COMMENTARY


Tuscaloosa News,
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
April 1, 2003


By Mark Hughes Cobb, Staff Writer

Skaggs' non-parade features high-profile fools



Is this story true? Hard to say, when your source is Joey Skaggs.

Bugs Bunny, the Coyote, Paul Newman in "The Sting" - none of them can mock, shock, deflate or deride like media satirist Skaggs, founder of New York City's April Fools' Day Parade.

His is a non-parade that takes place only in his imagination. Nevertheless, a few mixed up souls show up along the route every year looking for action that never materializes.

Rolling down Fifth Avenue from 59th Street to Washington Square Park, the 18th annual non-parade will feature "red-faced lookalikes of high-profile fools who have embarrassed and exploited the nation," including Martha Stewart, former GE CEO Jack Welch and former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay singing Jimmy Reed's "Shame Shame Shame."

Those chief fools - and lookalikes for George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Sen. Trent Lott, Cardinal Bernard Law, Liza Minnelli, Nicholas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley - will be walking point in case of terrorist attack.

To further protect the assembled, the parade route will be wrapped with military camouflage fabric by Christo, and overflown by CIA surveillance drones.

Maybe.

Entries will include the Michael Jackson Dangling His Child Off the Balcony Float; the Axis of Evil Float, with that triumvirate's surprise weapons of mass destruction and the Raelian Alien Clone Hoax Float (chased by drooling journalists).

Those who feel they or their descendants have suffered - or will suffer - persecution can accept IOU's from the U.S. Government Reparations Float.

The Anti-Terrorism Disaster Readiness Float will offer anti-radiation iodine pills, smallpox inoculations, antibiotics, Valium and supersize coupons for McDonalds.

Booths at parade's end include the Burkha Fashion Booth (Christo's camouflage will be cut into burkhas and auctioned to raise money for next year's parade) and the Hot Off the Rack Boutique Booth, featuring items from Winona Ryder's closet.

Again, maybe. Could be. Who knows?

The fact of the matter is, there's no parade at all. It's just a press release about a parade that never was, that still, after 18 years, will draw audience and media members in.

After all, Skaggs has fooled everyone from The New York Times to CNN to the Associated Press to Geraldo Rivera.

"For me, the parade is just a small part of what it is that I do," said Skaggs, a performance artist who delights in puncturing pretension, exposing scams and generally making April Fools' Day a year-round event.

"Essentially, I'm an artist. I use the media as a painter would a canvas, creating plausible but non-existent events.

"It's partly to point out some of the inherent problems with sloppy journalism, but it's also to bring issues I think need highlighting into the forefront, circumventing all the typical ways that's done. Rather than try to write a book or do a film, I create hoaxes."

In 1968, annoyed with tour buses that brought gawking suburbanites rolling through his home in the east Village to snap photos of real, live hippies from the safety of the bus, Skaggs fought back.

He rented a Greyhound bus, loaded it with 60 long-haired, bearded pals, then headed off for a site-seeing tour of Queens. When the group stopped for hamburgers at White Castle, several patrons reportedly ran out the door, one crying, "We're being invaded." The hippie tourists snapped photos of folks washing their cars and mowing the lawn, then finished up at a head shop for live music and dancing.

"The Today Show" followed the tour, and Greyhound approached Skaggs about conducting future events. He declined, partly because he's not in the hoax business for the money.

Using actor friends, costumes, props, a fax machine and trumped-up press releases, he's opened a Cathouse for Dogs; announced cockroach hormone therapy as a panacea; played the King of the New York Gypsies in a campaign against the defamatory Gypsy Moth name; set out to wind-surf from Hawaii to California with little more on board than a fishing pole, a compass and some Dinty Moore beef stew; created the militaristic Fat Squad, to aid dieters through extreme means; offered the Brooklyn Bridge up for lottery and much more.

The 1976 Cathouse for Dogs event raised a stink after WABC TV aired an extensive piece. The ASPCA, Bureau of Animal Affairs, NYPD vice squad, the Mayor's office and various religious and humane organizations were all after his hide. On April Fools' Day of that year, answering a subpoena, Skaggs called a press conference to announce that it was all a hoax.

ABC, shamed and disgusted that its Cathouse piece was no longer in the running for an Emmy (it had been nominated), never retracted its piece, Skaggs claimed.

Like the Hippie Bus Tour, some of his odd visions veered close to reality. His Celebrity Sperm Bank Auction - with purported donations from Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix - was foiled when a thief made off with the goods, leaving behind a ransom note.

Aside from disappointing would-be recipients, it disgusted media outlets, including Gloria Steinem's Ms. Magazine. Steinem gave the non-existent bank her Earl Butz Award for Bad Taste for 1976 on the TV special "The Year That Was."

That was several years before the actual Repository for Germinal Choice sperm bank opened with donations from Nobel Prize-winning scientists.

For the 1994 Dog Meat Soup hoax, Skaggs sent letters, purportedly from a Korean restaurateur, to animal shelters nationwide asking to buy their surplus dogs.

Imagine the fuss. Now multiply that times ten.

"People went ballistic. It revealed a lot about our racism and cultural intolerance," Skaggs said. "We can eat a hamburger in front of a Hindu - 'Hey, your grandmother tastes good!' - but we can't see from the other person's point of view."

Anger and denunciations follow him, because, sure, no one likes being fooled. But fun is at the heart of any prankster.

Despite having been featured in numerous media outlets - and despite the fact that Skaggs always admits his hoaxes afterward - he still fools.

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© 2003 Joey Skaggs