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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn