Vice journalist Oobah Butler was named The Drum’s Content Creator of the Year at this year’s Online Media Awards. However, there was something not quite right about the Oobah that turned up to collect the trophy – he was Norwegian and called Joakim.
Ironically, the real Oobah had won the accolade for pranking people after he managed to get his garden shed to be the number one restaurant in London on TripAdvisor.
But The Drum was just one of several high-profile media organisations – including the BBC and Australian TV – to fall for his latest ploy: to send fake stand-ins to appear as him on radio shows, TV interviews, documentaries and, as it turns out, award ceremonies.
So, what motivated the ‘Banksy of journalism’ – as described by one BBC Radio presenter and fellow prank victim – to send a platoon of doppelgangers as his replacement?
“After the Shed story went insane, there was so much media back to back. It was fucking everywhere; we had Brazilian TV, German TV, Chinese TV, Swiss TV – Japanese TV did an hour-long documentary about me, it was really bizarre,” he says.
“I started to realise that everyone asked the same questions. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s just interesting how culturally people engage with this story in quite a universal way.”
And so the idea to send fake Oobahs in his place was born, and the hunt for realistic impersonators began, with the journalist hosting auditions to find suitable replicas.
“It’s a really fucked up thing to ask of someone – ‘how best can you be me?’ It’s a little uncomfortable. I had actors in and different people who have blond hair.”
He dispatched one Oobah to the BBC to take part in a 10-minute interview with Vanessa Feltz, while Welsh actor and lookalike Tom Rhys Harries made his way on to Bulgarian TV. Further afield, his brother, Pete, appeared on the popular Australian breakfast TV show, Sunrise.
Though there was some speculation that these Oobahs might not be the real deal, he said he was never called out.
“In Australia, they had loads of people on Facebook and Twitter, who, as soon as they put it out, said ‘what the fuck, this is clearly not the right guy – there’s literally a banner underneath him saying ‘return of the prankster’ and it’s the wrong guy,” he says.
He admitted he thought they might get caught when they managed to bypass BBC security.
“I guess there were moments with BBC when we first tried to get through security, and I think they double checked the ID stuff and probably thought what the fuck,” he said. “He had my BBC ID and he went through the doors of Wogan House.”
Meanwhile, he was convinced the jig was up when Norwegian Joakim who had been dispatched to The Drum OMAs. The actor was found through a casting agency and had been given strict instructions on what to do at the event.
“I said ‘don’t talk’, and then the guy gets up [on stage to collect the award] and talks in his Norwegian voice. I didn’t expect to win at all, I was in a pub around the corner.”
Since The Guardian revealed what the real Oobah Butler was up to, and the media realised they had been duped, he said the reaction has been fairly positive.
“Touch wood, it’s been very good – the Australian channel invited me back on. It’s good that they’ve taken it that way,” he said.
“Thus far, no one has been pissed off, but I hope no one got in trouble or was pissed off. I think everyone was fine. Generally, my stuff is just entertaining – I just hope that people felt entertained.”
Before Butler’s latest doppelganger stunt, he has successfully bluffed his way to the top of Paris Fashion week with a pair of knock-off Georgio Peviani jeans, invented a fake friendship with Russell Brand and gone global with his ‘Shed at Dulwich’ con.
People have been quick to insert deeper meaning into his previous work, interpreting it as a Black Mirror-like expose of fake news and media manipulation.
Yet, for Butler, the principle is simple: “It’s just an interesting experiment and that’s what motivated me. I always like doing things where you bring the values of the online world which are so normal to us into real life. The idea of having these idealised versions of myself, the smart guy relates to the way you present yourself on LinkedIn, the funny guy like me on Twitter, and the hot guy – it was fun.
“People can go as deep as you like. There are visual jokes that are really simple.”
The fake, Norwegian Oobah Butler accepts his award at the Online Media Awards: If you wish to enter the Online Media Awards and then send a doppleganger to collect your trophy, you can do so here.
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