By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The packed midtown television studio of The Bill Cunningham Show was pimped out in the fake wood paneling and industrial gray paint of a Jersey office park. On its stage sat a geeky white guy, his hair moussed in a dated faux-hawk. He was furious.
He called himself K.T., claiming to be a prince of the Gypsies, which entitled him to certain extracurricular liberties when it came to romance. His essential theory: He could cheat on his girlfriend, Cynthia, as much as he wished. Cynthia, on the other hand, should be strictly bound to Victorian rules.
Then came the twist: K.T. had recently discovered that the wealthy Cynthia was cheating on him with his boss. Now all three sat onstage, prepared for the cathartic confrontation that only reality talk show hosts like Cunningham could provide.
"I cheat on her but she can't cheat on me," K.T. announced in a Southern accent of mysterious origin. "I am a Magyar Gypsy and leader of my caravan. All Gypsy men are allowed to cheat, as long as they are honest about it."
The crowd booed lustily. Cunningham, a man of alarmingly hawk-like features, perched at the edge of his leatherish chair like an eager child watching a car accident.
Despite his fury, K.T. admitted that he was only using Cynthia for her money.
At that, she jumped from her chair, reached down her blouse, ripped a gel pad from her bra, and shook it at the audience. "If I was so rich," she bellowed, "why would I be wearing one of these? I'd have my boobs done!"
The audience gasped. Cunningham had once again lived up to his show's motto: "Real stories, real emotion, real drama. It's daytime talk for real."
Or maybe not.
What the host didn't know is that K.T. was actually 31-year-old Ken Tarr, a budding mastermind of the reality TV hoax. Over the past five months, working out of his modest Los Angeles apartment, Tarr had talked his way onto eight different shows taped in five different cities—each time cloaked in a different persona. He'd become a dissonant saboteur in the machinery of sleaze that sprawls across our televisions.
For Judge Joe Brown, he pretended to be a drunken Gypsy clown who trashed a bathroom at a kid's birthday party. On The Trisha Goddard Show, he played Eddie the Trucker, a discount lothario who ran up $70,000 in debts by bedding hookers and playing the lottery. For Unfaithful, a show produced by Oprah Winfrey's network, he was an international security expert who was cheating on his girlfriend—who was also cheating on him. And on The Sit-Down, a show in which ex-mafioso Michael Franzese mediates disputes over dinner, he played a mope whose best friend had seduced his girlfriend and crashed his car.
In just a few months, Tarr had become one of the most prolific television hoaxers in U.S. history, merrily running an insurgent's war against an industry seemingly immune to shame. He was fueled by a hodgepodge of intellectual challenge, a dissident's sense of humor, and, yes, a quest for some measure of fame.
"Television insults and manipulates us all the time," he says. "So I thought I might as well come up with my own hoaxes and demonstrate how you can manipulate them."
In the beginning, there was darkness. Then, in 1970, Phil Donahue emerged from the gloom to invent the reality talk show.
The format was simple: Guests aired their problems, and the earnest former newsman tried to fix them.
Donahue reigned over the genre for the next 16 years, working a G-rated formula that, compared with today's salacious fare, was akin to Masterpiece Theater for the trailer park set.
His invention would make for a minor gold mine. TV execs discovered they could shed overhead on things like actors, scripts, and filming on location. All they needed was a host and a studio audience. America's inherent weirdness would cover the rest.
But in 1987, the Lord decided that good needed a balancing evil—especially since evil might be capable of better ratings. And thus gave rise to Morton Downey Jr.
Downey brought his own commandments to talk TV: adultery, greed, fights, and competitive chair-hurling. His show would breed a throng of disciples like Jerry, Geraldo, Sally, Montel, and Maury.
Elsewhere in the kingdom, the Lord called upon Los Angeles judge Joseph Wapner to create an everyman's court, where folks could settle their disputes on national television.
The People's Court debuted in 1981, equipped with the voiceover, "What you are witnessing is real."
Today, the show survives into its corpulent thirties, having birthed little jurists along the way, including Judges Mathis, Judy, Brown, and Alex.
Ken Tarr was born into this era, right about the time Wapner taped his first season. He grew up in Alta Loma, California, a web of subdivisions 40 miles east of Los Angeles.
He claims to have run his first hoax at age 11. Tarr called a popular radio show hosted by psychologist David Viscott, saying that every time he took a shower, his stepmother would come into the bathroom and wink. Viscott ate it up.
Your concept is awesome. Love it.
"Of, by, and for idiots" programming should be mocked at every turn.
Count my ass in if you ever need a player.
Keep it up as much as you can, now that the word's out
Wish I'd seen the blue-faced clown one on Judge Joe Brown, looks hilarious--seeing these shows get pranked would be only reason to watch them now, they are so done.
These shows want to present outrageous characters and situations, and that is what this guy gives them. He isn't hoaxing the shows so much as just appearing on them. It's like professional wrestling. If some "hoaxer" went on the wrestling circuit how would anyone know? Why would anyone care.
Kenny Tarr is just an actor taking crappy acting jobs for small sums of money. A hoax requires someone to take you seriously. If he got the New York Times to cover one of his shenanigans as hard news that would be a hoax. Nobody takes any of the stuff he is doing seriously in the first place, so it isn't really a hoax.
