Dave Duncan

"Eat Well, Stay Fit, Die Anyway"

The Man, the Legend, the Chamois and the Litigator

When I first wrote about the ShamWow last week, I did a quick Google search in order to include a link to the infomercial, and that first page of search results was chock full of awesome links about this nefarious product.  After posting, I read through some of them and realized that buying the product, even for the sole purpose of disproving the clearly-dubious claims, was going to be a huge waste of my hard-earned money, so instead of posting my own review, I’m going to write a bit about what I found out.

First of all, every consumer review I read likened the ShamWow’s absorption power to be no better than that of a cloth rag.  Essentially, an old raggedy t-shirt would do better at sucking up soda from a carpet spill and it holds far from its own weight in liquid, let alone the claim of ten times its own weight.  Nearly every comment also played on the fact that the ShamWow only lives up to the first part of its name.

Many of these reviews were personal comments by individuals on blogs or in web forums who purchased ShamWow over the phone from the TV ad, and about half were people like me, who wanted to try it for a laugh.  All were disappointed.  Other reviews were by consumer test groups and TV station news segments about consumer protection.  Also, disappointment was the theme.

Out of everything I read, nearly all of it was people ranting about how this product didn’t even come close to living up to the claims made by ‘Vince’, the tradeshow-style hawker.  They also commented on his insane style and his crazy headset, but one article was very different from the rest.

Seth Stevenson at Slate Magazine didn’t even try the ShamWow (as far as I can tell), but wrote a great piece back in May of this year called “Salesjerk: Meet the Next Great TV Pitchman” that focusses on what struck me most about the informercial, how Vince’s sales style is so different from informercial pitchmen in the past.  He’s no Ron Popeil (The Pocket Fisherman, The Ronco Rotisserie Grill, etc.) or Billy Mays (Orange Glow and OxiClean, or should I say “OXICLEAN!”), so rather than trying to woo the audience, he practically taunts you like you’re an idiot, and it’s spellbinding.

Aside from Stevenson’s awesome insight into what makes this infomercial stand out in the world of TV-based pressure sales, he also introduced me to one of the most intriguing characters of our time… Mr. Vince Offer.

Aside from being blown away that he used his real first name in the infomercial (although it does add to the realism of the Coney Island sales presentation), I learned that Offer did sales presentations at swap meets in order to fund his own movie, The Underground Comedy Movie, which sounds like one of the most unwatchable movies in the long history of moving pictures.  To say that I’m now tempted to watch it is an understatement, but I’m conflicted about seeing that much of the writer and director’s work in which he’s also an actor.  In lieu of actually watching the movie, just read this NY Times review and be sure to check out the credits at the bottom for even more laughs, especially thanks to Academy Award nominee Michael Clarke Duncan’s character title.

To make the jump from strange to outright weird, Offer’s life story also includes a lawsuit against the Farelly brothers alleging that they stole 14 of his movie’s scenes for use in “There’s Something About Mary”, and a massive falling out with the Church of Scientology over defamation and the resulting financial ruin that culminated in him suing the church.  I can’t make this stuff up, people.  This is one man’s life… in summary… on Wikipedia, just read it for yourself.

So, the next time you see Vince on TV telling you that you’re overspending on your paper towel budget, just remember that he’s a cultural icon in the making and you’ll soon see him headlining in a piece on Hard Copy (if it’s even still on the air), or hosting a talk show where paternity and lie detector tests are the norm.  Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Vince Offer.

Now, I’ve gotta go.  I’ve got a pesky soda stain on my carpet that I’ve got to take care of ASAP.

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