Sunday, February 26, 2012

In praise of the pioneering Coyle & Sharpe

Nearly 50 years ago, a pair of fast-talking, well-dressed men with microphones took the streets of SAN FRANCISCO, quizzing unwitting passersby about absurd topics, recording them, and presenting their work on the radio as comedic bits they termed "terrorizations."
JAMES P. COYLE and MAL SHARPE pioneered a type of prank that has since influenced radio stations and modern comedians across the globe by methods such as asking a druggist if he could sell them sterilizing equipment for an amateur open-heart surgery, by asking a tourist if he would participate in an underground ritual involving unarmed humans fighting off fierce animals and more illogical scenarios.
I spent much of yesterday feeling rather ill, but still laughing as I listened to a collection of Coyle and Sharpe's work.
Writer Kenneth Goldsmith describes how the pair "inflicted a hilarious brand of man-on-the-streets interviews on an unsuspecting public:"
"Their straight appearance a ruse,they would pull in unwitting and unsuspecting passers-bye to answer their ultimately absurd questions, often convincing the victim to do something as outrageous as agreeing to commit murder or rob a bank."
The pair asked a print shop owner to paint a house, asked a tailor to place insects in the pockets of suits and asked a landlady if they could live in her building's elevator shaft. Somehow, they kept straight faces and their targets grew increasingly frustrated, incredulous and alarmed -- with hilarious results.
Sharpe recalls why they were successful:
"In the early 60's, it was a rarity for someone to encounter street reporters. That's why we could get away with putting people on. We were well-dressed in suits, and people would stare at the microphone because they had never seen one before. Part of the reason that we could be con men was simply because we had a tape recorder."
Check out the Coyle & Sharpe website here, for more of their story and some audio samples of their early form of guerrilla humor.