I read this article on the L train and literally laughed out loud. Kenny Tarr's "hoaxes" are brilliant social commentaries. He's smart, he's funny and he's hot. If I were younger, I'd stalk him.
Much respect and appreciation for the opinions and comments and for reading Graham Rayman's article about me. All the links to my work are included except for the Oprah hoax which is viewable at radiotitans.com/shows/the-kenny-tarr-show it may also be updated and linked to the article.
Enjoy the summer and thanks a lot!
I act and perform stories that I create. That is what I did and that is what I will continue to do in many different forms of mediums. A "He's no different than all the other people that TV uses"-type opinion is interesting to me as I don't see it that way and perhaps I can clarify elements of my story that you seem to be confused on. To be able to live off of my imagination is what I do as do many other people that create movies and television. No one else has done what I have in this way so I don't think it is possible to group me into other categories or bins of thought.
Carl I think you are mistaken but thanks for reading the article. Watch some of the TV shows through the links provided in the article if you would like. I am Kenny Tarr and I appreciate what you have to say but I am not sure that you have seen my work. I am not too clear on what you mean by "television is smarter than it appears and that it absorbs all criticism". I enjoy hoaxing the reality of many mediums and have hoaxed over 1,000 radio shows and all forms of actual social organizations and various facets of life. Television is something that I enjoy and I always have. To have become part of television history is nice. I am also not sure what you mean by being the people that are on TV because that is essentially a fait accompli by what I have done.
It's a cliche, but it's true: you are what you pretend to be. Ken Tarr might be hoaxing the reality tv set, but the real hoax is on him, because he is going to become what he thinks he's making fun of. Television, as a medium, is smarter than it appears. It absorbs all attempts at criticism. That is Television's particular genius. Ken Tarr may have come up with a unique and fresh way to become moderately famous, but he's still used Television to become moderately famous. He's no better or worse than any of the other people desperate for attention.
@pennyharper68 Cool follow me on twitter or write at email@example.com the game is just starting!
@warrenmart Haha! Thanks...the link to the Judge Joe Brown one is below.
Hi thanks! all the links to the shows are embedded in the article text on line. if u want to jump right too the JJB link, here it is: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xx089b_zozo-the-clown-s-adventure-in-working-with-people-outside-of-his-gypsy-caravan_shortfilms?search_algo=2#.UbbcQfbwIZI
@marina They do take the stories seriously. The producers were hoaxed. I have hoaxed a lot beyond the shows, Marina. You will read that in the NY Times eventually and thanks for the reading and following what I do.
The fact is...the shows I went on want real stories and they get them. I am not real and yet I was on those. They want real stories and do a lot to make sure they are. They believe I am real. By definition, a hoax. I do understand your point though and wanted to clarify some fine points...as the assumption is everyone is fake on TV and the stories are all 100% fake....nothing could be further from the truth and I have files and files and documents and documents of proof. Thanks!
@mizzcarol ditto! maybe we can stage a brawl over him on some show.
@mizzcarol Thanks again!
@mizzcarol Thanks email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want. Thanks for the compliment. It is interesting to hear from people that have heard or seen my ideas come to life.
You're using the medium of television to become famous. You're not different than all the other people who have done the same thing. That's what I'm saying. That shouldn't be so hard to understand. I'm saying don't think you're somehow above the fray because your means of becoming famous seem to be slightly different. The article presents you as some kind of performance artist who is using the medium in such a way that it is also a critique of the medium and I'm basically calling bullshit on that. You're Puck from the Real World. You're the guy from Survivor who lied about his grandma being dead in order to score sympathy and stay on the island. You're Omorosa. Not to mention you seem to be smug as fuck. What are you so smug about? Because you tricked a bunch of people who work for television and radio? Didn't Howard Stern have some guy on his show who used to do that all the time? Call up Larry King and pretend to be someone else and then break out with the Baba-booey. You're that guy writ slightly larger. Congratulations. I'm sure you'll get a book deal and you're own reality show and then someone can hoax you and the whole cycle can continue on. Jerk begets jerk begets jerk.
@CarlSuntoro Nah. Just because you said it doesn't mean it's so.
@pennyharper68 or facebook or whatever....i will have a standard website with products and all the footage and stories soon and more tv shows and movies to discuss soon enough
@warrenmart or above I guess
@abby.normal @mizzcarol If anyone wants more information on my work, how the shows are executed or anything else, feel free to email me at email@example.com As no one has done what I have before, there isn't any precedent for my work so it takes a lot of work and explanation and it is not easy to wrap the head around completely. I travel to LA and NY a lot and though I understand some of the negativity and reactions to my story, I appreciate immensely the well-wishes and interest as well. Feel free to spread the word - I am not very active online or on twitter.
@CarlSuntoro Cool, write an article about me and express your opinions. You are entitled to them and you seem to be all-knowing and wise.
No one has done the same thing as me, with all due respect. That is not a claim or me being smug that is just the reality. Hoaxing TV shows is not what Omarosa or Puck did, they participated and were selected as contestants or "to live in a house".
I call and hoax shows out of thin air. Enjoy the Summer, Carl! Get out there and take on the world, amigo!
@yobar23 where is the newsletter?
I heard about you thanks to Joey Skaggs' newsletter. Good job scamming the TV scammers!
Enjoy your 15 minutes. It's going to go by quicker than most. Savor it, Ken. Savor it like the last cronut in the world.