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Computer geeks and comedians team up for Comedy Hack Day

The Brooklyn Paper
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Call it Silly-con Alley.

On June 15, Littlefield in Gowanus will play host to Comedy Hack Day — an event that sees comedians and coders join forces to create apps that are both funny and functional.

Geeks and gagsters might sound like unlikely allies, but for the event’s organizer, the pairing makes perfect sense.

“I realized I had all these awkward comedy friends and awkward developer friends,” said Craig Cannon, a former employee of the fake newspaper “The Onion,” who now runs Comedy Hack Day with marketing company Cultivated Wit. “This was a way to bring these two types of creative people together.”

The hackathon will happen in three parts — only the last of which is open to the public. On the first night, participants gather and pitch their app ideas. They then form teams and start plugging away — they have 24-hours to create a demo to show their fellow humorous hackers.

After all the teams have presented their demos, the group chooses the 10 best ideas to move on to the public airing at Littlefield.

There, the finalists will be judged by a panel of experts — including comedians Reggie Watts and Sasheer Zamata, and Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian. The arbiters will asses the apps on both hilarity and usability.

“We look for projects that people can go online and use right after Comedy Hack Day,” said Cannon. “We want real products not vaporware. Having a funny demo is critical to Comedy Hack Day’s success but we do care about the underlying technology.”

The company has previously hosted Comedy Hack Days in Manhattan, San Francisco, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Participants have to apply if they want to compete in the comedic coding, but anyone can come along to view the presentation and judging.

Cannon’s favorite app to come out of the first Hack Day was called Shout Roullette. Users enter something they have a strong opinion about, and the website pairs them up with someone who has the opposite opinion. Then it connects the two users in a video chat session so they can hash out their disagreement.

“You just scream at each other about it,” Cannon said.

Another creation to emerge from the event is My Real Puppy, a morbid take on the Tamagotchi, in which kids can feed and pet a virtual pet dog — before it abruptly kicks the bucket. Creator Benjamin Apple says it teaches children about the “devastating randomness and indifference of the universe.”

Not all of the apps are just for kicks. One previous project, Sly Sound, is an app that identifies songs. It is similar to Shazam, except it is disguised as a Twitter feed, letting a user pretend they knew the song on their own.

“Shazam is a great tool but embarrassing to use when you’re at a party and trying to be a cool guy,” Cannon said.

Comedy Hack Day demos at Littlefield (622 Degraw St. between Third and Fourth avenues in Gowanus, www.comedyhackday.org). June 15 at 6 pm. $10.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
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