AUSTIN, Texas -- If a Web comic about bears, beastiality, righteous indignation, and Nikola Tesla tickles your funny bone, the place to be at this year's South by Southwest Interactive was Exhibition Hall 5 in the Austin Convention Center.
Matthew Inman, creator of the Web comic The Oatmeal, entertained a packed room at the close of the Interactive segment of the festival. Inman might appear to some as an unlikely hero of the Internet and an unusual choice to deliver a closing keynote address, but he found himself right at home on stage.
"I'm not a cartoonist. I'm a stand-up comedian whose stage is the Web," he told the crowd, which laughed at all his jokes in all the right places. Then again, he was genuinely funny.
When he described how he got his start, as a Web designer making sites for dentists, he showed an image of a patient that he had altered in his trademark adolescent way.
He timed important moments in his speech to be timed with images from his Web comic, letting the enormous slides projected on both sides of the stage deliver punchlines while he downplayed his role in creating them. "I make observations, tell anecdotes, tell truths," he told the crowd.
That line didn't get any laughs, and wasn't supposed to. But when he talked about how a waitress farting at him in a restaurant led him to start The Oatmeal, or how Mantis shrimp have 16 cones in their eyes and are both beautiful and destructive, or how his two impressively successful crowdfunding campaigns electrified the Internet cognoscenti, the crowd roared.
The strategy worked. Tweets about the keynote were uniformly positive, an unheard of occurrence at SXSW, and the vast majority of the thousands of people in attendance remained through the 20-minute question and answer session at the end.
Inman closed by attributing his success to Nikola Tesla, who, even though he remains dead, influences people beyond the grave, and then he thanked "the hackers and hobbyists of the world" for wanting to make the world a better place.
And who doesn't love getting a pat on the back from their hero?