In the basement auditorium of a Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a ginger-bearded man balances on a plank. The plank, in turn, balances on an eight-inch pipe. A hula hoop orbits the man’s waist, while juggling pins swarm in front of him. His face bears a look of constipation.
The man, known as The Brooklyn Juggler, is attempting to break the world record for "Most catches of the juggling clubs while hula hooping and balanced on a Rola Bola." Previous record: 117.
In the background, a pink gorilla plays upright bass next to a grown man in a skunk costume who’s gleefully pounding a xylophone. A minute ago, 50 people danced to the Cosby Show theme song, after a man with a particularly large Adam’s apple smashed his way to world recordom with 64 bobs in 30 seconds.
The furry house band, The Xylopholks, are here to set a record themselves: "Most chromatic scales played in unison by a xylophonist and a bassist in one minute."
In between acts, they play the theme song from Inspector Gadget. A few members of the crowd—a hodgepodge of hipster twentysomethings, senior citizens, and chaste Jewish youth—recognize the tune and clap with delight.
A competitive food eater takes the stage, opens and swallows two cans of ravioli. One minute, 22.3 seconds. World record.
Records Set Jan. 26
Thirteen world records were set at the RecordSetter Live event held Jan. 26.
1// Most Different High Fives In One Minute
Total: 27 high fives
Record set by: Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer from Broad City
Comparable Guinness Record: Most High Fives In One Minute, set by Marcus Jahrling with 101 high fives
2// Most One-Footed Jump Rope Jumps In 30 Seconds
Total: 71 jumps
Record set by: Touré
Comparable Guinness Record: The most bum skips in 30 seconds. Held by Mami Murao with 58 skips
3// Fastest Time To Make 200 Peanut Butter And Jam Sandwiches With 8 People
Total: 44 minutes, 47 seconds
Record set by: JCC Tweens
Comparable Guinness Record: Longest line of sandwiches (8,750 ft 4.91 in, by Kraft Foods)
4// Most People Face-Raked By A Single Person In 30 Seconds
Total: 17 people
Record set by: Rachel Feinstein
Comparable Guinness Record: No Guinness comparison could be remotely found.
5// Most People Dancing To The Cosby Show Theme Song Dance At Once
Total: 53 people
Record set by: "Adaptations" + JCC crowd
Comparable Guinness Record: First Razzie winner to collect the prize in person. Held by Bill Cosby, his only record
6// Most Adam's Apple Bobs in 30 Seconds
Total: 64 bobs
Record set by: Tom Shillue
Comparable Guinness Record: "The most marshmallows dry bobbed in one minute." Held by Ashrita Furman of Jamaica, New York, USA, with 20 marshmallows
7// Most Hula Hoop Rotations On A Unicycle In 30 Seconds
Total: 46 rotations
Record set by: Kyle Peterson
Comparable Guinness Record: Most revolutions of a hula hoop in one minute. Held byXia Tao with 211
8// Most Chromatic Scales Played By A Xylophonist And A Bassist In One Minute
Total: 66 scales
Record set by: Xylopholks
Comparable Guinness Record: No comparable Guinness record could be found.
9// Fastest Time To Open And Eat Two Cans Of Ravioli
Total: 1 minute, 22.3 seconds
Record set by: Rob Blatt
Comparable Guinness Record: World's largest ravioli. (35 lb 4 oz, prepared by 16 cooks in Saas-Fee, Switzerland)
10// Most Times Singing The Golden Girls Theme Song During The Opening Theme of The Golden Girls
Total: 4 times
Record set by: Eliot Glazer
Comparable Guinness Record: No comparable Guinness record found.
11// Most Push-Ups On Fists With 100 Pounds On Back In One Minute
Total: 21 push ups
Record set by: Shaun McDaniel
Comparable Guinness Record: Most push-ups completed in 24 hours. Held by Charles Servizio of Fontana, California, with 46,001 push-ups
12// Most Chews Of A Single Baby Carrot Without Swallowing
Total: 97 chews
Record set by: A.J. Jacobs
Comparable Guinness Record: No comparable Guinness record found.
13// Most Times To Jump On And Off A Unicycle While Jumping Double-Dutch
Record set by: Kip Jones
Comparable Guinness Record: Most people skipping Double-Dutch style. Held by 40 participants during the Records Breaking Festival of the Coca-Cola All Schools Rope Skipping Awards Scheme in Hong Kong, China
Eliot Glazer, the guy from the viral video "Sh*t New Yorkers Say," shows off a shoulder tattoo of Bea Arthur before singing the theme from Golden Girls four times during one screening of the actual Golden Girls song. World record.
A man with biceps the size of Glazer’s head straps on a 100-pound backpack and does 21 push-ups in 60 seconds. On his fists. World record.
"We’re seeing people push the limits of human achievement in all kinds of ways," says Dan Rollman, the charismatic co-host of the evening’s bizarre events. He takes the stage in between acts with the lovely Ella Morton, an Australian actress and writer who, like him, sports a bright yellow suit jacket with a round patch emblazoned RecordSetter.
