Since the 1960s, Joey Skaggs has hoaxed TV networks, wire services, newspapers, magazines, and radio stations around the world. From Good Morning America to CNN to Entertainment Tonight to the BBC to Globo TV. From The New York Times to The Washington Post to Il Giornale to Die Welt.
No international news source has been or continues to be safe from Skaggs’ exploits. Sometimes his work requires little more than voicemail, a press release and the help of a few friends. Sometimes it takes years of dedicated research and development, assistance from highly specialized co-conspirators, and the best that technology has to offer before a concept is developed to the point of becoming a performance. Whichever the case, Skaggs has repeatedly made national and international headlines by creating and performing outrageous, funny, and incisive satirical commentaries.
The creator of such international hoaxes as the Hippie Bus Tour to Queens, the Cathouse for Dogs, Celebrity Sperm Bank, Portofess, The Solomon Project, Fat Squad, Sexonix, Hair Today, Ltd., and Metamorphosis-the Cockroach Vitamin Cure-all, Skaggs is one of the most prolific independent media satirists in America today.
His work is pioneering, provocative and persuasive. Using guerrilla tactics and advertising and public relations techniques to make social commentary, he carries on in the tradition of theatrical satire while using the tools and technologies of the 21st century to communicate on a global scale. And he does so without breaking the law or taking money from unsuspecting people. In essence, he is an artist who uses the media as his medium to make a statement.
Skaggs is a storyteller, myth-maker, skeptic, philosopher, writer, performer, and artist. His work is designed to rock the boat — disturb, provoke, aggravate, and annoy the status quo, as well as to help bring about social change; expand people’s understanding and tolerance of other cultures and concepts; and creatively inspire people towards self-empowerment.
Holding a mirror up to society, he illustrates how hype, hypocrisy, propaganda and disinformation fed to the media, is consequently fed by the media to the public. He shows, by example, how vulnerable the public is to abuses of a media that is largely owned by giant conglomerate corporations for whom the bottom line is the first priority. Issues of misuse of power, conflicts of interest and the use of infotainment as news, abound.
While he makes people laugh, he also hopes to make them think. Among his many messages are:
Question authority in all its forms
Don’t give up critical analysis for wishful thinking
Look to more than one source for information
Question preconceived notions and prejudices
Skaggs’ work is done in three stages. The first stage is the “Hook”: the creation and dissemination of the hoax. He uses brochures, letters and press releases, as well as actors, props and convincing locations to fool the media. Skaggs builds intentional clues into each piece. This is his way of giving the media a chance not to be fooled.
The second stage is the “Line”: the documentation of the performance. While the hoax is ongoing, Skaggs records the media and the public’s responses, and collects the print, electronic, audio and video news coverage as he monitors the evolution of the piece. He observes what happens, who does what with the story and how it gets changed.
The third stage is the “Sinker”: The exposé or revelation of the truth and the discussion about the issues underlying the performance. This is the most difficult aspect of the artist’s work because the media doesn’t like him pointing out their irresponsibility and lack of credibility. This is fully documented as well. It allows him to show how the media have changed the intent, content and/or the meaning of the message, either by accident or by design — and how the media deal with revealing the truth. This phase of the work inevitably offers insight into issues of the public’s gullibility and irresponsibility in not questioning what the media has fed them; and the media’s lack of ethics and potential to misuse power.
Skaggs speaks on media literacy and his media work around the world on television and in person. His audiences include students, professionals, and the general public.
His work is the subject of the award-winning feature documentary, Art of the Prank, by Andrea Marini, now in international distribution.
This site offers a comprehensive retrospective of Skaggs’ media works as well as information about how to arrange for a Skaggs speaking engagement.
Joey Skaggs thanks his close friends past and present, and the legions of caring, generous people who have helped him with his work throughout the years.
PRANKS -- A Definition: Excerpted from RE/Search Pranks, Volume 11, Re/Search Publications, by V. Vale & A. Juno.
PRANKS — A Definition: Excerpted from “RE/Search Pranks,” Volume 11, Re/Search Publications, by V. Vale & A. Juno.
PRANKS. According to the Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary, a prank is a “trick.. a mildly mischievous act…a practical joke…a ludicrous act.” The best pranks invoke the imagination, poetic imagery, the unexpected and a deep level of irony or social criticism — such as Boyd Rice’s presentation of a skinned sheep’s head on a silver platter to Betty Ford, First Lady of the United States. Great pranks create synaesthetic experiences which are unmistakably exciting, original, and reverberating, as well as creative, metaphoric, poetic and artistic. If these criteria be deemed sufficient, then pranks can be considered as constituting an art form and genre in themselves.
However slighted by Academia, pranks are not without cultural and historical precedent. A casual survey of art of the twentieth century reveals a neglected galaxy of shining star prank-events which forever altered the path of future creative activity, such as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon (a painting of prostitutes), Duchamp’s Fountain (a urinal which he labeled “sculpture”), and Warhol’s successful marketing of paintings depicting gory car crashes as six-figure “high art.”
