Saturday, May 14, 2005

Scamming the Viewers: Con on Comedy Central


It's an interesting concept: find a con artist and follow him around, laughing uproariously at the poor schmucks he swindles. And provided you can suspend disbelief (and moral sensibility), Skyler Stone and company pull it off fairly well in Comedy Central's Con.

I hadn't seen the program before this because it's on at an awkward time for me. I've seen the ads for it; Skyler Stone driving with a black bar over his eyes, jumping on a comped hotel bed and pigging out in the guise of a Senator. It seemed humorous enough in the ads, but not enough to tempt me out of my sleep schedule. After viewing this week's episode, I'm glad it's on so late, if only to reduce the potential number of copy-cat con amateurs.

This week Stone set out to get his posse a free ski weekend. But first, he pulls a gratuitous penny-ante scam, as he scrounges in the local Mickey D's garbage, looking for a cheeseburger receipt. He finds one that specifies "no pickles, no onions," and parlays the crumpled receipt into a "free" burger. There's no ground for argument here—he stole a cheeseburger. (And I wonder how many identical thefts will occur next week, as unscrupulous viewers imitate Stone?)

As for the ski weekend scam, it starts with Skyler promoting a "boy band" (Stone himself fronting, with fellow con artists Dave Keyes and Joey Morgs singing backup and Zach Johnson as manager) purportedly doing a Public Service Announcement video for California Tourism. "Governor Schwarzenegger wants people to think of California as a place to ski," Stone tells the publicist at Mt. Baldy Ski Resort. "We've got this boy band, Ice Train, really hot in Norway and just about to break in the States..."

Once the hook is set, Stone then approaches a couple of friends for help to put the "band" on a credible footing. A bedroom sound-studio artist massages the boys' miniscule singing abilities, creating a CD to which they will lip-sync. An artist friend slaps together an enormous plywood triptych mural for the group to "perform" in front of for the cameras. A secondary scam nets the boys some personalized choreography.

I have to admit, the choreography scam was pretty funny. The dance studio they conned agreed to help the guys as "poster boys" for the dreaded disease Acid Reflux Level 4. A couple of references to "ARL4" and a near-faint by Stone and Joe Morganella solidified their performance. Even so, I was left a little queasy at the thought of how easily they took advantage of the choreographers' cluelessness.

I know the show sets up and restages incidents, and pays for "some" products they acquire initially by scamming. I realize it's likely the real victims of the con are the viewers, since that blanket disclaimer could cover behind-the scenes payment for every item or service they "steal" on-camera. Even so, the program is a troubling concept for any audience: "Watch us steal, cheat and lie, and (apparently) get away scot-free!"

What's next? A live-action drama that seems to show actual cannibalism? A comedy about the travails of a child pornographer? A show that popularizes unprotected sexual activity and needle-swapping?

This is a good show to miss—I heartily recommend changing the channel.

By the way, Skyler Stone is not the other actor from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Anyone seen Alex Winter lately?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The growing legend of Tristan Egolf . . .

Stories about the death of Tristan Egolf continue to appear with new or sometimes different information, although the first few paragraphs of yesterday's Los Angeles Times report by Valerie J. Nelson bear a startling resemblance to Saturday's Associated Press wire story (see yesterday's MobyLives news digest), including a quote from Egolf's friend Michael Hoober, which Nelson says he made to the Times but which are exactly the same as a quote Hoober gave the AP.


In any event, Nelson goes on to detail the growing legend of Egolf: "After 76 publishers had rejected the novel, Egolf was playing guitar for money on a bridge in Paris when a young woman noticed his cold, sockless feet and invited him for coffee. Her father happened to be a prize–winning author, Patrick Modiano, who took Egolf's book to his French publishing house, which agreed to publish it." Original reports put Egolf's rejection at 70 publishers; Egolf's bio note posted at the website of his American publisher, *Grove Atlantic, puts it at "more than 70," [*IT HAS BEEN TAKEN DOWN NOW...] and says only his "discovery" while "busking to pay his rent on the Pont des Arts" saved him. In a 1999 interview with, Egolf himself tells a far calmer story: he met Modiano's daughter while playing in public and got to know the family over a period of years. As for the multiple rejections: he says it may have been 76 total, but he sometimes got multiple form rejections from one publisher, and he also got some encouraging notes. On the whole, he says, "I'd wager that of those seventy–six rejections, only three or four people had actually looked at the book. In the end, I think it got picked up pretty fast."

5/17/2005 3:23 AM  
Blogger samraat said...

4/03/2010 10:27 PM  

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