RecordSetter, formerly the Universal Record Data Base (whose acronym URDB doubled as a chat room insult), is using variety shows like this to build a social network in an industry that’s had only one real player since the 1950s, Guinness.
Guinness World Records was started in 1951 by Sir Hugh Beaver, Managing Director of the Guinness Brewery. He attended a shooting party where someone asked what the fastest gaming bird in England was, and no one knew the answer. This sparked the idea to chronicle such superlatives in a book in 1955, the first of its kind, according to a Guinness spokesperson. The book is updated periodically and sold in 100 countries, and even has an entry for itself under "World’s most sold copyrighted book."
Other records books came and went, and for decades Guinness remained on top. Since the Internet age dawned, various players saw a new opportunity to disrupt Guinness’ stranglehold on the space in some form or another: World Records Academy (through SEO) and Ranker (through social media) being two examples.
"Smaller organizations have attempted to chronicle their own regional or world records," the Guinness spokesperson said (she asked not to be named). "But Guinness World Records remains the only global authority as keeper of the records."
RecordSetter, which launched as an evolution of a 2004 Burning Man theme camp, is disrupting said "keeper of the records" by democratizing the industry.
"I looked into the Guinness and found ... it was a bureaucratic and daunting process to get them to recognize a category," Rollman, RecordSetter’s president, says. "We have a planet with billions of people, and I love this idea that there’s an opportunity to be the world’s best at something, and it doesn’t matter what that thing is."
While it could sound to some like Guinness for Millennials whose parents gave them trophies for every competition they lost, Rollman sees Wikipedia’s destruction of Brittanica as an analogy for what RecordSetter is doing to the Guinness monopoly. He speaks of Guinness with respect, as it was his inspiration in the first place, tactfully calling what he’s doing, "using the Internet to build something that was more participatory and democratic."
RecordSetter’s guidelines for record-worthiness are that the record is quantifiable, breakable, and has media evidence. Usually this is in the form of video or announcement in a publication.
"We do recognize Guinness records and records that are on other sites," says Emily Miethner, RecordSetter’s Community Manager. "For instance, we had a camp submit ‘Biggest game of Duck Duck Goose,’ but it actually was a Guinness Record."
On the flip side, RecordSetter has accepted many records that Guinness had subjectively denied. Miethner says. "Who’s Guinness to say what is a recordable talent?"
A search on GuinnessWorldRecords.com for "juggling" reveals 53 records. The same search in RecordSetter’s database: 661 world records. "All records must be measurable, verifiable, breakable and of public interest," the Guinness spokesperson says. "Records must be relevant to the world."
Rollman calls this criteria subjective. "Public interest" is in the eye of a 60-year-old judging panel.
But still, Guinness is the (world’s largest) gorilla in the room. It sells 3.5 million books a year and makes more millions in events. RecordSetter, on the other hand, survives off a small investment and a little bit of money from corporate sponsorships. So how does an upstart social network pole-vault over 60 years of tradition and grow awareness of its own authority?
Through record-smashing ragers, of course.
(And, occasionally, Jewish Community Center variety shows).
Tonight’s event is starkly unique compared to RecordSetter’s last event, where songwriter Andrew W.K. set the record for "Most times singing the word ‘party’ in a song" in a bar in the West Village. Mr. W.K. belted it out a record 204 times, in a surprisingly melodic and coherent freestyle piano ballad, while plastered NYU students and music scenesters sang along.
"Live events are an opportunity to capture the most pure demonstration of what RecordSetter is about, which is an eclectic group of people, some of whom train day and day out, some of whom have a fresh creative idea, and line them back to back," Rollman says. "It can include anybody from drunk college kids to summer camps to youth group events. The demographics may change, but at the end of the day we know that we can really take the RecordSetter Live experience and make it fit in a pretty broad range of communities."
The yellow-jacketed emcees carefully keep time and click counters as record contestants jump on and off unicycles under Double Dutch jumpropes (record!) and masticate baby carrots (record!). Each live record is video recorded for verification and to be placed on the web for proof, alongside RecordSetter’s 10,000 users’ webcam videos of their own feats.
Rollman takes the judging very seriously, denying several similar "high fives" two girls try to claim in their record of "Most different high fives in one minute." (They still beat the record, though).
Finally, Kyle Peterson, The Brooklyn Juggler, comes back out and redeems himself, setting a new record for "Most hula hoop rotations on a unicycle in 30 seconds," with 46 hoops.
As Rollman says, everyone can be the best in the world at something. In fact, shortly after publication we received word that this very story was confirmed by RecordSetter as the holder of the record for "Most world records reported on in a single magazine article."
But why stop at one world record? Be a pal and help us make this the most tweeted story about world records, ever. (Just scroll down for the tweet button.)
You’ll be making history.
[Andrew W.K., infographic Images: RecordSetter.com on Flickr; Top, homepage image: Shane Snow]