Bronk accosting a young doorman.

The Joy of Early Adopter Periscope

It's a glorious mess of ego and exhibitionism.

|
May 15 2015, 12:00pm

Bronk accosting a young doorman.

The Howard Stern Show writer Benjy Bronk and I were on a manic 1 AM romp through Central Park, looking for Japanese people.

After asking a slew of strangers what they were doing out so late, Bronk encountered some graveyard shift workers setting up tents for "Japan Day." This set him off on a frenzied but unfruitful search.

Bronk voiced his displeasure to a passing group of young men. "It's Japan Day," Bronk groused. "Where are the Japanese people?"

So why was Bronk hamming it up with Central Park joggers after midnight? Because I—along with an invisible crew of fans—was watching. On Periscope.

Launched by Twitter in March, Periscope turns your iPhone into a mobile studio capable of streaming to thousands. When someone you follow launches a livestream, you get an alert, and an invitation to join the fun.

It's Reddit's Ask Me Anything, meets Google Hangouts, meets Ustream, and it's ready to intrude on your privacy.

Since its March 26 launch, a vibrant community of actors, comedians, news anchors and others interested in sharing their lives with the world has emerged.

If you missed the early days of MySpace, Facebook or Twitter, now's your chance to experience the unsteady first steps of a new medium that seems destined to change the way we interact.

Periscope can get weird

Bronk's Periscope adventures, among the most bizarre I've seen, typify the always-on, do-anything-for-a-laugh approach some users are taking.

The next day, Bronk (who is @bronk on Periscope) was accompanied by hundreds of observers as he attempted to ring every doorbell on West 78th Street "looking for new friends," in another act of gonzo comedy.

It didn't go so well.

"Hello," Bronk said, over and over, to a soundtrack of buzzers.

"What is it?" the gruff voice of an older man replied.

"I'm looking to make new friends," Bronk explained. "Can I come up?"

"Absolutely, positively, unequivocally you may not," the man said.

Undeterred, Bronk took his act to the next building.

"So far this is more of a white neighborhood and they're not letting me in," Bronk, who is white, said to a fluttering eruption of tiny pink hearts, a sure sign that viewers dug the quip.

After numerous failed attempts at bro-matchmaking, Bronk came upon a friendly doorman who seemed happy to chat on camera. And why shouldn't he be? It's not like 500 anonymous interlopers were watching.

"Who are your closest friends? When you go to the park and play, who do you play with?" Bronk asked the increasingly circumspect doorman.

"What is this?" the doorman queried, waving to the phone.

"It's called Periscope."

Without a hint of recognition, the young doorman asked Bronk again what he was doing.

"People are watching," Bronk said.

The doorman said he didn't need any new friends. Bronk ventured on.

Big personalities love Periscope

Professional funny people have been among the most enthusiastic early adopters of Periscope, with streams from American comedy clubs popping up nightly.

There's a simple reason for that, says comedian Bert Kreischer (@bertkreischer), who regularly takes followers along to exotic locales as he films his Travel Channel show "Trip Flip."

Broadcasting with Periscope scratches a comedian's itchy ego in just the right way, he said.

"If you are someone who has a large personality, it's perfect," Kreischer said. "I'm absolutely obsessed with it."

Kreischer even plans to Periscope (get used to that new verb) his sets, something other comedians might balk at for fear of burning material.

"I kind of get off on (improvised) rants a lot, and they are usually lost to the stratosphere," he said. "Now people can tune in and see, 'Oh, Bert is doing a gag contest against three girls using a cucumber,' and it won't be wasted."

New York comedian Robert Kelly (@robertkelly) often Periscopes from the city's famous Comedy Cellar. "So many people love (the Comedy Cellar) and now they're there, hanging out with the comics," he told Motherboard.

Kreischer.

He has only one complaint: the app's heart-based feedback system. In the app, viewers express approval by tapping the screen to send whimsical pastel hearts bubbling up the frame. Broadcasters rack them up, and their profiles boast them like high scores in a video game.

"Those Easter-egg colored hearts are there to make you feel good. The more hearts you get, the better you feel," Kelly said. "I just wish they had something a little more macho. Like hatchets. Or pit bulls with giant dicks."

Kelly and Kreischer agree Periscope is also going to be abused and is likely a new weapon in the armory of the P.C. police.

"It's getting to the point where you better watch your Ps and Qs. You better not cheat on your wife. You better not do cocaine. You better not be racist," said Kreischer, who was recently Periscoped surreptitiously by a fan while drinking at a bar.

"But if I see Kiefer Sutherland at a bar, yeah, I'll probably be guilty of (the same thing). I just won't like it when it happens to me."

