Joey Skaggs: Time to get fooled again as veteran US hoaxer puts together a 'Greatest Hits' film

Joey Skaggs has been duping the US media since the mid-Sixties. As he lands in Britain, he tells Ian Burrell why

As it wakes up to a new era of tougher press regulation this morning, the British media has something else to worry about – the king of hoaxers Joey Skaggs is making a movie.

Worse, the film will  include the duping of the media in what the veteran prankster describes as “a very complicated and elaborate performance”.

But surely this new stunt can’t be as embarrassing as the last time the New York hippie turned over the British media? That memory of how so many news organisations fell for Skaggs’s creation “The Lyin’ King” must make Eamonn Holmes squirm even now, 18 years later.

Skaggs had pitched up in London pretending to be Baba Wa Simba, the son of American missionaries who had been killed and eaten by lions in Kenya. But Simba had found a way to deal with his grief and “heal the animal within”, a philosophy he took to inner-city youth around the world by encouraging them to crawl around on all fours, growling and eating meat off the floor.

At least that was in the press release, which offered a “Last chance to see the real Lion King and experience empowerment through roaring”. Numerous high-profile news organisations fell for the prank and sent reporters down to the church hall which Skaggs had hired. Eamonn Holmes introduced GMTV’s report, in which a reporter enthusiastically crawled around, making guttural noises. Simba was invited into the studios of Sky News, where the presenters roared away and told viewers, “It really makes you feel good."

And now Skaggs will bring those humiliating moments to a new audience as part of a film documentary provisionally titled Art of the Prank. Among the other creations in Skaggs’s film archive are “Dr Josef Gregor” (inventor of a cockroach hormone that gave protection against radiation) and “Joe Bones” (head of a military trained $300-a-day Fat Squad for shadowing dieters and physically restraining them from eating junk food). The latter story fooled the New York Daily News and the Good Morning America TV show.

Another stunt involved Dr Joseph Chenango, a Native American surgeon and founder of “Hair Today”, who was advertising for “healthy scalps” to combat baldness.

In London for the Advertising Week Europe festival, Skaggs, 68, says he hopes his work leads people “to question authority and not to believe everything you see, read or listen to”. The film “will enable me to document my archive and to share it”.

Skaggs was rounding up flash mobs in 1968, when he mocked bourgeois voyeurism of alternative lifestyles by taking his own coach party of hippies out to suburban New York where they took photographs of locals on their lawns. He was hoaxing internet users as early as 1993 with a virtual reality prank called “Sexonics”. “They flamed  me – they thought they were in a safe place where everything on the  internet was true.”

The New Yorker says he admires Banksy for embodying a similar spirit. “He’s a talented artist with a message and he uses public places like I do.”

Since the 9/11 attacks Skaggs has had to reform his methods – in 1998 he had claimed to have discovered a “virus worse than ebola”.

And although he admits sadness at the resourcing problems of much of the modern news media, he has new targets – Facebook and Google. “If you were aware of how your privacy was being invaded you might be more cautious about the information you give out,” he says. “We need people who are more media literate.”

Joey Skaggs speaks at the Advertising Week Europe festival today at 1pm, Bafta, London.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot