Bob Alberti, 50, Minneapolis

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My Minnesota: Clever insults are hobby, job for Bob Alberti

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS
  • Star Tribune
  • June 8, 2013 - 6:36 PM

A recent study declared Minneapolis parks the best in the nation. We also have another fine natural resource: technology pioneers/comedians who go on the Internet and smack down snooty New Yorkers. Which brings us to Bob Alberti.

Back up a bit: When the news of our parks’ fame reached the ears of a website editor in New York, he dismissed it, since Minneapolis “is like in Canada or something.” In the comments was local guy Bob Alberti, who concluded his kind, passive-aggressive smackdown with “we still respect you, and we know that if we ever want to visit a park confident of returning home with something questionable on the bottom of a shoe, there’s no place like New York.”

He knows of what he speaks: His early years were spent there. “When I was a kid, I went from living in Queens, where my mother was cruel and wouldn’t let me swim in the overflowed sewers in the streets, to living on a lake in Minnesota, and I knew what I liked better.”

So what do you do? “I am a professional insult comedian,” he said. No. In this mild-mannered place of kindness and goodwill? “There is a resurgence in the Twin Cities, thanks in part to our Vilification Tennis comedy troupe. We go to Bryant-Lake Bowl every month and insult each other. The audience scores us, people learn, change and become new people.” He gives an example of the troupe’s pointed japes, and it’s as hilarious as it is unprintable.

But what about the technology-pioneer part? Nowadays he’s an information-security expert — “I make sure your medical records and DNA aren’t flying around the Internet.” But didn’t you invent proto-Google, or something?

“I actually did two things. The first thing was GamBit Multisystems, the first commercial MMORPG.” That’s Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, by the way. “And the ‘massive’ stood for 16 people, at first. But some of the people who bought franchises went on to be leaders in the industry, and they’re now in charge of BioWare and EA Games.”

He was also involved in something Wikipedia calls the “predecessor” to the Web: Gopher, named after the University of Minnesota’s beloved rodent.

“Gopher was the world’s first hyperlink and search tool. You could search for cake recipes and you’d get it — but without pictures.” As soon as the Web could serve up pictures of cakes — or rather, scantily clad models making cakes — Gopher was doomed. People start up Gopher-based services to this day, but “principally,” Wikipedia notes, “on April Fools’ Day.”

Still, bringing the Internet to people in 1991 was quite an accomplishment. You must have made a fortune.

“No one saw a dime,” he notes with cheer. Well, at least your fame is secure. “I am absolutely forgotten and have to explain who I was.”

Perhaps this will help redress that gap in local lore. If you’d like to see him at work, check out for upcoming shows.

james lileks

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