The Other Merry Pranksters

Sixties duo Coyle and Sharp revisited

Eventually things looked as though they were going to turn around for Coyle and Sharpe, when they landed a recording contract with Warner Bros. in the Sixties, and released their first album, The Absurd Imposters.

"The record came out, and we thought we were going to make a million dollars," Sharpe explains. "We had this chart on my kitchen door that started at zero and went up to like 13 million records and how much money we would make. We only sold 13,000 records. We got $500, and Coyle immediately lost his check in the lobby of the Fillmore Hotel." Soon after, though, things really did turn around for the team. A radio station in San Francisco, KGO-AM, offered them an on-air slot doing more of the same kind of put-ons that they had been staging on their own. "A lot of people thought we were really annoying. There were people who loved us -- mostly they were fourteen-year-old sick little kids -- and then, of course, there were people who thought we were just torturing people."

Coyle and Sharpe performed literally hundreds of put-ons over the air, trying to convince people to jump off buildings, bury themselves alive, and wrestle in an underground pit with snakes and bats. The show was fabulously popular for a few years, and a television pilot was developed. Then Coyle faked his death. According to legend he quit the radio show to work for NASA, where he later died in a space shuttle mishap. Assorted newspaper articles tell other stories. One has him dying while digging a tunnel under Barcelona. Another has him starting a parachute store and eventually dying in an unsuccessful jump from an airplane. The truth is that Coyle became interested in Buddhism years before it was fashionable and went to live in a monastery in Sri Lanka. To this day he remains at the monastery, where he has become an abbot. Ironically the man who challenged the reality of the people around him with a barrage of words has since taken a vow of silence.

The man on the street was the comedic meat for Sixties duo Coyle and Sharpe
The man on the street was the comedic meat for Sixties duo Coyle and Sharpe

"He does get information to me once in a while, and sometimes he conveys to me ways that he would like to be remembered having died," Sharpe says. "I think it is funny to see all these newspaper articles and read the different stories that have been told about his death."

Fake deaths aside, Sharpe admits he couldn't have done the things he did without Coyle, whose knack for a good prank is rivaled only by the late Andy Kaufman. "I met Andy Kaufman in the Seventies," Sharpe recalls. "He definitely knew our stuff and really liked it. I have to say that Andy reminded me a lot of Jim Coyle. They both had this ability to carry something through, to get a look on their face that was almost frightening. It was like, 'I'm not kidding; I really am a werewolf.'"

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