Internet Prankster Oobah Butler Faked It Until He Made It

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From conning his way into Paris Fashion Week to turning a nonexistent restaurant into the hottest spot in London, Oobah Butler has made a name for himself by making a name for himself. (Courtesy of Bekky Lonsdale)
From conning his way into Paris Fashion Week to turning a nonexistent restaurant into the hottest spot in London, Oobah Butler has made a name for himself by making a name for himself. (Courtesy of Bekky Lonsdale)

Do you know the name Oobah Butler? If not, he might be shattered: He's made a name for himself through making a name for himself.

When he was a teenager, Butler made calls pretending to be "Martin Davey, rock band manager extraordinaire," to get his band booked at venues. Later he talked his way into Paris Fashion Week by claiming to be Georgio Peviani, the man behind a brand name for knockoff jeans.

The jeans exist, but the man does not. Butler still managed to be wined and dined.

Then there was his completely fake restaurant The Shed at Dulwich, which Butler pulled out of thin air by enlisting his friends to leave false reviews on TripAdvisor. A video Butler produced for Vice documents how he managed to transform the garden shed he was renting into the No. 1-rated restaurant in London.

"I mean, the opportunities that we got through that — I had PR companies wanting to represent me for reduced rates, companies who make in-flight videos to advertise London wanted to come and film there," Butler tells Here & Now's Robin Young. "There was hundreds and hundreds of minor celebrities, influencers, people wanting to eat there — and it was a complete fiction."

His burner phone rang off the hook for reservations. When people would call to book, he'd say The Shed was full up. The mystique grew. But then, just to see how far he could push his luck, Butler turned it for one night into an actual restaurant, with a friend playing a pretentious waitress to perfection.

"I could have definitely been one of those people eating at The Shed — I think we are all those people who want to eat at The Shed," Butler says of cultural trends the spoof uncovers. "The reason they wanted to eat there was because they were told that they couldn't eat there. And I think there's something really human about that."

Among the lessons Butler took away from his Shed experience? The power of not caring.

"I'm not a good cook. But ... somehow, I was able — because I was completely creatively freed by not being so overly invested in it — I was able to make this restaurant a success, and I never made anything a success before," he says.

Now, Butler has turned what he's learned producing these documentary-style pranks into a 76-page book called "How To Bullsh*t Your Way To Number 1: An Unorthodox Guide To 21st Century Success."

"This is less about helping people to achieve success and more about helping them to sort of not be inhibited," he says. "Coming to the length of the book ... it's very deliberate. My audience is extremely young, and you can barely get people to watch a 30-second video, let alone read a full book. So I was just trying to create something that was reactive and felt kind of appropriate to release. ... I really would like people to be able to read this in, like, a day. I don't think it's beyond anybody to do that."

Butler says his affinity for scam artistry started young. He recalls a childhood memory in the book: He wanted a toy, but his parents said no. So he started selling seashells.

"I took to the beach and collected everything I could, sold them to passersby and raised enough to go and get myself the toy," Butler says. "So I had the last laugh in that situation."

One technique Butler says has helped him achieve his goals is "gamifying" them, which helps motivate "yourself and others to work harder, to extend the honeymoon period where you're in love with your idea, and to, crucially, offer a different motive for doing what you do," he writes.

But ultimately, Butler says being unbound from self-imposed expectations has helped him find success.

"For example, with this book, I would love to become a No. 1 bestseller. But the thing is ... it's not stressful for me, that pursuit. It would have in the past been very inhibiting. But it's not stressful for me, because, I'm here, I'm speaking to you right now and that's all. The book is already a success because of that," he says. "If I don't become No. 1, then it doesn't matter. But if I do, then whoever reads this book can apply it to whatever they want."

Even though Butler says his book is an attempt to help others, he doesn't begrudge people for being skeptical. He did, after all, enlist a team of look-alikes to make media appearances so he could spend more time "on nothing."

"I was entertaining people. I've always liked entertaining people," Butler says. "I've grown up a little bit now."

Emiko Tamagawa produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on April 23, 2019.


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Robin Young Co-Host, Here & Now
Robin Young brings more than 25 years of broadcast experience to her role as host of Here & Now.


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Jack Mitchell Associate Producer
Jack Mitchell was an associate producer in WBUR's newsroom. He works across a wide spectrum of departments and shows — from the newscast unit, to, to Radio Boston.



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