We’ve all seen scam emails since the dawn of email, but what happens when a comedian decides to scam them back? That’s the bright idea behind much of James Veitch’s HBO Max debut, which despite its title, did not go Straight to VHS.
The Gist: The full title of his debut HBO Max comedy special is Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco Presents James Veitch: Straight to VHS.
But the truth is, Veitch is British comedian who delivered three mega-successful TED Talks (ranging in views from 22 million to 56 million each) before he ever made his first TV appearance on Conan three years ago. Either way, his shtick remains the same. Veitch loves taking a mistaken email or a scam attempt, and turning into an improvised comedy experience that he can later tell us all about.
He even delivers a don’t-try-this-at-home warning of sorts, saying: “I want to make one thing very clear: You should never reply to an email that’s not meant for you. You shouldn’t do it. You should just let the people know that they made a mistake and delete the email.”
Unless you’re Veitch.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: One of my colleagues here on Decider compared Veitch to John Mulaney, and specifically his old “Salt & Pepper Diner” story. Which makes sense, because Mulaney was just a kid in that bit, and Veitch’s comedy represents a digital evolution of a long-running thread in prankster traditions, so think of this as an online version of The Jerky Boys perhaps, with more pretentious British sensibility.
Memorable Jokes: Because his comedy relies on recounting email correspondence, it’s very visual and therefore perhaps more likely for one or more of the stories to stick with you.
Those visuals include email exchanges with the Kinder Surprise company, a local hair salon, and a swimming pool contractor who sent blueprints to the wrong Veitch, as well as a televised comeuppance for the comedian at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. So yes, sometimes the joke is on him.
What happens when scammers try to scam him? Veitch has a plan for that, too.
About the only thing he hasn’t figured out is what to do when his targets realize they’re in on the joke.
All of this is broken up by three short films placing Veitch in contemporary real-life situations with outdated tech, as well as a montage that opens the hour narrated by the comedian in which he mocks the nature of his belabored behind-the-scenes preparation.
Our Take: “I don’t think I’m meant to be an adult,” he admits after his first tale of email pranking.
Perhaps. But sometimes a childlike or even juvenile outlook is what’s necessary to endure an onslaught of junk, spam or bureaucratic red tape. We live in an era where every corporation, no matter how large or small, follows up every purchase with emails to take surveys or render our own reviews. Veitch takes that aesthetic of “Your feedback is really important to us” and calls their bluff for comedic effect.
Our Call: STREAM IT. As I get older, prank comedy holds less and less appeal to me. But your experience may vary depending upon your own maturity. And I know there’s a lot of you out there.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.