Carry on comedy: Product reviews are the place for unsigned talent
You can buy almost any conceivable product on them. You can find a great second hand bargain. You can flog something that’s been cluttering up the house and make a tidy penny to boot. Some people even make their living out of them. Sites like eBay, Amazon and Gumtree are taking over the retail world but they are also home to a growing phenomenon that no one could have predicted – they may just be the breeding ground for the next generation of comic talent.
I say no one could have predicted, but with hindsight it seems so obvious – nothing could provide a richer, more fertile soil for the witty written word than an online marketplace full of wacky and bizarre items where comment is free and open to everyone. Indeed the sheer weirdness or just downright lousiness of some of the items on offer is just crying out for a sarcastic comment or two.
Take for example the downloadable pdf of the publication ‘The 2009 – 2014 Outlook for Wood Toilet Seats in Greater China’, available for just $495 from Amazon. A reviewer called ‘Brutus’ responded with the almost inevitable: “This is so weird. My husband and I were just discussing the 2009-2014 outlook for wood toilet seats in greater China the other day. Now today, here I am surfing Amazon and wouldn’t you know it? The 2009-2014 outlook for wood toilet seats in greater China. I am so happy the price seems reasonable. I’m thinking Amazing Anniversary Present!!!!!!”
Likewise the eminently useful naval guide, ‘How to avoid Huge Ships’, received similar treatment. Reviewer ‘Marai’ said: “I was jogging around the block when all of a sudden I was almost struck by a huge ship! Thankfully I had read How to Avoid Huge Ships. I have lived to tell the tale and now I only hope future generations read this lifesaver.” This sparked off a string of comments including one person bemoaning how they were still treading on “massive examples of canine excrement” after mistaking the title of the book.
The list goes on and on with products and reviews seemingly trying to outdo each other for weirdness. A tub of ‘Uranium Ore’ on offer on Amazon for a reasonable $39.95 received the comment: “I purchased this product 4.47 billion years ago and when I opened it today it was half empty.”
The relaxing-sounding ‘Relaxman Relaxation Capsule’ had this review from ‘Sailoil’: “One drawback, when it was delivered the capsule had no bolt on the outside. But I’m handy, so I installed one.
I have been locking the wife and kids into the chamber from 7pm to 7am every evening, and boy am I relaxed. This really works.”
Okay, so anyone can write a sarcy comment about a dodgy item but some reviewers are taking it to whole new creative levels with comments that verge on comic short fiction. Such is the case with a review of ‘Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz’ on offer for $48.09. The reviewer, Catherine Swinford, begins her epic review with the lines: “After a long hard week full of days he would burst through the door, his fatigue hidden behind a smile. There was an icy jug of Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz in his right hand.” The tale goes on to document Catherine’s blissful life cooking beans for this hard-working husband and good man, until the fateful Friday when he returned without the Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz and she knew it was over. He had hooked up with the cashier from the local Food Mart. Catherine finishes the heartbreaking tale with: “And me? Well, I’ve gone soy.”
A similar review for the self-help bestseller ‘The Secret’ tells of how the reviewer, Ari Brouillette, discovered the transformative power of the book whilst in prison. When handed a copy by his cell mate, he finds a sharpened toothbrush secreted in a hollowed-out cavity within its pages. He then uses the toothbrush to stab his tormentor in the neck and is further helped by the book’s positive visualisation exercises during the next eight weeks in solitary confinement when “the 16 hours per day of absolute darkness made visualization about the only thing that I actually could do.”
Perhaps the oddest phenomenon of all is when a well-known and relatively normal product suddenly, and for no predictable reason, gives rise to a surge in hallucinatory humour where each comment seems to spur the next reviewer to even greater heights of surrealism and bawdiness. Such is the case with a famous brand of hair removal cream advertised on Amazon which sparked off a series of humorous comments earlier this summer.
It began with the first reviewer emphasising the product’s own warning to men not to apply the cream to their ‘undercarriage’. This sparked off a series of tales, each more ludicrous than the last, about men who transgressed this boundary to the detriment of their health. The final review in this amusing mini-series comes from A Chappell who tells of how he applied the product to his nether regions to give his wife a “birthday treat.” The subsequent burning sensation leads to all manner of Carry On-style antics which end with his wife coming into the kitchen to find him bent over on the floor with the affected appendage dangling in a tub of ice cream and a frozen sprout relieving another part of his anatomy that rarely sees the light of day.
It seems almost anything on these sites can trigger an outburst of creative humour. But what is it about them that has led to this weird situation? Maybe it’s just human beings sparking off each other spontaneously, much as they do in normal conversation. But perhaps for some it’s something more – an inner creative urge that hasn’t found a vent anywhere else and is liberated by the freedom and anonymity of the medium. Some names crop up again and again. ‘A Trustworthy Human’ is one. The previously mentioned Ari Brouillette is another. Are these then the comedians of the future?
If you think the transition from reviewing crap products on Amazon to treading the boards is an impossible one, then think again. It has already happened.
In 2004 a certain Larry Star from Washington tried to sell his ex-wife’s wedding dress on eBay to raise money for beers and baseball tickets. Larry modelled the dress himself in a photo which he posted alongside a humorous description of his relationship with his ex and her various family members.
The item has received over 11 million views and earned Larry two appearances on NBC’s Today Show, each time wearing the dress. More crucially it won him a debut as a stand up comedian at the Punchline Comedy Club in Atlanta.
So next time you’re perusing eBay or Amazon and an item inspires a funny comment in your head, go ahead and post it. Who knows where it might lead. Every journey starts with a single step – or maybe even less than a step. As Ari Brouillette writes in his somewhat critical review of ‘Wanderlust: a History of Walking’ by Rebecca Solnit: “It must therefore suffer in comparison to the exquisite detail in Sarah Bernhardt’s “One leg too few: A history of hopping”, in which the author painstakingly details and diagrams the kinetics achieved by Anthony Cumia, the only one legged person capable of moseying.”
Let’s hope that Ari and his colleagues can make the next step –or hop – up the ladder.Tagged in: amazon, comedy, eBay, Gumtree, reviews
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