At about the same time Allen Funt was serving up clandestine pranks on his program Candid Camera, Jim Coyle and Mal Sharpe were thrusting microphones into the faces of unsuspecting San Franciscans and gathering material for their program on KGO radio. The result is a body of practical jokes and put-ons numbering in the hundreds, wherein Coyle and Sharpe, posing as experts on this or that absurd and fabricated notion, attempt to coax targeted folks on the street into submitting to the most outrageous experiments, product testings, job recruitments, cult pitches, etc. Although Coyle and Sharpe weren’t the first to employ this form of guerrilla media (Funt’s schtick first hit the radio in 1947), they certainly raised the bar by preying on the ignorance of the general public. The duo was clever in their salesmanship and somehow convincing enough to lure passersby to agree to allow them to lower a microphone into the brain to record their thoughts, consider allotting shop window space for display of a “zeb-eel” (a hybrid zebra/eel which could be used like a watch dog), shanghai others into buying into a new community, etc.
Henry Rollins was partially responsible for resurrecting this trove (can’t this guy leave well enough alone?) and the recordings are now receiving widespread accolades, such as inclusion in a Whitney Museum of American Art special exhibit on multi-media artistry. That is all fine and good, but the material is hopelessly dated. The upside is that we’re left with a time capsule, perhaps not available in other form, that exposes the changes that have occurred in polite dialogue in the past four decades. It also highlights just how trusting and gullible folks were in pre-Nixon, all-media-all-the-time America. Say what you will about the modern American boob, but the average person is more savvy and guarded in the public sphere and a lot less likely to assume that someone with a nice suit and a camera or microphone is an authority. Now the downside: although this material is quite clever and contains some intriguing ruses and superb ad-libs and Henry Rollins thinks it’s funny, it’s not exactly side-splittingly hilarious. It was funny enough to cause Weekend Edition anti-funny stuffed shirt Scott Simon (and, presumably, a host of Subaru Outback-driving progressives on both coasts) to titter into his latte on a recent Coyle & Sharpe story on National Public Radio. [Thirsty Ear]
This review originally appeared in Your Flesh #44 (2000)
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