In Praise of a Liar

Toyota Comedy Festival Features Retrospective of Hoax Artist Joey Skaggs

By Buck Wolf

June 12, 2001 — Joey Skaggs says journalists are simpleminded, easily manipulated and will print almost any outrageous story you tell them. As one more simpleminded reporter, I guess I'll just write down everything he says and print it.

Skaggs is a self-described hoax artist. Over the past 35 years, he's fooled various newspapers, TV stations and wire services with outrageous fabrications. In the mid 1970s, he emerged on various news reports as the proprietor of a dog bordello — what was otherwise called a "cathouse for dogs." Several years later he emerged as a would-be Sy Sperling with an outrageous plan to restore the hairline of balding men — follicle transplants from cadavers.

Skaggs also has appeared in newspapers and TV as the proprietor of a celebrity sperm bank, the inventor of a health drink made from cockroaches and the first man to windsurf from Hawaii to California.

"I've never had a hoax that failed," says Skaggs, a man famous for his lies.

While The Wolf Files questions such boasting, it's certainly true that, at times, Skaggs has made monkeys out of many of us in the media. Now, the Toyota Comedy Festival in New York included a retrospective on his work at this year's fete.

Skaggs also claims he's never played a hoax as a for-profit scam. "A scammer is trying to do someone out of money," he says. "That happens all the time. I'm using humor to show the system for what it is."

For most of these pranks, Skaggs says he merely sends out a simple press release or makes a few calls. Journalists simply never bothered to verify their facts, he says. Here, then, are some of Skaggs' greatest hits:

Skaggs at Work

Hair Replacement From the Dead Hair Today Ltd. gleaned a substantial amount of air time and ink in 1990 as a firm specializing in a cure of baldness through hair transplants from the dead, much the way doctors would transplant a kidney. Skaggs said the ideal recipients would be salesmen or TV news anchors who needed to "look their best" and could afford the $3,500 price tag. The Boston Globe was among the news organizations fooled on this one.