The sandwich board outside Joe’s Bar in New York City reads WORLD RECORD APPRECIATION SOCIETY. Inside, records are being set and hearts are being broken, but there’s not a sport in sight.
By Harmon Leon
We love world records, probably more than anyone you’ve ever met,” says the lanky Dan Rollman, who’s standing next to his much shorter partner, Corey Henderson. In their matching yellow Wide World of Sports–style blazers, they resemble a classic mis matched comedy duo. “Our belief is that everyone can be the world’s best at some thing. What we assembled here tonight are about a dozen people who are going to blow your minds with brand-new, extraordinary records.”
Onstage, a man wearing a Trekkie outfit is ready to make global history. Mack Elder is attempting to break the world record for Fastest Time to Name Every Episode of Star Trek in Broadcast Order.
“Should we see this man kick some ass?” Rollman asks the crowd. A huge, encouraging scream erupts from the enthusiastic audience, which is pumped to witness a cross between a sporting event and an eccentric talent show.
With stopwatch in hand, Henderson counts him down: “Three … two … one … go!”
The Trekkie comes out of the gates fast: “ ‘The Man Trap,’ ‘Charlie X,’ ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before,’ ‘The Naked Time,’ ‘The Enemy Within’ … ” He stumbles when he’s dangerously close to the end, and then the crowd goes wild as he rattles off the final episode (“Turnabout Intruder”), No. 79. Elder is now the world champion. Smiling ear to ear, he raises his arm in victory as he’s presented with his Official World Record Holder patch.
Everyone has his or her own quirky talent. RecordSetter.com is providing a place to immortalize such triumphs as Largest Toothpick Beard, Fastest Time to Vacuum One Pound of Sugar, Longest “Shh,” and Most Graphic Designers Dancing to “Thriller.”
“Why let the folks at Guinness [Book of World Records] decide what is world-record worthy?” reasons Rollman. While that iconic book boasts such colossal entries as the World’s Tallest Man (Robert Wadlow), RecordSetter brings record-breaking back where it belongs: to the people! The website is an open platform that allows folks to submit their own records and get involved in discussing everyone’s triumphs. In the digital age, these accolades are easily captured via webcams, smartphones, and videocameras; since launching in 2008, RecordSetter has collected more than 10,000 records by people in 60 different countries. Records must be both quantifiable and breakable, and the online community votes to decide if a submission is worthy.
“We’re really just trying to lower the bar for setting world records,” Rollman says. “We’re changing world records from something you read about to something you set yourself.”
What began as a hobby for the yellow-jacketed maestros has become a full-time obsession. Its genesis was at the 2004 Burning Man—the annual freaky art festival held in the Black Rock Desert. Rollman and his crew set up a camp specifically for breaking records, and Burners concocted such supercreative entries as Most Blueberries Fit Into a Belly Button and Most Backflips While on Stilts. The experience created a blueprint for what was to follow: a truly democratic place to set world records. Rollman and Henderson rolled out RecordSetter.com with 50 videos from Burning Man.
Rollman’s world-record aspirations started at a very young age. “I just loved the idea of being a world champion,” he says. In college, he attempted ravioli speed-eating to show off for a girl. (“She wasn’t impressed, and I realized I was a very slow eater.”) Rollman has now held 12 world records, including Most Bananas Fit Inside a Pair of Pants While Wearing Them, and Most Cigarettes Ripped in Half. All of Rollman’s records have been beaten; not surprisingly, when you’re the head honcho of a record-breaking website, people want to take you down. “It’s almost like somebody covering your song,” he comments.
Rollman had doubts the site would gain traction, but he still ditched his job in advertising. All those doubts disappeared with the first record submission: Most Giraffe Tattoos on a Shoulder. Daniel Fowler of Perth, Australia, was crowned world champion with a total of one giraffe—only to find his record quickly crushed by a guy in San Diego who adorned himself with three giraffe shoulder tattoos. Two months later, Rollman came into the office and his colleagues said, “You won’t believe what happened!” Dan Fowler had reclaimed his title by getting three more giraffe tattoos.
“That was the moment when I knew we were building something powerful, engaging, and interactive,” Rollman recalls. “I was also scared shitless that this guy had gone and gotten these giraffe tattoos.” RecordSetter’s operation, which now includes a staff of ten people, has evolved into producing live events,
branded advertising campaigns (Fastest Time to Open a Bag of Skittles and Sort Them by Color), a TV show that’s in the works, and a RecordSetter book.
