(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post)
The Poster Menace? Or is it Keyser Söze?
“They’re just weird posters that people look at. They read them and they don’t make sense. I really do it just to see what the reaction is. Barry Humphries used to do things like leave a cooked chicken in a wastepaper bin by a bus stop. He would get on the bus one stop further back, get off the bus, pick the chicken up and start to eat it in front of people. And he did that just to see the reaction.”
Thus spake The Poster Menace.
“So I can’t really name you?” I asked The Poster Menace when I met him this week.
It’s all in the wording
“Really, I would prefer you didn’t.”
“You’re like Banksy.”
“But without the money.”
“It’s OK to photograph you?”
“What’s your favourite poster?”
“A few years ago,” he told me, “I did a poster that was blank apart from the words:
SIGN HERE IF YOU WANT THIS POSTER REMOVED
“The bottom half of the poster had about fifty spaces for signatures. I left it up for about 20 minutes – with a pen tied to a piece of string – and, when I came back, every single box was signed.”
“And you felt you’d succeeded there”
The Poster Menace lives in Derbyshire
A couple of years ago, I picked up a book of his posters.
“So when did you start doing your posters?” I asked him.
“About five years ago.”
“My father died of mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos. He was a builder and he’d been moving asbestos sheeting. So, to raise money, it was either run a marathon or do these posters.
“I print the posters. I stick them up. I take photographs. And then I publish the photographs in a book which I sell and that money goes to a cancer charity. There have been two books so far, because you have to build up. It takes me maybe two years to get enough photos.”
“So there should be another one due next year?”
“So are you a frustrated photographer/comedian?”
“A stand up? No, no. But I’ve got a website with what I would consider serious photographs.”
“And where do you put the posters up? On private property?”
“All over, but not private property. I might do it somewhere in the Gilded Balloon, but I don’t go into people’s houses.”
Public service messages are a speciality
“Starbucks?” I asked.
“I have been known to do that.”
“Did they take this kindly?”
“Well, I put this poster up which basically said
IS YOUR LIFE POINTLESS?
ARE YOU SICK OF EVERYTHING?
DO YOU WANT TO END IT ALL?
WHY DON’T YOU COME IN AND HAVE A CAPPUCCINO?
“I do like Starbucks coffee, but I don’t think the poster fitted in with their corporate strategy. I put it up at the entrance and I saw several of the customers reacting to it in quite a positive way, but the manager didn’t think it was as hilarious as they did. He immediately tore it down and went round asking people at the tables if they’d seen anyone put it up. He asked me. I said I’ve no idea.”
“You said the punters reacted in a positive way. Given this was actually encouraging them to commit suicide, what would a positive way be?”
“What I generally find with my posters is that people either photograph them or, increasingly, they nick ‘em. That’s a problem as I’m trying to photograph people looking at them.”
Some of the 50+ posters for 2012
“How many posters are you thinking of putting up in Edinburgh this year?”
“Around fifty different ones. I see things over the course of the year which give me ideas and I print them up for use at the Edinburgh Fringe.”
“That’s good quality paper,” I said, feeling a couple.
“It’s 180 gm.”
“That’s better than most Fringe show posters. Almost card.”
“I use good quality paper to get a good picture quality,” the Poster Menace told me. “and also A4 paper is quite difficult to put up quickly because it flaps about. Good quality paper is easier to put up. In the early days, I used to try and put them up really surreptitiously, Ninja-like. But, in the end, I decided to just go and stick them up in full view of everyone. In Edinburgh at this time of year, sticking a poster up is expected of everyone. I am going to attach a cheese-grater to this one,” he told me.
I looked at the poster. It said:
DIY TATTOO REMOVAL
And, when I looked up – Phoopph! – He was gone. Like Keyser Söze.
Later, The poster Menace e-mailed me this photo he had taken in an Edinburgh street of two passers-by: