draw conspiracy theories, but the more bizarre and unlikely your claim, the more likely people are to believe it.

That was great fun!
I think it's great that you would do something like that. I get so tired of people who believe/disbelieve stuff on the internet blindly without doing one bit of research. There is another video on Youtube called "Big Wave Surfing". At least 1/2 of the people who comment say it's fake. It's not, but even after you tell them it's a clip from the DVD "Billabong Surf Odyssey" and it's Mike Parson's surfing on the north coast of Hawaii during a tow-in surf contest they still don't believe you. (I own this DVD, BTW) Very little research will prove it's authenticity. sad..

So yeah, Kudos!

I found your video on Museum of Hoaxes (the confession was the hoax part you'll be happy to know) and it was just so beautiful that I wanted to know everything, why, how, ya know? So, since I'm a bored home mom I tracked you here.

Don't ever stop dancing Matt, my two and a half year old son was watching the video beside me and its contagious - he was dancing with total abandon and he didn't know or care why. Thank you, for the great video and for the memory of my gorgeous little son dancing like a madman!

It looks like someone went back and checked their facts. The Associated Content article has been pulled by the looks of things.

I think that was the perfect response to the critics. Well done.

Of course! The whole thing was faked! You are a fraud! It makes total sense now! People spent millions dollars to fake some guy travelling around the world instead of actually sending that person around the world!

Though seriously, you should have been more outrageous in what you were trying to express so it would be obvious to all except the brain dead that you were joking. Pointing out some the flaws in the 'logic' of the critics for instance. I do it all the time at work. Like spending several thousand dollars on a piece of software that default windows install itself can do already.

I, for one, believe you. Instead of approaching your video with complete negativity and nitpick every little detail to fit my narrow little vision of the world, the videos so impressed me I researched your story more to understand it what you were doing and the reason why.

I've viewed your video several hundred times, at least. I love the song, Praan, and the singer. Each short video clip leaves me wanting to see more. Especially liked the choreographed dancers in India in their colorful fashions.

Anyone who has watched your video would know that it would be impossible to fake your video. And of course, your speech, was obvious done with "tongue-in-cheek", good natured, satire. I caught on, right away, as would 99.9% of all people.

Anyway, keep up the excellent work. On your next trip maybe you can get that Korean soldier in the DMZ, dancing too.

Oh, I'm so sorry. This is why irony, subtlety, and meta-anything are, unfortunately, usually enjoyed by a select few. Best of luck convincing the world that they're being idiots.

Ouch, yeah that'll be a rough one.

I've gotta admit, when I watched the cut clip from the conference and the video closely I was on the fence for a few minutes. The photo in the video of the youtube comments and the knowledge that you'd scored several marketing contracts based on it was what convinced me right away that the video presentation/claim you'd made was the actual hoax.

Needless to say, as an avid traveler and given the pure power of the video I'm glad it's real. Thanks for your ongoing contributions to the travel community =)

You have undermined your own beauty in your own wonderful project. Don't be a puppet in front of a bunch lunatics and dance!

What if, like, your real life is actually all on a green screen in somebody-in-another-dimension's YouTube video?

*toke, toke*

Well. you simply topped yourself again. It was awesome.

You broke people's hearts. Millions of people's. "Making things totally absurd so that people wind up believing it?" I must say it's the most absurd idea I saw in all these. I'm sure people all over the world loved your video, and most of them didn't care, and didn't even notice any of the inconsistencies. They didn't care about comments on youtube or elsewhere. They trusted you. The only thing they need, is your word, to simply state that your videos are 100% genuine. For inconsistencies, even some trivial explanations or assumptions will do. But you didn't choose that way. After all, even in this article, you still didn't assure that you did not fake anything in the video. Good job to win yourself a title of Hoax-maker, even just with the announcement. It IS how people will remember you.

I think you act as a filter with this confusion - those who bother to delve deeper get more.

Tina Louise
Arms Against War

Someone on YouTube left a comment that you must be the happiest man on earth! For four minutes and twenty-nine seconds, so am I. Thanks!

I truly wish you would get a real job and stop with all that dancing all over the world. What a waste to humanity. You are not contributing one iota to your country. Get a life man.

I've always wondered why politicians don't use more humor or sarcasm, as the opportunities to use it in politics would be practically endless IMO. Now I understand why.

