Remembering Billy Mays
It would seem appropriate to say that this month is pretty shitty in terms of celebrity deaths what with Farrah Fawcett being claimed by cancer and Michael Jackson being anticlimactically taken down by heart failure (I was personally expecting him to go insane and literally explode or at least have his hair catch on fire again). Amongst the chaos the demon hands of the Grim Reaper bitchslapped American infomercial star and co-host of Discovery Channel’s Pitchmen Billy Mays.
Say what you will about Billy Mays being an actual “star” but personally I loved the guy and I am known to pretty much dislike everyone and make fun of them at their collective expense. When he first debuted on television with that god-awful OxyClean commercial I couldn’t stand him, dare I say I “fucking hated” Billy Mays – yes, I hated Billy Mays. Every single time his goddamned OxyClean commercial came on I literally wished it would be the one where he dropped dead in the middle of the show. I was tired of seeing him do that stupid fucking trick where he turned the Taco Bell diarrhea brown water into an opaque white substance akin to a jar of horse semen full of clothes. Much like that retarded trick where you make a quarter disappear inside of a plastic case with a sliding door it lost its effect about half way through the first demonstration.
Then something happened. I was watching television one day and I heard that familiar “HI BILLY MAYS HERE FOR” sentence, but instead of it being finished with “OxyClean” it was “Orange Glo”. I looked up from what I was doing to pay attention. Billy Mays had bragged about OxyClean for so fucking long that now I was genuinely interested in what the hell Orange Glo actually was. Was it like Soul Glo? Was it some kind of an energy drink? Maybe it was a really badass substance that gave you superpowers, either way I was ready to hear about it. It turns out all Orange Glo ended up being was some stupid floor cleaner that could get spots off of just about anything you sprayed it on. How it managed to not just eat through the plastic bottle was beyond my understanding but at least now whenever Billy Mays would show up on TV there’d be approximately a 50% chance that you’d get to see him scribble a turd on a piece of finished wood with a black grease crayon and make it magically disappear while making your house smell like citrus fruit at the same time.
Things only got weirder from there even though it doesn’t seem possible. Billy Mays became the spokesperson for whatever fucking retarded gadget or miracle cleaner that was shat out for $19.95 and he made it seem like it was the best fucking thing this side of sliced bread. If I had a credit card during Billy Mays’ heyday in television advertising I’d have so many useless fucking portable lights and tubs of OxyClean that I could solve the world’s energy crisis if it were possible to condense them into a makeshift fossil fuel. Mays eventually stepped out of his circle of comfort by demonstrating and supporting this piece of plastic called a Ding King. It looked like a shitty dollar store tool used to keep wine fresh but in reality it was a magical little suction cup that fixed dents in your car. Turns out it was only because you used a hot glue gun (don’t try and fool me with “magic Ding King serum of goody make boo boo all better juice”) to affix a piece of plastic to your car’s door and then pulled it back into place. Regardless, it seemed that Mays just about shit himself in glee every time that resounding “thud” let us know that the door had been fixed. I was sold; he had me at “HI”.
If you haven’t guessed by now, this is an article about all of the fond memories I have about watching Billy Mays make sales of gimmicky infomercial crap go so high that if they were RIAA certified albums Michael Jackson would have to literally get his ass out of his grave and reenact Thriller to stay competitive. Billy Mays came a long way from merely screaming at the top of his lungs about OxyClean at three in the morning; for me he was now pretty much on par with watching decent sketch comedy when I should otherwise be seeing a commercial for a potato peeler with fourteen blades or something. He was like a show within a show and if Turner Broadcasting is listening I think making a 30 minute block of Billy Mays commercials and naming it “The Best Fucking Show on Television” would fit nicely in their Adult Swim programming block. They could stick it right after that Tim and Eric show and no one would probably even notice the change.
In my eyes Billy Mays really became a commodity of good television programming when he began touting the Awesome Auger. The thing was basically a pool cue with a blade on the end of it that you stuck onto a cordless power drill; the fact that the creators had the tenacity to name it “awesome” was proof enough that they weren’t here to fuck around. It was the most ridiculous looking shit ever but in between shots of old people fake-breaking their backs pulling weeds we got to see Billy Mays wield that thing so fucking awesomely that if there was a dragon nearby it would shit its pants and run. Billy Mays was fucking weeds up so hardcore with that thing you’d have thought he got a chubby from tearing up all of that chlorophyll.
