The city of Wichita’s 53-second rebuttal to Jimmy Kimmel’s sarcastic “Wichitawesome” video is playing to mixed reviews at City Hall and in the community.
The value of the video, which includes a cardboard Kimmel cutout and features sexual innuendo, drinking and vomiting, truly lies in the eyes of the beholder: City officials are largely defending the jab at the comedian, and one public relations pro stood behind the work, calling it “stupid funny, but yeah.”
Others question the use of city staff time – and taxpayer money – for the video, and some have raised questions about its taste.
The video, by the city’s City7 television staff, went quasi-viral on Wednesday — with 3,000 hits, city officials said — in response to a sarcastic jab at Wichita taken by the late-night talk-show host in a similar video. The city video, in a spring break motif, features a cardboard Kimmel doing everything from receiving a Hawaiian lei to chugging beer, as well as vomiting from a presumably passed-out prone position into the Arkansas River.
Mayor Carl Brewer offered a qualified defense of the production, which was written, produced and acted in by 13 city staffers on city time.
“I think it came close to the line but they didn’t cross it,” the mayor said. “I still go back to the same position: If I had done it, it would have been different. But I’m sure that if I and the council had said something about Kimmel, it wouldn’t have gotten any national recognition. …
“Would I have done it differently? Yes. Would I have gotten national recognition with my conservative ways? Probably not. I think the moral is, ‘Don’t take life so seriously.’ ”
City Manager Robert Layton said he approved the video’s production and defended the use of city staff time and employees in the video.
“It was an attempt to respond to Jimmy Kimmel’s satirical poke at Wichita in a like satirical manner,” Layton said.
The city manager did not have a complete accounting of the project’s costs. Layton said the only expense he’s aware of is $250 for a Kimmel cardboard cutout and a sound effect. Layton said beer was used in the video, but none was consumed and the city didn’t pay for the beverages.
Layton objected to the characterization of city staff time and employee participation as a project cost.
“By using employees as actors, we didn’t have to spend money on actors …,” he said. “Those employees are salaried and there were no additional costs associated with their work on the video. We have used city employees in other marketing pieces, most recently some of the golf advertisements. It is a way to generate program interest without incurring significant costs. We work around staff work schedules and keep the filming time to a minimum.”
City Council member Michael O’Donnell said he understands if his constituents found the video offensive, but stopped short of personally objecting to it.
“I can completely understand why people in the community are offended, first because of the money involved and, being a conservative city, the beer chugging and some of the other actions,” O’Donnell said. “I can easily see why some people are going to be offended.”
Council member Pete Meitzner said he didn’t want to discuss the video in an e-mail.
“Bigger issues and opportunities for the council to tackle,” Meitzner wrote.
Other council members did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokeswoman for Americans for Prosperity, the local anti-tax watchdog group, raised no issues about the vague taxpayer tab for the production.
Susan Estes, who runs AFP’s Wichita office, said the idea behind the city video was good, but the execution wasn’t.
“The video’s in such poor taste,” Estes said. “It’s a blown opportunity for the city. The Kimmel video was cute, and it wasn’t in poor taste. This one, though, if it’s well done it’s a good idea. But the beer, the throwing up in a river, that’s not a good idea.”
The city’s video got a thumbs-up from a Wichita public relations and marketing professional, Ken White of Howerton + White.
“It was very much in the spirit of Jimmy’s original video – teasy, silly, funny,” White said. “People who are offended go to bed too early to stay up and watch his show anyway.”