I think your speech didn't get the expected result because 1) people don't expect you to say silly things, and the delivery was way too serious/nervous 2) it wasn't quite silly enough, judging by the little amount of laughter 3) the message isn't obvious unless you listen through a large part of it. As with anything, I think a lot of people need to be able to catch on within the first few seconds otherwise they will quote the wrong parts of it. But, as many say, and hopefully this will hold true for you, any press is good press.

Matt, don't bother. Your travel videos are the greatest ever!


This should be the last time you try to convince people that your video is real. A lot can be said about someone's intelligence, or lack there of, when they watch your videos along with the behind the scenes footage (outtakes/dancing with huli wigmen) and come to the conclusion that it's all a hoax.

Well, if it makes any difference, I hadn't actually heard anything about your video being a hoax until you mentioned it here on your blog. I watch the rss feed and assume it's the first place to look for information on your goings-on. :)

I'm saddened by the lack of research demonstrated by the... journalists? (is that an accurate term?) who ran the stunt as a story. One would think they would do some research before running with it as-is.

I get a real kick out of the "Old Glory Insurance" reference! :D

I'd read nothing about the 'hoax' until I stopped by your journal to see what's up with you and your video.

The media not fact checking and running attention grabbing headlines is sadly not a surprise at all.

I hope the book is progressing. Keep at it Matt, it's worth the effort.

I can't believe that media outlets don't actually read or watch the content that they are supposed to be reporting on. What a bunch of suck-asses.

You rock. Forget about the imbeciles who just like to stir up trouble for others. They are not worth acknowledging. Save your energy for keeping your own spirit happy.

wow. people really just post the title without fact checking? thats why its a problem to do news website. they just compete for getting the news first. the quality of news stories are so bad these days. they dont even fact check. even though it is not from the web, but it reminds me of that video clip of fox news talking about mass effect, and they kept bringing up that 30 seconds sex scene. they just got the clip from youtube and never really played the game and make accusations. is there a really a way to police this?

You're not a fake. I love your videos, they are great fun and show that life can be fun if you look. There's an amazing planet out there. Keep going Matt, ignore people who can't find fun in their lives and beauty in the World.

Stupidest move ever. I loved this video - you shouldn't have done the hoax. You need to make more of a significant call out on your web page about this. . . on the home page of "wherethehellismatt" you need to place this page of your blog and let ppl know.

I'm still laughing at the graph. Cripes, they really believed this? Humans are scary.

Matt... just KEEP GOING!
Do not listen to those "hoax" stories..
Please... just continue with your work..
Your videos are full of inspiration!!
You are a special BLESS to our planet!!

Thank you so much....YOU made my day!! :-)

Argh - this was confusing. Sure, the hoax explanation was ridiculous but I first heard from a friend that the whole video was a hoax... someone who hadn't watched the Fora.tv video and had heard it from a friend who had...you get the picture. The headline was enough. So I don't think that everyone who believed it was "stupid"... to be honest, I saw the title, saw the beginning of the video and said "oh that really is matt - I'm not watching a whole 13 minutes of this." and thought it was confirmed that it was a hoax. I'm glad it's not fake, but not so happy/enchanted by the video after that stunt.. so it did detract from the end value.

I think, Andorra, Faroe Islands Luxemburg, Monaco and Liechtenstein are waiting for a dance too.

Oh Matt .. you are awesome! Keep on!

Hi Matt
I find your videos a inspiration to watch,but in both videos i found myself hooked on the music,i had thoughts of who the hell do these amazing voices belong to,i then watched your W.T.H is afunakwa video,and i was engrossed in the story but sadly the story had a bit of a anti climax,the story of Afunakwa needs to be told in more detail.Please try and use your internet fame and contact a few networks,you are a natural real life film maker,maybe you dont know that yet,maybe you have been told you are,the dance was for a reason,for gods sake man make more,your a natural story teller
Think on it,and best wishes
P.s your email link dont work

i do not believe you, sorry:)

your dancing videos always make me smile & feel warm. but your EG talk was, er, how should i put it ... not wise. please don't do it again. hey, look forward to your 4th video.

Heh, wow, I just read up on this and that is hysterical! I wonder how long now there will still be some people who think its fake.

The world is amazing, and at times way to funny.

Wait...did you help fake the moon landings?

Matt I love the dancing-videos and sometimes I will go on youtube just to see one again and again.
When I saw the headline stating it was a hoax my first tought after gigiling a litlle was: "Have these people SEEN the videos?".
Don't bother with explanations, next time someone asks you about the hoax just yell "BURN!"

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