Denver Mayor Channels Humor on YouTube

Video-sharing sites and other Web 2.0 applications provide government access to younger generations, the heaviest 2.0 users.

by / July 21, 2008

Photo: Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

What do a famous novelist and a big-city mayor have to do with Web 2.0?

Public officials have begun to jump on the virtual bandwagon known as Web 2.0. They are adopting the latest tools such as podcasts, video, blogs and wikis, as a new means of communicating with constituents. Mayors Tom Henry of Fort Wayne, Ind., and Richard Daley of Chicago have, or will soon start channels on YouTube, while Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine's Web portal contains RSS feeds, podcasts, YouTube videos and even a site for live chatting with various governmental departments.

However, no public official has embraced Web 2.0 with as much enthusiasm -- or humor -- as Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

In September 2007, Hickenlooper created a YouTube channel featuring various commercials, public service announcements (PSAs), and other videos that span his six years in office. So far, the site contains 20 clips, which viewers can rate, comment on and share with other YouTube members.

While watching PSAs and commercials may not seem like an entertaining way to engage citizens, Hickenlooper's videos are surprisingly creative, personable and, quite often, downright funny. From jumping out of an airplane, inhaling helium with Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, and learning about his "true" paternity from the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut, the Denver mayor proves to be an innovative official who doesn't shy away from humor.

Hickenlooper Highlights: Top Videos

"Is Denver Mayor Hickenlooper Kurt Vonnegut's Long-Lost Son?" (2004)
Created for the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation's 2004 roast of Hickenlooper, this hilarious video features Kurt Vonnegut proclaiming to be Hickenlooper's true father. Vonnegut was fraternity brothers with Hickenlooper's father, and jokes in the video that "he was like you. Very intelligent, incorruptible, civic-minded, very likable -- in a word, colorless. In two words, utterly colorless."

"Denver Mayor Hickenlooper & Governor Owens' Outtakes" (2006)
This clip of various outtakes from a PSA promoting the 2006 Health Fair has three times the number of viewers than the PSA clip itself, and it's easy to see why. Professional actors they are not, but watching as the mayor and governor chuckle over flubbing their lines is truly entertaining to watch. Perhaps we have our own Abbott and Costello of the public sector ...

"Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper Takes a Dive for Ref C" (2005)
It's not every mayor that is willing to jump out of a plane at 13,000 feet to promote the passage of a referendum (Ref C). But that's just what Mayor Hickenlooper does in this political commercial, skydiving to represent the falling economy and the need for a tax increase.

"Denver Mayor Hickenlooper Promotes Cinemocracy Film Contest" (2008)
As hosts of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, the Denver Film Society and Denver Office of Cultural Affairs are hosting "Cinemocracy," a film contest in which submissions must answer the question, "How do you define democracy?" This clip is Hickenlooper's attempt at answering the question.

"John Hickenlooper 'Suit' 2003 Mayoral Ad Campaign" (2003)
A commercial from his first mayoral campaign, "Suit" perfectly reflects the image Hickenlooper wanted to portray in the election -- a down-to-earth man who could bring a fresh face to the political sphere. With the help of this introductory ad, Hickenlooper managed to turn his quirks -- an eccentric wardrobe and a love for his motor scooter, for instance -- into appealing trademarks.

"Denver Mayor Hickenlooper/Gov. Ritter 9Health Fair" (2008)
Hickenlooper once again shows his playful attitude in this PSA promoting the 9Health Fair in 2008. Watch as Hickenlooper and the governor inhale helium, recite a line and then burst into giggles.

Yes, these clips are funny. But what's the point? Are Hickenlooper and other public officials using YouTube just to get a few laughs? The truth is, video-sharing sites and other Web 2.0 applications provide an innovative way for government to share information and connect with citizens, particularly younger generations, the heaviest users of 2.0 techniques.

Denver's "Cinemocracy" contest is a perfect example of how users of Web 2.0 are active participants in idea sharing. Through a simple online film contest, Hickenlooper and the Denver government are promoting an increased public awareness and involvement in the democratic process. Viewers of these public-sector YouTube sites can also engage themselves in the participatory nature of Web 2.0 by commenting on clips, either through a text or video response.

The ultimate success of these Web 2.0 projects has yet to be seen. Hickenlooper's site only has 17 subscribers thus far, and a low number of viewer comments. However, while his click counts remain low for the time being, Hickenlooper should be applauded for his creative use of Web 2.0 as a means of increasing dialog with citizens. Hopefully other public officials will follow suit with at least half the humor and ingenuity of this mayor from the Mile High City.