Ken Tarr's Reality TV Racket 

What happens when a hoax is launched on an industry immune to shame?

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He overheard producers telling guests what to say and making them repeat it to their satisfaction. He watched as one Povich guest pleaded with the producers to let her see her daughter before the taping. "She's begging, 'Can I see my daughter? Can I see my daughter?' And they're blocking her," he says. "They won't let her. That was disgusting."

Finally, he and Naomi were called to the taping. Goddard first questioned Naomi, who said, "I know he's keeping a secret from me." Affecting his Southern accent, Tarr declared, "I'm $70,000 in debt and they're looking to repo my truck. I drive up and down the coast and see call girls. I go to a place just past Fresno. It's a cathouse."

"When was the last time you slept with a prostitute?" Goddard asked.

click to enlarge Judge Joe Brown
  • Judge Joe Brown

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Tarr waited a beat, then deadpanned, "Monday night."

The audience hooted.

Goddard wondered how he was going to fix the relationship. But Eddie the Trucker had his go-to move at the ready. "I'm going to seduce her like I normally do." Naomi pretended to cry, but Tarr offered comfort. "We would have beautiful children," he told her. "We could produce some nice product."

"You need to learn some empathy," Goddard interjected. " 'Empathy'? What's that word mean?" Tarr asked, knowing exactly what it means.

Tarr's next bite came from The Judge Joe Brown show. He made up a story that he was a gypsy clown named Zozo who showed up two hours late and drunk to a kid's birthday party — then trashed the bathroom, causing $15,000 in damage.

Tarr pulled fake pictures of a wrecked bathroom off the Internet and produced a bogus bill for "pigeon wrangling, snake charming and an operetta" to back up his claims. J.B., an extra he met on the set of TNT cop drama Rizzoli and Isles, played the aggrieved parent. They agreed to split their take no matter who won.

J.B. claimed that Tarr's clown outfit consisted of a fedora and a Greek tragedy mask much too scary for a kid's party. Nor was the clown in any state to entertain. "He's covered in water, he had vomit on his shirt, the toilet was overflowing, there was a vodka bottle in the toilet," J.B. told the judge. "He says 'I'm sorry, I'm stoned.' "

Tarr attempted to excuse his tardiness. "I am color-blind and it was an ethnically diverse area," he told Brown. "So I started entertaining the wrong group of people. ... Not every star can shine every night."

The audience seemed confused about whether to laugh or nod sympathetically.

As the judge listed the damages, Tarr donned his scary clown outfit. "Take that thing off!" Brown barked, before ruling in J.B.'s favor and awarding him the show's maximum, $5,000.

"We're conditioned to believe," Joey Skaggs says. "We are raised on fantasies, from the tooth fairy to Santa Claus to miracles, and it's sad. I tell people who watch these shows, 'You know this is all bullshit,' and they always say, 'I don't care.' "

Nor do the producers themselves seem to care. Not a single show hoaxed by Tarr responded to interview requests for this story.

Tarr had taken several shots at The Bill Cunningham Show. He finally scored with a gold-digger character called "K.T.," who was living off of his rich girlfriend and cheating on the side. Through Facebook, he found comedian Cynthia Rudd to play his girlfriend. High school buddy J.C. Bates would play his sales manager, with whom Cynthia was cheating.

Cunningham is a 65-year-old radio host from Cincinnati. According to ratings giant the Nielsen Co., nearly 800,000 people watch his program daily. The show's promo claims it has "made a difference in the lives of viewers, helping them to resolve conflicts and mend relationships, while making viewers laugh and giving them hope."

Cunningham tapes at New York City's Penn Studios, a once-grand ballroom in the down-at-the-heels Hotel Pennsylvania on 34th Street. Audience members gather at 8:30 a.m. in a grimy hallway on the backside of the hotel. Most are tourists, but there are also regulars, walking in as if arriving for work. The audience is shuttled upstairs to a large, gloomy waiting area, where stale doughnuts and bad coffee sit morosely in a corner. Highlights of the show play on an endless loop.

After the usual crowd-exhorting and a lavish intro for Cunningham, Tarr, his hair moussed to a rooster's comb, sprawled on a chair next to Rudd, who wore a lavender blouse trimmed with fake fur.

In his phony Southern accent, Tarr made one ridiculous statement after another. He claimed that he ran whale-watching charters while also operating an escort service. "I'm a Hungarian Magyar gypsy," he told Cunningham. "I'm the one who teaches people how to do horse archery." The host showed no sign of skepticism.

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