Madcap machine work goes viral

IT'S COMPLICATED: Kiwi Joseph Herscher and his crazy inventions are  the toast of New York.
IT'S COMPLICATED: Kiwi Joseph Herscher and his crazy inventions are the toast of New York.

Joseph Herscher's work is a hit with millions of YouTube viewers, but the New Zealand artist isn't quitting his day job just yet despite becoming an internet phenomenon.

Herscher, 26, is the creator of a series of YouTube videos that have gone viral – the latest attracting more than two million hits in just a few days – inspired by the drawings of American cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg.

The strangely compelling videos feature elaborate machines which trigger chain reactions to complete simple tasks. The latest, The Page Turner, involves everything from a hamster running down its cage and a camp stove igniting to turn a single page of a newspaper. You have to see it to get it.

 New York-based Herscher has been inventing since childhood, and is now being interviewed by the New York Times and appearing on American television.

But he continues to work as a software designer. The son of musicians, he says his biggest fear is living the life of a struggling artist.

Herscher is home for a wedding and he told the Sunday Star-Times he never thought his work would be taken seriously.

"I just wanted to do the most simple thing in the most complex way possible."

He said his wacky inventions began when he was just five, when he decided to make a lolly machine. Later he came up with a welcome home message for his mum: a string would tighten when the front door opened, activating a cassette recording of his voice.

When he moved on to more extreme devices, he almost burned his house down. "I tried boiling acetone, I didn't realise it was flammable."

His first internet hit involved a series of reactions ending in the smashing of a Cadbury Creme Egg against a wall – more than two million people have watched the video since 2008.

That stunt took place in his flat in Kingsland, Auckland, and although he impressed his flatmates, his landlord was not so amused and two weeks after the video hit YouTube, he was asked to leave.

But by that stage Herscher was already world-famous and he was soon leading workshops, exhibiting internationally and designing machines for corporate functions.

Herscher's parents have benefited from his online fame – his video soundtracks feature their band, the Jews Brothers, and their music has been downloaded 10,000 times.

When he returns to Brooklyn, he will create Eco-machines that "save energy in extremely wasteful ways" – as a way of making a statement about the dilemmas of trying to do the right thing in life.

Sunday Star Times