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By Darwin BondGraham
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At 14, while visiting his brother in Eugene, Oregon, Tarr talked his way onto the set of a movie about the American distance runner Steve Prefontaine. He would soon be showing up on the sets of shows like Seinfeld and Friends, and twice made appearances at the Academy Awards.
His first major hoax would come in 1997, when he and his brother, Kevin, talked their way onto Forgive or Forget, a relationship show based in New York. Just 16, Tarr got a fake ID, borrowed a shirt decorated with guns, and put on that ridiculous Southern accent, then confessed to sleeping with his brother's wife.
A year later, he and two high school friends landed on The Ricki Lake Show. They flew into New York and partied all night, says Tarr. They were still high during the taping, in which he pretended that his greatest wish in life was to sleep with his best friend's girlfriend.
He would spend his twenties dabbling with college, jumping from job to job, traveling to Israel, and working as a soccer blogger. But his taste for scams never abated. Friend Daniel James Howell recalls how Tarr talked his way into movie theaters even when he could afford a ticket. "Ken just kind of flouts any kind of social norm there is," says Howell. "He's totally ill-mannered in a really irreverent way. He could care less what people think. He sees through our social conventions."
Turning 30 brought Tarr a sense of disappointment with his life. So last September, he launched a bold new adventure: He would mount a serial hoax campaign.
He plucked stories from his own bent sense of humor and recruited co-conspirators. He found one woman at an L.A. marijuana dispensary and used Craigslist to round out his talent pool.
"Women are needed for a syndicated TV show," read an ad Tarr ran last fall. "Please have a high IQ, be street smart and able to travel this week, all expenses paid." Three thousand responses poured in, but few were worthy. Most didn't understand the assignment, weren't quick enough on their feet, or feared the prospect of scamming a TV show. In the meantime, Tarr bombarded producers with phone calls and e-mails, pitching fabrications tailored for daytime melodrama.
"I am Muhammad Ali's illegitimate son."
"Watching Dr. Oz made me fat."
"I stole my son's fiancée."
Gypsy characters became a recurring theme because, he says, "no one really knows what they're about, so you can make up all kinds of things."
Though some shows required guests to affirm the truth of their stories on video, it soon became clear they were far more desperate for titillating sagas than authenticity. As one veteran television producer tells the Voice, "They don't have the time or the desire to really check people out. They need to book the shows. The beast needs to be fed."
Joey Skaggs agrees. The 67-year-old New York performance artist may be the country's most inventive hoaxer. He memorably fooled the New York Times into covering his campaign to rename the gypsy moth because it was offensive to Gypsies, and he once duped WABC into airing a report on his "Cathouse for Dogs," in which horny pooches could get their groove on for a fee.
"These are shows cast with morons, produced by morons, and watched by morons," Skaggs says of reality TV. "They want you to do their work for them."
Under federal law, the shows have no responsibility to present true stories. Tarr even found that he could pitch different scenarios to the same producers. They didn't realize—or didn't care—that all these stories were coming from the same person. At one point, he pitched a producer for The Maury Povich Show using four different names, but she didn't appear to notice.
Nor is the screening process heavy on verification. While the "producer" title connotes a TV bigwig, many are recent college grads, twentysomethings with the misguided notion that working dawn to dusk booking a reality show is going to lead to bigger things.
Tarr told the producers of Unfaithful: Stories of Betrayal that he was an "international security expert" who used his spy skills to catch his cheating girlfriend. It was a claim easily dispelled, but it appears no one bothered to check. "They were a lot more interested in lascivious e-mails," he says.
Once he got to the tapings, he watched producers relentlessly prep guests—telling them what to say, how to exaggerate or embellish their stories, and prodding them to get angry or upset.
As the months passed, Tarr became so familiar to some producers that instead of him calling them, they started calling him to see if he had some other tawdry life experience that would fit a particular episode. The tail was now wagging the dog.
The first show Tarr scammed was Fox's Judge Alex, hosted by Florida jurist Alex Ferrer. Tarr pretended to be a plumber who got locked in a mortuary overnight, and then got stiffed on his bill. A friend named Sean agreed to play the mortuary owner.
The show's producers were interested, but they wanted some proof. Tarr found a mortuary and phonied up a bill complete with technical specs he lifted off the Internet. The producers found Sean less convincing.
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.
@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
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.
@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!
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.
@mizzcarol ditto! maybe we can stage a brawl over him on some show.
@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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
@mizzcarol Thanks again!
@mizzcarol Thanks email me at email@example.com if you want. Thanks for the compliment. It is interesting to hear from people that have heard or seen my ideas come to life.
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.
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 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!
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.