Mal Sharpe, Urban Prankster, RIP

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Podcasts, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, The History of Pranks

Mal Sharpe, comedic pioneer and a very funny man, has left us. In 2007 the Art of the Prank blog published access to 20 of his early Imposter Podcasts, which are recordings of his street sketches (more like comedic ambushes) with his comedy partner Jim Coyle, who passed away in 1993. These recordings had been re-purposed and released by Jesse Thorn of the Maximum Fun site, where all 100 episodes reside:

In the early 1960s, James P. Coyle and Mal Sharpe roamed the streets of San Francisco, microphone in hand, roping strangers into bizarre schemes and surreal stunts. These original recordings are from the Sharpe family archive, which is tended by Mal’s daughter, Jennifer Sharpe.

We extend condolences to the family. Here’s his obit from The New York Times:

Mal Sharpe, Groundbreaker in Street-Level Pranking, Dies at 83
by Neil Genzlinger
The New York Times
March 19, 2020

Long before late-night talk show hosts began doing it, he conducted absurd interviews with gullible passersby with his comedic partner, Jim Coyle.

Two strangers approach a man named George on the streets of San Francisco.

“George,” one of them says, “would you yourself participate in a program of inter-protoplasm flow?”

George doesn’t hesitate. “If I needed it, I guess I would,” he says.

One of the strangers, earnestly impressing on George the seriousness of that commitment, elaborates:

“If you knew that you were going to have all of your — let’s face it — your insides taken out or sucked out of you and in return you were going to have the insides of another person placed into the interior of your body, either the insides of one other person or many other people, would you participate in such a program?”

George again affirms, “Yes, if I needed it.” Only when the two try to get him to accompany them to a lab, right then and there, to have the procedure done does George balk.

The two ersatz medical experts were Mal Sharpe and Jim Coyle, and the exchange, immortalized in an audio track, took place in the early 1960s, one of countless pranks the pair sprung on unsuspecting passers-by decades before “Impractical Jokers” and present-day late-night hosts thought of working similar comedic territory.

Mr. Coyle stayed in the punking game only a short while, but Mr. Sharpe made something of a career out of it, influencing the whole field of ambush humor.

“Coyle and Sharpe were pioneers of an entire genre of comedy, the Man on the Street bit,” Charlie Todd, founder of the comedy collective Improv Everywhere, said by email. “Every late-night host and YouTube prankster owes a bit of their act to Coyle and Sharpe.”