Can We Trust the Media? “Art of the Prank” Star Joey Skaggs Says No

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Joey Skaggs during editing of his 2012 prank film. | Photo courtesy of RELIGHT Films

When a man hands you his own patented “Bullshit Detector Watch” after eating dinner at the local Mexican restaurant, you know he has an interesting story to tell. And that’s exactly what director Andrea Marini’s film Art of the Prank does. Following the life story of Joey Skaggs, an infamous media prankster and talented artist, Art of the Prank gives the most honest onscreen representation of Skaggs, documenting his hilarious hoaxes and eye-opening insight on the influence and gullibility of television media.

Filming began in 2012 and involved an incredible amount of thoughtful research and study, engaging interviews with co-conspirators, media representatives and Joey Skaggs himself, miles of traveling across America and even to London, and countless hours of footage taken by dedicated professionals. But even with all the effort put into the film, watching it is effortless.

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Joey Skaggs performs his 1992 “Portofess” hoax, in which he impersonates a Catholic priest offering confessions on wheels. | Photo courtesy of RELIGHT Films

But that is not to say that the film has no meaning behind it. Instead, it delivers the significance like a great punch line. Art of the Prank highlights and juxtaposes some of the better-known artistic pranks Skaggs put on throughout his life. From a dog brothel and celebrity sperm auction to a portable confession booth and cure-all cockroach vitamin, Skaggs’s hoaxes have always shown his close and satirizing eye on the way the media will portray and pick up on the stories he creates.

Throughout the film, he tells how the media has a way of twisting meanings and has the power to mold public opinions. As an artist who works with a “world full of conflicts” that are often found in society, Skaggs uses his art as a political statement and theatrical piece. His humor, though, grounds the film—exaggerated at times but always sarcastic and sharp—guaranteeing many laughs throughout most of the film.

Art of the Prank is meant to make you laugh, but it also makes you think—about the way the media works in our lives and how much we really know the truth behind anything we see on a media or news outlet. The central story of the film, one of Skaggs’ biggest projects, shows his artistic process and all the difficulties that come along with it.

In his director’s statement, Marini states, “The film embraces many subjects, from media responsibility to pressing social issues to the role of art in activism. But at its core, it’s a film about a man who, against great odds, is driven to make broad social commentary with his art. It’s truly a story of will, determination and unbridled creativity. I’m proud to say that this drive and passion is reflected in the work of all of the people who spent several years making this movie happen.”

Marini continues, “With this movie I’ve tried to create something that will inspire people as much as I have been inspired. And like Joey always says, make them laugh and then make them think.”

In the discussion following the film, Skaggs said that he is always working on new projects (that he can’t talk about publicly) and welcomes anyone interested in working with him on these projects as a volunteer. Judy Drosd, the film’s producer, also announced that Art of the Prank is currently in the works for distribution as either a DVD or in digital format.

As the final send-off of the night, Skaggs gave some advice. He listed 3 things to always be mindful of: “Intent, content, and technique.”

“What are you really saying?” he stressed, emphasizing awareness and ethics, and that behind every lighthearted film, there should be a strong message to remember.

More information about Art of the Prank can be found on the film’s website, http://www.artoftheprank-themovie.com/. There you can contact Skaggs about volunteering for a project or subscribe to hear more about the film and explore the many other hoaxes and pranks that Skaggs has pulled over the decades.

Art of the Prank was shown as the first of the Southern Circuit Film Series for this year. Next month’s film SHU-DE! (Let’s Go), directed by Michael Faulkner, will be shown at 7 pm on Thursday, Oct. 20, in HP Amphitheatre.