A prank connotes fun, laughter, jest, satire, lampooning, making a fool of someone — all light hearted activities. Thus do pranks camouflage the sting of deeper, more critical denotations, such as their direct challenge to all verbal and behavioral routines, and their undermining of the sovereign authority of words, language, visual images, and social conventions in general. Regardless of specific manifestation, a prank is always an evasion of reality. Pranks are the deadly enemy of reality. And “reality” — its description and limitation — has always been the supreme control trick used by a society to subdue the lust for freedom latent in its citizens.
From the very onset of social interactions pranks play their part, instructing and enlightening the child toward the realization that things are never what they seem. Calling into question inherently dubious concepts such as “reality,” trust,” “belief,” “obedience,” and “the social contract,” pranks occasionally succeed in implanting a profound and lasting distrust of all social conventions and institutions.
Unfortunately, pranks are usually identified with — and limited to — pre-adult stages of development. At the point of “adulthood” the multiplication of mischief must cease; youth are supposed to “grow out of” the need to perpetrate pranks as they accept society’s restriction of their spirit through the progressive conventionalization of their behavior. The role model of the adult prankster is a scarce archetype indeed. But — pranks can continue until one’s dying breath: when he died, the great Surrealist Andre Breton was taken to the cemetery in a moving van.
What makes a prank “bad”? In America the outstanding socially-sanctioned prank is the college fraternity hazing, which means “to harass by exacting unnecessary or disagreeable work, to harass by banter, ridicule, or criticism. “Usually characterized not only by unoriginality but by conventionalized cruelty, these pointless humiliations do nothing to raise consciousness or alter existing power relationships. They are deeds which only further the status-quo; they only perpetuate the acceptance of and submission to arbitrary authority, or abet existing hierarchical inequities. Basically these include all pranks readily recognizable as “Clichés” — those which contribute no new poetic imagery.
The word “prank” is strangely absent from academic psychology, sociology and anthropology texts which presumably exist to document and classify the full range of human behavior in this world. A recent look at the indexes of literally a hundred books in these categories revealed no entries! Yet even a cursory perusal of world myths and written literature will substantiate the prank as a significant, consciousness-raising, and often pivotal event in the ethical and creative development of the individual in society. Examples range from Coyote and Raven in American Indian mythology to the legends of Hermes and Prometheus.
A possible explanation for this mysterious lacuna may lie in the way genuinely poetic/imaginative pranks resist facile categorization, and transcend inflexible (and often questionable) demarcations between legality and illegality, good and bad taste, and right and wrong social conduct. Society imposes a grid of habit-forming pathways on its denizens to “produce results” without lateral detouring. Obviously, a minimum of ritualized language and behavior to facilitate the flow of goods and services for survival is necessary. However, this minimum has been well exceeded long ago. Pranks blast the rigidified politeness and behavior patterns which bespeak sleepwalkers acting on automatic pilot. They attack the fundamental mechanisms of a society in which all social/verbal intercourse functions as a means toward a future consumer exchange, either of goods or experience. It is possible to view every “entertainment” experience marketed today either as an act of consumption, a prelude to an act of consumption, or both.
Pranks challenge all aspects of “the social contract” which have ossified. Their power derives from exploration and elucidation of the inarticulate, confused areas surrounding society. They probe the territory of the taboo, which has always been concerned with sex and death. This shadow area, which has spawned most of the creative breakthroughs worth preserving, is also that area which society — striving above all to preserve its status quo — neglects, rejects and ignores, principally through the process of cultural censorship. Yet “true art is always there — where no one is waiting for it… Art does not come and lie in the beds we make for it. It slips away as soon as its name is uttered; it likes to preserve its incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets its very name.” (Jean Dubuffet).
Pranks are most admirable when they evoke a liberation of expression…and challenge the authority of appearances. While almost all pranks mock or undermine kneel-to-authority conditioning, some do more, by virtue of disclosing more levels of black humor and metaphor, or expanding our notions of reality by gifting us with a bizarre image or metamorphosis. At a single stroke a prank can dissect an intricate tissue of artifice, exposing a rigid behavioral structure underneath.
By unhinging the context for expectation, pranks explode the patterning which narrows and shrinks down our imaginative potential. What distinguishes a painting from wall paper, or literature from stock market reports, is the tearing and ripping apart of old forms and structures to create new perceptions which renew and refresh life itself. All art attempts to rid life of banality; to expunge the habituation effect whose cause is “daily living.”
Obedience to language and image must continually be challenged, if we are to stay “alive.” The best pranks research and probe the boundaries of the occupied territory known as “society” in an attempt to redirect that society toward a vision of life grounded not in dreadful necessity, but rather, continual poetic renewal. (A society whose exchange value consisted in poetic images and humor rather than dollars can barely be imagined at this stage of world evolution.) Pranks function to evoke the parallel Land of Make Believe, that realm of perpetual surprise and delight where endless possibilities for fun and pleasure depend upon circumvention of habit and cliché. From their Shadow-world, pranks cast their Funhouse Mirror reflection of our workaday world. Ultimately, the territory signposted by pranks may represent our single supremely tangible freedom.
-V. Vale and A. Juno