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From pigeon ads to panoramic hot dogs, artist uses San Francisco as 'playground' for viral videos

Photos: Courtesy of Pablo Rochat
By Nikki Collister - Published on August 03, 2020.

Pablo Rochat has been called a prankster, a trolling expert, and a creative genius. As it turns out, there's no shortage of labels for a person who makes viral videos for a living.

Though he's reached a global audience, the North Beach resident tends to stay local when creating his projects, bringing bizarre ideas to life using his neighborhood and home studio.

Following the recent success of one of his characteristically silly stunts — a tear-off flyer for pigeons — Hoodline spoke with Rochat to learn more about the logistics behind his videos, his creative process during the pandemic, and how living in the tech capital of the world has inspired some of his most successful gags.

A MacOS Mojave desktop background — littered with trash.

Before becoming an independent content creator, Rochat worked in advertising and tech. He moved to San Francisco eight years ago for a job at an advertising agency, then became a creative director at Tinder.

He used that time to build up both his professional and personal portfolio. "I'd always been creating my own personal work on the side, because I loved creating funny, humorous content," he said.

On any given day, he might be inventing the next Internet trend or pranking his local Apple Store. "Some of it's potty humor," he admits, "which I still find funny because I'm a 16-year-old at heart."

That sometimes-literal potty humor has attracted an international audience. His Instagram account has 636,000 followers, while his real-world corporate network allowed him to eventually start his own company, Pablo Rochat Studio.

A custom Zoom background made for work-from-home meetings.

These days, Rochat works from his home studio in North Beach, creating projects for corporate clients like the New York Times and Comedy Central and producing offbeat content for his personal social media accounts.

He keeps a sketchbook of ideas, which he often returns to when looking for a new project. That's where he first jotted down the idea of an advertisement for pigeons — which quickly went viral.

Shot in a park in Chinatown, where he knew there was no shortage of pigeons, Rochat's self-filmed video shows him taping a printed poster at the bottom of an electrical pole. Below the words “Tired of being a bird?” is a photo of a pigeon and a row of tear-off phone numbers.

The video cuts to a flock of pigeons surrounding the flyer, pulling off phone numbers in rapid succession. 

Rochat said the video was "super easy" to make — thanks to his sneakily lacing the flyer with peanut butter. 

"Most of my day now is trying to come up with ideas that could potentially be as successful as that," he said, laughing. 

The bird advertisement is just one of many novelty flyers Rochat has put up around the city, most of them near his home in North Beach. Rather than leave them up, he prefers to capture one good shot that can be shared to a wider audience online. 

One exception to this rule was a project Rochat completed in the weeks following the death of George Floyd. The video, which instantly spread across social media, documented Rochat creating and affixing black tape to a pedestrian sign in North Beach. The end result turned the blinking hand signal into a raised fist.

Rochat initially thought of repeating the trick around the city, to promote the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead, he decided to invest time into creating a template and tutorial for the fist, which has since been replicated in cities across the country.

Some of Rochat's most widely shared videos and graphics explore uniquely San Franciscan experiences.

In one, he printed stickers that looked like Airpods, sticking them on the ground throughout the city. He came up with the idea while at a Starbucks on Kearny Street. "Seeing everyone walk around with Airpods and iPhones made me want to make fun of Airpods and iPhones."

In another video, filmed with a friend during Fleet Week, Rochat pretends to control the Blue Angels with an oversized remote control.

"San Francisco not only becomes a source of inspiration, but also a great playground for my ideas," he said. "The cast of characters, the places, the neighborhoods — they're a great setting for a lot of my videos."

Sheltering in place has made it harder to embark on stunts like these. But Rochat says he sees the extra time at home as a creative opportunity. 

“I try not to see it as a blocker, but a reason to be thankful that I have space to work,” he said. “Since I’m just kind of holed up at home anyway [with work], I think I could be of value by producing more creative work within my confine, inspiring other people to do the same within their own confines.” 

While Rochat admits that a lot of his jokes are “a little bit twisted,” he hopes that they can provide a laugh to audiences, regardless of generation or age. 

“Most people can find the humor in [the bird poster], whether they’re young or old, and that is something that I’m grateful for,” he said.

“I love when I have a simple idea and simple execution, and all walks of life can be entertained by it.”

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