Periscope can also get serious, fast

I joined comedian Justin Martindale (@justmartindale) for a stream after his sister's Boston wedding. Martindale asked for questions to put to boozy post-reception party guests. I jokingly proposed the rudest of questions in Periscope's chat window, inadvertently prompting Martindale to ask his brother if he'd ever been sexually assaulted—and it turned out he kind of had, by a cute girl in a locker room a long time ago.

That's how fast shit can get real on Periscope.

Thanks to an onlooker with an iPhone, I was there outside the hospital when former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford revealed chemotherapy had turned back his tumors, and that he'd be having surgery.

Hoping for some lighter entertainment, I moseyed over to Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus to watch marketing executive Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki) offer entrepreneurship advice, courtesy of an anonymous broadcaster to whom the lecturer had handed his phone.

Was I supposed to be hearing that? Unclear. It seemed like what would otherwise have been an employees-only session. But with this new Twitter tech, you get to choose your intrusion free of consequence.

Hula hoops, tornadoes, and Miley Cyrus

Comedians aren't the only early adopters of Periscope. A far less entertaining parade of local TV news anchors and morning show hosts are also appearing on the app.

Every night at 6 PM you will find men and women with stiff hair and even stiffer personalities sharing a "behind-the-scenes look" at how the local news is made. Spoiler: It's all in the teleprompter.

CBS News Los Angeles is one of the stations using Periscope to broadcast its broadcasts.

The hook of these streams is meant to be the off-the-cuff banter between anchors during commercial breaks. But, surprise, the sports guy isn't amusing then, either.

Anchors at NBC 7 San Diego thrilled viewers by asking each other questions like, "Are you still hosting that morning show?" and "How much sleep are you getting these days, Deb?"

Yes, she is, and about three.

Radio show hosts are also getting in on the 'scoping, and it's obvious how streaming video can add richness to an audio-only format.

In April, SiriusXM disc jockey Gregg 'Opie' Hughes used Meerkat, a Periscope competitor whose success at South by Southwest revealed the potential of social streaming, to debut the kooky "new smile" of co-host Jim Norton (@jimnorton).

Opie Radio producer Sam Roberts (@notsam) whipped out his iPhone (Periscope is an iOS exclusive), and the two were suddenly in a livestreaming pissing contest, competing for viewers.

Weathermen are here, too.

Al Roker (@alroker) is using Periscope to promote guests on his morning show, "Wake Up With Al." Roker's colleagues at The Weather Channel, Sam Champion and Jim Cantore (@AMHQ), field questions from viewers about tornadoes and thunderclouds.

Norton.

Sky News Asia correspondent Mark Stone has kept viewers current on the earthquakes and aftershocks ravaging Nepal.

"Professional comedian and mooner" Dana Moon (@danamoonme) offers nightly pillow talk and will shout viewer-submitted phrases to pedestrians from her window.

TV personality Kevin Pereira (@attack) shared the wonder of Miley Cyrus' gyrating, pulsating performance at Adult Swim's upfront party with Periscopers. Try finding that ticket on StubHub.

Actors, including first-day adopter Aaron Paul (@aaronpaul_8) of "Breaking Bad," soccer players, and sheiks are all on Periscope, waiting to be witnessed.

Watching a burgeoning comedian named Sara Weinshenk (@princessshenk), I wondered if Periscope may soon be launching careers. Weinshenk recently spent nearly 30 minutes hula hooping on camera for a few dozen enraptured watchers. Broadcast from a friend's apartment, Weinshenk's exhibition was much more charming than anything Good Day L.A. can muster.

"It's Periscope!"

No episode better illustrates the contradictions introduced by Periscope than Comedian Joe Rogan's Sunday-night encounter with friend and fellow entertainer Andy Dick outside the Comedy Store in Los Angeles.

Flanked by comedians Brian Redban (@redban) and Kimberly Congdon (@kimberlycongdon)—both also livestreaming from the sidewalk—Rogan was on a mad hunt for Dick, who'd been spotted at the club earlier that night.

Panning left, then right, Rogan spotted Dick leaving a neighboring parking lot in a sedan, and rushed to greet him.

With a look of horror and confusion, Dick stopped the car.

"It's Periscope!" Rogan reassured him.

Now being broadcast to hundreds from three angles (Tony Montana's fall into the fountain didn't have camera coverage like this), Dick did what came naturally.

"I'm going to Periscope too," Dick said, unholstering his phone.

At that moment, another man—an apparent stranger—approached from the street with a conventional DSLR camera.

"Oh, here we go," bemoaned Dick, withdrawing. "The paparazzi."