If you didn’t believe that Billy Mays could sell anything then I’m sure you changed your mind when you saw the commercial for the Hercules Hooks. The entire idea for the product can be described as “cutting the top of a coat hanger off”. That’s it. It’s just a piece of metal bent in a loop that you stick in the wall through the sheetrock. How it manages to not completely rip out the wall and inspire Tim Allen to make a 47th season of Home Improvement is beyond me but Billy Mays found a way to make you disregard the integrity of the walls of your house because he could afford to literally fill the bed of your truck with the things for a little under twenty bucks. Billy Mays gave a big “fuck you” to the hooker-beating stylings of “Vince from ShamWow” by 1-upping him with Zorbeez and even demonstrated how sports goes directly into your computer via ESPN 360. Mays told us our flipping, flopping, squishing, and squashing days would be over with the likes of the Big City Slider press in our kitchens. He even sat us down for a serious (but still loud as all holy fuck) talk about life insurance. No rapper had anything on the Billster, because he could rhyme “dump truck” with “medical catheter” if it meant selling fifty of something to you for a Jefferson (plus shipping and handling).
The wildest moment in Mays’ career, however, came with the demonstration of Mighty Putty which a substance akin to PlayDoh that somehow bonds to anything with the power to reach herpes levels of inseparability. Billy couldn’t explain the science of it to you (nor could the radical 3D rendering of animated mushy clay) but rest assured he’d scream and yell at you until you bought it. If you weren’t a believer after seeing Billy Mays scream a leaky cup and pipe to death while applying gratuitous amounts of Mighty Putty to them then you were sold when he started dry humping a truck towing another truck with Mighty Fucking Putty. Normally you’d think that a truck built for transporting houses being pulled by a stick of magic PlayDoh would be enough but not for Billy “Motherfucking” Mays. In an episode of Pitchmen Billy was on the set of the sequel to the Mighty Putty commercial and much like a real theatrical movie sequel the company pulled out all of the stops here. For Mighty Putty Wood they hung Billy Mays from a tiny-ass swing while a tugboat towed the entire fucking ship that Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed on. They did this with only two paddles, some chain, and God knows how many sticks of Mighty Putty Wood.
Many television personalities have their own stupid catchphrases to get you to remember their products. The Video Professor guy almost begs you to try his product and with his sheepish voice you’d think his company was about to go under. The tone of his voice doesn’t say “try my product”, it says “oh my god my house was foreclosed on and my wife left me please buy my back stock of PowerPoint CDs or I will hang myself”. Taking a step further into the scale of catchy phrases the Ronco knives managed to drill the phrase “slices and dices” into your skull while they cut everything from pineapples to shoes in midair with their blades stolen directly from the popular Japanese story “99 Samurais and The Room of Pineapples and Shoes”. Billy Mays didn’t need a retarded slogan or a gimmick to sell you his product, his catchphrase was his fucking name and when you heard it you damn well knew to shut the fuck up and pay attention because Billy Mays was about to blow your primitive mind with a new invention that made an inane and easy task even that much more obsolete.
Perhaps Billy Mays wasn’t cast in a popular action show in the 1960’s or wrote songs that sold more copies than there are people working in the tech support departmt for Dell, but god damn it Billy Mays was a television legend whether you choose to accept it or not. His friends and coworkers reported his pleasant demeanor on and off the camera and in a world where some people sell shitty German made chamois cloths while punching hookers off camera one can only think we need more people like Billy Mays filling advertising timeslots on TV. His voice was every aspiring Chinese factory line company’s wet dream come true but everybody buying his products didn’t care, because Billy Mays somehow worked with the only magical factory in China capable of making PlayDoh that could pull a ship and shelf-mounting hooks that defied all laws of gravity and physics.
For a guy whose fortune was built merely on the ability for him to probably out-yell Sam Kinison while selling products on TV he left behind a pair of shoes that nobody will soon fill, not even the fancy-voiced Anthony Sullivan. Godspeed, Billy Mays. Godspeed.
Update: It seems from a post on the GatorAIDS forum that this article has worked its way to Billy Mays III (his son) and the Mays and Sullivan families. Billy, your dad was one hell of a guy and a role model that a lot of people should subscribe to. He worked for everything he had and gave with an open heart until the day he died. I wish the best for you and your family.