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Big Ideas

The Yes Men: Hard Work Is A Weapon

“The real trick is lack of organization,” says Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men’s anti-process for pulling off pranks. But relentless hard work? Essential


More Monty Python than Michael Moore, satirical agitators the Yes Men are trying to change the world one unsuspecting audience at a time. Masquerading as representatives of the WTO, Dow Chemical, and Halliburton, among others, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno have wreaked havoc at conferences around the world, humiliating the heavies of corporate greed by sending up their true agendas.

Along the way, the Yes Men have made two feature-length documentaries, created impressively realistic (and provocative) fake editions of the New York Times and the New York Post, and pissed a lot of people off. In their latest film, The Yes Men Fix the World , the duo engage in a wicked piece of performance art: Posing as ExxonMobil spokesmen at Canada’s largest oil conference, they announce a breakthrough in oil technology, Vivoleum, a new biofuel that can be manufactured from the flesh of the humans that will soon be killed by climate change.Needless to say, the Yes Men are well-acquainted with the necessity of risk in pushing creative endeavors forward. We chatted with co-founder Mike Bonanno about what goes into pulling off such elaborate, high-profile pranks – turns out it’s a lot of blood, sweat, and beers.

Can you describe the Yes Men’s “reductio ad absurdum” approach?

The satirical stuff is inspired by everything from Monty Python to Jonathan Swift. Wait, that’s not so broad a range. Well, from aardvarks to zebras then.

How did you and Andy get started as the Yes Men?

We formerly worked together on RTMARK.com, so when invitations fell in our laps to attend conferences as the WTO, we formed the Yes Men because it seemed like a very different thing.

Do you do anything to get into character when you’re posing as the spokesperson of a big company? Watch videos? Rehearse?

Getting into character is not that hard because the audience does not require any convincing – you are introduced as Mr. Big, therefore you are Mr. Big in their eyes, no matter what your character. There are some rehearsals, but no videos. Mostly, we do research and then write… with quite a bit of brainstorming, usually more than one beer.

It’s mostly just starting with an idea and then putting in a whole lot of hard work.

Can you tell me a bit more about how the process unfolds?

We are contacted by an organization or we identify a target. We research the target and the context for the presentation to try to understand what the best approach is for revealing the truth about them. We toss the ideas and usually some text back and forth, start to make images as necessary, and props, and voila! We run through the script the night before.

Do you have any sort of long-term strategy about what the Yes Men are working on in the future?

We are going to continue along the trajectory of trying to involve more people and do bigger interventions that suggest a more just future is possible. We are going to start a school.

Wow. What sort of school? How are you going to go about that?

We are looking for money to do it. The “Yes Tank” is not huge – it’s 8-10 people working intensively on projects for set periods of time. But we do need about $250,000 to start it up.

Tell me about the preparations that went into your fake editions of the New York Times and the New York Post.

Well, it’s mostly just starting with an idea and then putting in a whole lot of hard work. It’s not really more than that!

Do you have a daily routine that helps you stay organized in your hoax execution?

Nope – the real trick is lack of organization. I think if we spent time getting organized we would not get anything done.

Do you and Andy have an army of assistants? How do you guys manage all of these appearances, books, films, fake newspapers, etc?

We get lots of help from our friends. At the moment we also are employing one full-timer and a few part-timers as the film is rolling out. But we lack the funds to hire people. We are looking!

What would be your advice for young agitators just getting started?

Just do it! It’s not as hard as it looks. For more info go to challenge.theyesmen.org.

More Posts by Jocelyn K. Glei

A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with how to make great creative work in the Age of Distraction. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done. Her previous works include the 99U’s own bestselling book series: Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential, and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.

Comments (2)
  • Ross Farrell

    Say Yes to the YES MEN…..

  • Mike Smith

    Just watched their documentary recently. It was awesome. Cool interview too. The quote is great.

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