Rollman and Henderson are also regular guests on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, overseeing celebrity world records set by Cameron Diaz (Most Bunnies Snuggled With in a Hammock), Drew Barrymore (Most People Hit in Face With Pies While Wearing Roller Skates), Questlove (Most Afro Picks in an Afro), and even Justin Bieber (Most Tweets Sent During a Live Interview).
“It’s been a life adventure to reach this point,” Rollman says. “We’ve inspired legions of people who wanted to set world records but never thought it was possible to achieve their dream.”
Todd Lamb has achieved his dream; he’s the first to break the record for Most Images of Fish Sandwiches Looked at in One Minute. “It’s meaning less, this record, except I like fish,” Lamb philosophizes. “So it’s the best record for me. If there’s something you’re into, you can take that love of it and make it into a world record.”
Onstage, the images fly as Lamb rattles off, “Fish, fish, fish … ” Hecklers shout out, “You’ll never do it!”
“I usually work with an assistant,” Lamb says, explaining the process. “He is quick-fingered and he holds the images of fish sandwiches and I stand across from him and he flips them down, down, down, and I view each sandwich.”
The record for Most Images of Fish Sandwiches Looked at in One Minute has legions of rabid fans, and has been broken five times as of press time (it could be higher by the time you read this). “We can’t predict which records will capture the imagination and which ones people will decide to challenge,” states Henderson, who is RecordSetter’s tech ninja.
Some members have set thousands of individual records. Australians competed against Canadians for World’s Longest High Five, only to see both records smashed by two guys in Illinois. Brian Pankey, who lives in an isolated, small Midwestern town, has racked up way more than 1,000. At press time, he holds 1,699 records. In fact, Darryl Learie set a record for Most Brian Pankey Records Named in a Minute.
“There’s not that many trophies on my mantel,” says Jake Bronstein, original holder of the world record for Most Strangers’ Drinks Sipped in a Bar in 15 Minutes. “Then I met these guys and the ribbons started stacking up. How fun is that?”
But this isn’t the Special Olympics; it’s not all about giving everyone a self-esteem hug. “We don’t want to be just a feel-good thing,” says Rollman. “We don’t want just ironic records or stupid records. The competitive element is what we get really excited about.”
People who didn’t fit into the Guinness box—skeet-ball players and push-up champions—have found a home at RecordSetter.
My time has come to set a world record. Everyone has dreams of being great, of being the global best at a particular feat. Why can’t I be a world champion? So many world records, so little time—how to decide? What’s my hidden talent? Utilizing the RecordSetter philosophy, I dig deep into my imagination and try to think of something I excel at to share with the world. After a few minutes of introspection, there’s only one option: Most Eyebrow Raises While Listening to a Recording of Jeff Daniels Reading the Gettysburg Address.
Since I was a little kid, I’ve possessed an uncanny knack for being able to raise my eyebrows often and quickly. It made me a hit at summer camp. Though it’s been many years, it’s time to bring back that hidden talent and become the world champion. I’m not sure if anyone’s ever attempted this record, but if they have—it’s time to make it my own. “Four score and seven years ago … ” Looking directly into my webcam, I come on too fast; I must pace myself. This feat is not as easy as it seems. The Gettysburg Address rendition I have is 2:39 minutes. (Actor Jeff Daniels is a pro and doesn’t speed up his diction.) Around the 1:17 mark, I fear I might blow out an eyebrow. At 1:59, it’s possible I could suffer a brain aneurysm.
“From these honored dead, we take great devotion to that cause….” My face is twitching as if this is a per m a nent nervous tic. Daniels’ sooth ing voice helps me work through it. This horse smells the barn. I pick up the eyebrow-raising tempo at “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.” I smell victory. My record stands at a stun ning 189 eyebrow raises. “Try break ing that record,” I blurt into the webcam with pure cockiness. A nod is given to the true world-record greats who came before me: your Mack Elders, your Daniel Fowlers, your Todd Lambs.
To my amazement, my eyebrow-raising world record stood for a mere week before being broken by a guy in Ohio with an impressive 215 raises. Needless to say, I came back with a vengeance to reclaim the record, where it currently stands (again, as of press time), at 217 eyebrow lifts. (There was some controversy about whether or not the assistance of hands should be allowed.) Next up for me: breaking the McGuire brothers’ record for fattest twins on motorbikes. That’s a true global phenomenon, proving once again that the bar of human achievement has been proudly raised.