Joey Skaggs

Joey Skaggs (b. 1945) is an American prankster who has organized numerous successful media pranks, hoaxes, and other presentations. He is considered one of the originators of the phenomenon known as ‘culture jamming’ (subverting media culture).

Skaggs has numerous aliases including: Kim Yung Soo, Joe Bones, Joseph Bonuso, Giuseppe Scaggioli, Dr. Joseph Gregor, and the Rev. Anthony Joseph. When not pranking the media, Skaggs earns his living by painting, making sculptures and lecturing.

In 1968, Skaggs noticed that middle-class suburbanites were going on tours of the East Village to observe hippies. Skaggs subsequently organized a sightseeing tour for hippies to observe the suburbs of Queens. On Christmas Day, he created the Vietnamese Christmas Nativity Burning to protest against the Vietnam War. In 1969, Skaggs tied a 50-foot bra to the front of the U.S. Treasury building on Wall Street, organized a Hells Angels’ wedding procession through the Lower East Side, and made a grotesque Statues of Liberty on 4th of July, again to protest against the Vietnam War. In 1971, he organized what he called a ‘Fame Exchange’ during the New York Avant Garde Festival, where he hired a group of admirers to follow him around instead of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

According to his web site, Skaggs does not care for ‘vicious’ pranks such as letters containing fake anthrax; he also states that he is not doing anything illegal. He hires actors to play his customers, refusing to really scam anyone except the media. Often the prank is nothing more than a press release with a phone number; in these press releases, Skaggs leaves hints or details that easily could be checked for accuracy. Eventually, he reveals the hoax to make his point. On a couple of occasions, Skaggs sent a substitute to interviews with programs such as ‘Entertainment Tonight’ and ‘To Tell the Truth.’ Producers did not notice. Also, photographs in the ‘National Enquirer’ and ‘Playback’ magazine have depicted the wrong man. Many of Skaggs’s pranks are originally reported as true in various news media. Sometimes the stories are retracted.

Some of his better known pranks include ‘Cathouse for Dogs’ (1976), where Skaggs published an ad for a dog brothel in ‘The Village Voice’ and hired actors to present their dogs for the benefit of an ABC news crew. The ASPCA and the Bureau of Animal Affairs investigated until Skaggs revealed the truth after a subpoena. ABC did not retract the story (the WABC TV producer insisted that Skaggs had said it was a hoax to avoid prosecution), possibly because the piece had been nominated for an Emmy Award. It was subsequently disqualified.

For ‘Celebrity Sperm Bank’ (1976)’ Skaggs organized a sperm bank auction in New York; the sperm bank was then robbed and semen was supposedly taken as hostage. In ‘Wall Street Shoeshine’ (1979), Skaggs played Joseph Bucks, a shoeshine man who had become rich on Wall Street and was working his last day—at $5 a shine. In ‘Metamorphosis’ (1981), Skaggs played Dr. Gregor, inventor of the Cockroach Vitamin Pill, which was supposed to be a cure-all drug. It was a nod to Franz Kafka’s story ‘The Metamorphosis.’ In ‘Gypsies Against Stereotypical Propaganda’ (1982), Gypsy King JoJo (played by Skaggs) led a protest demanding that the Gypsy moth’s name be changed because it was demeaning to his people. In ‘Windsurfing from Hawaii to California’ (1983), windsurfer J.J. Skaggs attempted the first crossing of the Pacific Ocean on a sailboard.

For ‘Fish Condos’ (1983) Skaggs created an aquarium depicting rooms with furniture. It was meant to satirize gentrification, but the aquariums sold very well. In an attempt to get an acting job for a friend, Verne Williams, Skaggs founded a fictitious management agency for ‘bad-guy’ actors (‘Bad Guys Talent Management Agency,’ 1984). Eventually even real studios and wannabe actors contacted him. Also in 1984, Skaggs put together a fictitious militant group (‘WALK RIGHT!’) that wanted to enforce proper street walking etiquette and make its rules into law. In, ‘The Fat Squad’ (1986), Skaggs played Joe Bones, the founder of a disciplinarian diet program where musclemen watched the customers 24 hours a day to make sure they stuck to their diets, at a cost of $300 a day. 1986 was also the first year of the ‘Annual April Fools’ Day Parade’; it existed only as press release.

In ‘Save the Geoduck Campaign’ (1987), Skaggs played Dr. Richard J. Long who sought to save geoduck mollusks from extinction because they had become a popular aphrodisiac among the Japanese. In ‘Comacocoon’ (1990), as Dr. Joseph Schlafer, Skaggs offered a literal dream vacation—customers were to sleep in a cocoon, enjoying programmed dreams about the vacation. The Department of Consumer Affairs was alerted. Also that year, Joseph Chenango—another Skaggs character—marketed a new kind of hair implant (whole scalps from the dead) in ‘Hair Today, Ltd.’ The prank began as an ad in the ‘Village Voice’ soliciting scalp donors.

In 1991, Skaggs appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s TV talk show and told a story about New York artists living in water towers—which was a hoax. In 1992, Skaggs released a ‘leak’ informing the public of a lottery where the first prize would be renaming rights to the Brooklyn Bridge. In ‘Portofess’ (1992), Skaggs played Father Anthony Joseph, appearing with a portable confession booth at the Democratic National Convention. In ‘Sex Tapes Saved Marriage’ (1993), Skaggs sent two actors to Faith Daniels’ show to claim that sex tapes had saved their marriage. Also that year, Skaggs created a hoax about a sex machine (‘SEXONIX’), claiming that the prototype had been seized by Customs at the Canadian border on its way from the United States. He used his own name. Uproar ensued in various bulletin boards.

For April Fool’s Day 1994, Skaggs appeared as Madnadanda (‘The Psychic Attorney’), a combined New Age telephone psychic and lawyer. His voice mail box was flooded with calls. Also that year in ‘Dog Meat Soup’ (1994), Skaggs portrayed Kim Yung Soo, a butcher who wanted to purchase dogs for food. In ‘Baba Wa Simba’ (1995), Skaggs appeared in London as Baba Wa Simba, a therapist who recommended that participants roar and behave like lions (reminiscent of primal scream therapy). Also that year in ‘The Solomon Project’ (1995), Joseph Bonuso (Skaggs) claimed to have created a computer program that would work as both judge and jury and announce sentences. It pronounced O.J. Simpson guilty.

In ‘STOP BioPEEP’ (1998), Skaggs appeared as Dr. Joseph Howard, supposed employee of an Australian company, and revealed surreptitious genetic engineering to create addictive poultry. For ‘Doody Rudy’ (1999), Skaggs created a large satirical portrait of New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and let people throw fake elephant dung at it, in response to Giuliani’s criticism of an artwork by Chris Ofili that incorporated real elephant dung. In ‘The Final Curtain’ (2000), Skaggs’ creation was a combined funeral company, virtual graveyard and theme park. It was meant to satirize showmanship in places like Forest Lawn cemeteries. Some investors were actually interested. Final Curtain’s website is still functioning. Also that year, Espai D’Art Contemporani (EACC) in Spain asked Skaggs to organize a presentation; in response, he created ‘Art Attack,’ a computer game where people could shoot passersby in the outside corridor going through the building.

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