Ad-Rock as John, the over enthusiastic audience member at a juice extractor demonstration.
I was up late one San Fernando valley evening in 1998, channel surfing through cable television when I happened upon a very bizarre infomercial advertising a product called “Sure Shine.” It caught my attention and I immediately stopped flipping: the commercial boasted that this multi-use product could wash your hair, polish your car, clean your kitchen counter, AND be used in the bedroom, as a spermicide. The number to call on the screen was 1-888-711-BSTE. This had to be some kind of hoax! It wasn’t exactly a hoax, rather, an ingenious marketing tactic used to promote the Beastie Boys highly anticipated Hello Nasty album on the hip hop groups’ own record label Grand Royal.
Calling the 1-888 number that flashed on the screen throughout the half-hour parody led viewers to where they could pre-order Hello Nasty and have it delivered to their doorstep on July 14, the ad also included the URL for Grand Royal’s newly launched website. The low-budget infomercial was directed by none other than Tamra Davis, wife of Beastie Boy Mike D, whose impressive credits include music videos for N.W.A., Sonic Youth, as well as major Hollywood studio films like CB4 and Billy Madison. It ran for several weeks on cable stations in Northern New Jersey, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Manhattan, N.Y., Cleveland, Portland, Philadelphia, Houston, and Washington, D.C.
A disclaimer scrolled over the fake products that read “If you order NOW, you will not receive any car care products, but you can order the record, CD, or cassette of the new Beastie Boys album ‘Hello Nasty’”
This incredibly amusing advertising concept starred the Beastie Boys themselves: Mike D (a.k.a. Mike Diamond), MCA (a.k.a. Adam Yauch) Ad-Rock (a.k.a. Adam Horovitz), who, in the name of sketch comedy, slapped on fake wigs, phony moustaches, ponytails, and took on various roles to sell fake get-rich-quick scams, psychic hotlines, and even a food processor that played beats from Hello Nasty. The Beasties comedy chops hold up strong, with a parody style well ahead of its time pre-dating Adult Swim, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, and so many others who a decade later would become popular parodying public-access television with bizarre faux-infomercials in a very similar fashion.
Director Tamra Davis spoke with me about how using a Home Shopping Network style approach to sell Hello Nasty came about: “Ian Rodgers (Grand Royal’s president of new media) was working with the Beasties on how to direct sell and market using the internet. This was all super new and I definitely remember us all thinking about how crazy it would be if you were at home watching TV in the middle of the night and this came on. We thought it would be hilarious.” This wasn’t Ian Rodgers’ first innovative approach to marketing in new media. After he wowed the Beastie Boys by giving a demonstration of the internet in 1994 (they hadn’t heard of it yet!) he created an (unreleased) CD-ROM entitled Don’t Mosh in the Ramen Shop, and in 1998 became one of the very first people to use MP3 technology to upload live recordings to the net while on the road with the group during the Hello Nasty tour.
The late-night infomercial was incredibly effective, with phone lines lighting up and pre-orders filing in whenever and wherever it aired. A Grand Royal telephone operator explained that a few viewers called in just to ask if the ad was real or not. “Some people have been like ‘Are you just going to go out and charge up my credit card?’ And I’ve just been telling them, ‘No, this is legit.’” Greg Pond, a cable programming coordinator at TCI San Francisco said, “This isn’t the first time that our cable systems local-access channels have been used to promote a well-known group of musicians. We aired half-hour spots for Tricky and Pulp, but those were just videos and information about the artists. They were nothing like the infomercial the Beastie Boys produced.”
Beastie Boys fans will be thrilled to see Ad-Rock as John, the over enthusiastic audience member in a juice extractor demonstration. Mike D as exercise guru Jack Freeweather in the “8 Minute Workout” that promises amazing results. “Whatever you’ve been doing in the past, you’ve been doing it wrong. Let Jack make it right.” Mike D returns later as thick-accented “Miklious Toukas” of CEO GR International. In my favorite segment, MCA plays a get-rich-quick character named Bill Swenson, a.k.a. “The Money Man.” A perfectly straight-faced MCA wearing thick, dark-rimmed glasses and a pink sweater around his neck expresses: “Money makes you feel good, money is so underestimated in our society, money is the thing that everyone needs to feel great and be who they are.” Tamra explains there was never a script for the infomercial, “We had all the ideas of the characters and what would happen but it was all improvised as far as what they said or what the guests would say. Some things they did were such inside jokes that if only five of us got it, it was worth it.”
MCA as Bill Swenson, a.k.a. “The Money Man.”
Mike D as thick-accented “Mikilous Toukas” of CEO GR International.
Extras casting helped fill out the traditional studio audience when they taped the ad in New York City, as well as friends, family, fellow Grand Royal labelmates, and even some real people like the Beasties stylist Tara Chaney and Tamra and Mike D’s doorman Joe. E.Z. Mike (a.k.a. Michael Simpson) from the Dust Brothers can be seen in the crowd applauding next to none other than record producer and studio engineer legend Mario Caldato Jr. Any Beastie Boys fan knows him as Mario C. by his frequent shout-outs in lyrics such as “That’s a record ‘cause of Mario” on the song “Root Down” and “Mario C likes to keep it clean!” on “Intergalactic.” Matthew Horovitz (Ad-Rock’s brother) plays Kenny Star of “Hollywood Psychics,” and Ad-Rock’s best friend from elementary school, working actress Nadia Dajani, plays Peg of “The Juice Ladies.” Actor Russell Steinberg (son-in-law of Diane von Fürstenberg) and DJ Frankie Inglese appear as Mike Lathers and Graham Noodledish of “Fantastic Finds,” showing off a miracle cleaning product that can only be applied using a compact disc.
(left to right) Mario C., Ad-Rock, and E.Z. Mike as studio audience members.
Mike Lathers (Russell Steinberg) and Graham Noodledish (DJ Frankie Inglese) of “Fantastic Finds.”
The brilliant Hello Nasty infomercial was unfortunately left out of the Beastie Boys Criterion Edition Video Anthology, however, it can be seen in its entirety on YouTube in three parts. In 2009 Tamra wrote a cookbook titled Make Me Something Good to Eat and also hosted a cooking show called the Tamra Davis Cooking Show, inspired by cooking meals at home for their two children, Skyler and Davis. She recently directed an episode of BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency starring Elijah Wood as well as Netflix’s upcoming original comedy series Santa Clarita Diet starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant.
Special thanks to Tamra Davis!