It’s 2 a.m. and you can’t sleep. You reach for the remote control and the TV screen flickers to life. It’s almost certainly somebody selling something. Infomercial-land; a place where you can be rich, beautiful, successful and popular just by plonking down $19.95 in the next ten minutes. But wait, there’s more (there’s always more). Sometimes they throw in two for the price of one. Sometimes they give you add-on products or services, intended to have you scurrying for your plastic. A clear case of the triumph of hope over experience.
In the U.S., these infomercials are big business and the market is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s one of America’s most viral exports, now appearing in markets all over the world. They are screened in the wee small hours of the night and early morning when air time is cheap (and vulnerable insomniacs are at their weakest). Typically 15 to 30 minutes in length, they offer wonder products that will "give you what you deserve" and "change your life". And leave you poorer and no wiser. The claims are outrageously over the top. Make millions without doing much. Rub this cream into your face and look like a super model. Lose weight without diet or exercise. In your heart of hearts, you know it’s just too good to be true, but (sometimes) you buy it anyway.
Sometimes the product is creepy. Like the Comfort Wipe, a wand like device that you lock toilet paper into so you can “reach” in comfort. Then there is Rejuvinique, the spooky looking facial mask (that looks like a death mask) with electrical prods that “tone” the face. Linda Evans famously fronted the campaign. And what about the Boyfriend Body Pillow, shaped like a man’s chest and arm, that will snuggle you all night? Maybe that one is just a little sad.
But sometimes the infomercial is just downright hysterically funny, sometimes intentionally and sometimes without meaning to be. Can they truly be serious? Well, apparently.
10 Tiddy Bear
You put your seatbelt on and the strap goes over your chest. The infomercial pictures a woman writhing in agony, because (supposedly) the chest strap is squishing her boobs. The solution? “Tiddy Bear”! Get it? It’s a cute little bear that snuggles you in just the right spot, “making travel a pleasure again”. So they say. And the price? $14.95. And it’s buy one get one free. Hurry while supplies last... and last... and last.
The putter that’s a potty. Honestly. It’s a golf club with a screw off top and a hollow inside that gives you that emergency pit stop. Direct from the web site: “You’re playing 18 holes with your best buddies, drinking water, beer . . . You’re coming up to the 3rd hole with no rest room in sight. . . and you just have to go”. Take it into the bushes or be bold and stand in broad daylight camouflaged by the towel that hangs from your waist. No one will possibly be able to guess what you are up to. Or will they? If you hurry, you can enter their Father’s Day Contest and win one free.
8 Hawaii Chair
Also called “The Hula Chair”, this is a chair “that takes the work out of your workout”. Really. A 2,800 r.p.m. motor under the round seat makes it rotate, imitating a hula motion (and other motions come to mind as you watch the video). It works your abs and draws a crowd all at the same time. You can exercise, answer the phone, type, in short multi-task with a vengeance. This product was famously the basis of one of the most laugh-out-loud funny “Ellen” parodies of all time. Enjoy.
7 Potty Putter
You sit enthroned on the potty. Before, you might have read a magazine - but no more. With the Potty Putter, answer the call of nature and polish up your game, all at the same time. In front of you on the floor there's a rug that resembles a green with a target hole. Firmly grip the little putter and tap, tap, tap the little ball into the hole, once, twice, a thousand times. Spend the day in the toilet, annoying your friends and family. Potty Putter comes complete with a “Do Not Disturb” sign for the bathroom door. As Time said “The awkward part . . . comes once you realize that squatting on the actual green looks a little bizarre.”
6 6.Shake Weight for Men
Get in shape and look ridiculous at the same time. The piston like motion of this vibrating weight shakes up your work out and the 240 contractions per minute also make you look like you are “pleasuring yourself”. “In just 6 minutes a day, you'll get strong, toned, ripped arms and chest” says the web site. The longer you watch the people in the infomercial and see the expressions on their faces, the funnier it gets. And the price is a 'reasonable' $29.95. Buy two. Double the pleasure, double the fun.
5 Happy Hot Dog Man
Into your bland lunchtime world comes the Happy Hot Dog Man. Take a lowly hot dog wiener and reshape it into a smiling man-like creature. Loads of fun for the entire family. Turn your wiener into an edible toy. Get mom and dad in on the fun. Paint on hair with the mustard and add red ketchup buttons down the front. Also known as the FrankFormer, this little plastic, Made In America wonder is dishwasher safe and comes in a choice of colors (Mustard Yellow and Ketchup Red). $10.99 each.
4 GLH-9 (Great Looking Hair)
Ron Popeil founded Ronco, the company that brought you Veg-O-Matic and Pocket Fisherman. GLH (Great Looking Hair) is spray paint for your bald spot - need we say more? And is it any wonder that Ronco went bankrupt in 2007?
3 Cheers to You
If you didn’t know better, you could be excused for thinking this infomercial is a parody of self-improvement systems everywhere. A guy sits listening to an enthusiastic cheerleading voice telling him how great he is. He smiles and raises his arms in the victory salute. A grating male voice, egged on by canned applause and cheers, tells you “Don’t give up,” “You can do it”. Get the CD for $16.95, or the download is a bargain at $9.95.
2 Chatty Patty
This is a toss up between the most irritating infomercial of all time and the funniest. Patty is a plastic animatronic parrot that contains a tiny recording device that “parrots” your last words. “You’ll have so much fun, you’ll laugh all day”, especially when you watch the infomercial...
Tony Little is a notably ripped guy with a frizzy blonde ponytail. The Gazelle is his baby, a gliding machine that is a kind of elliptical. Some have called his infomercials hilarious. Some have called them soft core adult entertainment. Shots of female behinds, Tony shouting an orgasmic “Oh yeah” again and again as he frantically flails his arms and moves his legs back and forth. And then there's the shot of Tony suggestively riding the Gazelle behind his smiling female presenter (tilting for emphasis). It’s an exercise machine with sex thrown in.