Today at TwtrCon, the Twitter business conference in New York City, the infamous (and philanthropic) @BPGlobalPR ran out on stage looking very much the con himself, disguised in a ski mask, fake moustache, oversized nose, glasses, and a wig and top hat.
In case you haven’t kept up with @BPGlobalPR’s viral success, he tweets as a mock-BP rep, using the platform to parody the oil company’s bumbling response to the Gulf spill. Though his popularity has frustrated BP execs (who recently demanded the spoofer specify that it’s all a joke), his purpose isn’t all just snark and games: Since starting his Twitter account, @BPGlobalPR has amassed more than 160,000 followers and has raised over $20,000 for HealthyGulf.org.
But on stage at TwtrCon, the mock-BP exec’s 20-minute parody of the oil company played to sparse laughter from the crowd–it was all very hit-or-miss humour.
“We got to place blame somewhere,” he bellowed, joking that everybody except BP ought to be blamed for this mess, including the fishermen for choosing to work in the Gulf and the photographers for snapping pictures of the spill. “And of course the animals for going in the damn oil in the first place!” he cracked.
He also spent time holding up pictures of cute cats, using the furry-feline pics to distract the audience from the catastrophe in the Gulf.
At one point, he spilled water all over the stage, and tried unsuccessfully to clean up the spill with his top hat (Get it?).
However, the shtick started to lose its impact, and its message, the more @BPGlobalPR treated it as a comedic performance. For example, in response to one question about whether BP is trying to shut down his fake account, the jokester warned, “I don’t know what you’re referring to when you say the real BP, but if you’re calling me a liar, I must warn you I have big dogs.”
Personally, I find his act far more powerful when it focuses on clever, pointed mockery of BP PR, so I asked for his thoughts on how this illusion of authenticity has helped create such a powerful message.
I even requested that he break character for a moment, to give an honest answer.
“Break character?” he scoffed. “Sir, give me your Twitter handle because you are at the top of my pickledick list!”
And he began to ramble off complaints of the crisis: “It’s all about inauthenticity, isn’t it? For instance, Obama comes down for a visit, and we’re going to get 400 people standing on a beach and just tooling around, right? That’s just how we work. The solutions just aren’t really the goal. The goal is to buy time so we can figure out how to make money off this mess.”
But what is the message here? Who is he trying to mock? The audience? Obama? BP? Is he peddling some conspiracy theory? The message became lost in the shtick.
Other audience questions ranged from the angry (“What does BP plan to f*ck up next?”) to those that played along with the character (“If you to encounter fake BP sites, what kind of tactics would you take [as a BP exec] to silence them?”), and his answers were always in jest.
Eventually the moderator interjected, “You’re kind of a tough person to ask questions to–we’re not always sure who we’re talking to.”
Indeed, the joke may be funny when confined to 140 characters, but on stage, it might be a tough act to keep up (or to keep audiences laughing along with), especially given the severity of the situation in the Gulf. It seemed the crowd was hoping for some insight into his experience dealing with BP–perhaps if he spoke more about the money he raised for a great charity, his time on stage could have been more effective and less confusing.
At the very least, I believe it would be more valuable than cheap snark and a cartoony disguise.
He abruptly ended his performance by standing up mid-Q&A session, saying he had to go, and then running through the crowd out of the conference hotel. It was all part of his overly-paranoid stage act. Earlier in the show, for example, he spoke through a voice modulator to mask his voice and hide his identity.
But he eventually stopped this part of his act after it became difficult for the audience to understand what he was trying to say.