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Guest Bloggers: The Abels

May 11th, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

Media prankster Alan Abel has pulled one over on everyone from the studio audience of the Morton Downey Jr. Show to Walter Cronkite and The New York Times, taking a provocative stance on absurd campaigns that range from a crusade to clothe nude animals to a ban on breastfeeding. In Abel Raises Cain, filmmaker Jenny Abel offers an engaging, one-of-a-kind history of her father’s past. Hulu recently spoke to the Abels in a phone interview (you can find the interview here), but they share more insight with us here in the Hulu blog. Take a look, and share your questions for the Abels here in the blog’s comments area. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor

From Jenny Abel, Producer/Co-Director, Abel Raises Cain:
Growing up with two media pranksters for parents could have easily set the stage for a dysfunctional upbringing. But aside from the creepy black mask my dad occasionally wore on TV, the strange aliases my parents assumed, and the bizarre props cluttering our backyard, everything else was pretty normal for me … except for when I had to explain to the other kids in school what my dad did for a living. Even as an adult, my dad and his professional hoaxing ‘career’ remains somewhat of an enigma to me.

Who IS the real Alan Abel? When we sat him down to do interviews for the film, he would tell the same story slightly differently every time. It’s sometimes difficult to know when he’s being serious, when he’s kidding, or when he’s just exaggerating the truth. It goes without saying that he’s imaginative and an intriguing storyteller. After all, he has spent the last 50 years creating fanciful campaigns and pulling off elaborate media stunts. But there’s a secret switch somewhere inside of him. Once he goes into character and turns on that deadpan, you end up getting caught up in his “performance” and believing every word he utters, no matter how ridiculous his rants are. It’s difficult to explain — you kind of just have to experience it for yourself.

So where does the reality end and the fiction begin for my father? It’s hard to say, but I guess that’s part of the fun of being around Alan Abel and getting to know him. When I started working on the documentary over a decade ago, I wanted people to see the two sides of my father that I grew up knowing — the gentle, loving family man and the slightly deranged professional hoaxer. One of the reasons I made the film was because my dad was misunderstood by people and too often dismissed as a scam artist or a complete lunatic. Although his hoaxes can be a little controversial, he’s not an impostor in the criminal sense. And he’s never done anything to hurt anyone. He might be toying with peoples’ emotions, but it’s always in the spirit of satire and fun. And usually, there is a deeper underlying purpose to his pranks.

It seemed to make the most sense then, when my boyfriend and I began editing Abel Raises Cain together, that we create a documentary where the end result would not only be a tribute to my dad and his pranks, but told in a style that mimicked his unpredictable nature and emphasized the nebulous void where the characters supposedly end and my father’s “real” persona begins. So while I don’t over-analyze my dad’s motives or provide all of the answers, I hope everyone enjoys the end result — a bittersweet yet funny story about growing up with two strange but seemingly normal parents who spent a lifetime pulling outlandish pranks, told through my perspective, which was … never knowing WHAT to believe.

The Abels

From Alan Abel, Media Hoaxer and subject of the documentary, Abel Raises Cain:
Standing in the back of the crowded theater at the Slamdance Film Festival and hearing the announcement, “The Best Documentary goes to Abel Raises Cain,” was one of the highlights of my life. Second only to marrying Jeanne and the arrival of Jennifer, our daughter. Jennifer made the film over a period of eight years, quitting her job to finish editing it along with boyfriend, Jeff Hockett. Her persistence and tenacity has brought the film to festivals around the world where it’s won more awards. Its success has made us proud as well as embarrassed us along the way. With camera ever at the ready, she got me in my underwear. And her Mother at her most perverted. We’re thinking of making a documentary on Jennifer in retaliation. We’ll call it “Daughter Dearest.”

Feeling the need to be a good parent, and looking for ways to bond with our one and only, we tried to include her in our activities as much as possible when she was a child. When Jennifer was about 18 months old, Jeanne let me take her along on a trip to Syracuse where I was to speak to students at the university. Nearing the end of my speech, I introduced her to the audience. She toddled onto the stage and froze when she saw all those people looking at her. I said, “Jennifer, do something.” Jennifer squatted, grimaced and grunted and filled her diaper. The audience cheered and applauded. And she smiled, quite proud of herself.

I’m sorry, dear Jennifer, if you were frightened by that black hood I wore for many of my charades. My intention was to avoid being recognized by reporters whom I’d been hoodwinking for so many years with all sorts of hoaxes: The Society to Clothe Naked Animals, The Ku Klux Klan Symphony, The School for Panhandlers, etc. A reporter from Reuters stopped me on the street in New York not long ago and asked, “Aren’t you ever going to quit?” He had fallen for my fake “Euthanasia Cruises” and wrote a sardonic story about “The Last Supper,” the alleged name of the ship that took suicidal people out to sea for a final trip down the slide to Davy Jones’ Locker. I said, “No, I don’t think so.” I’m going to keep bamboozling. Gotta keep challenging the status quo and prejudices everywhere. Got to stir up the indifferent and mix up the media.

Remember, Jennifer, it was your Dad who introduced you to Jeff. Jeff knocked on my hotel door to video tape a confession I was going to make after I fooled CNN into believing I was a pet plastic surgeon who could change a dog’s face to look like the owner’s. When I got to know Jeff and his sense of humor, I knew you two should meet.

Through fun and turmoil, Jeanne and I have weathered 50 years of marriage. And we’ve never had a really serious argument. We always support one another. When she wanted to visit Paris, and we couldn’t afford it, Jeanne settled for a French kiss. She can’t claim innocence in my hoaxes, she’s been my cohort in most. And I in hers, when she ran for President of the United States as the Jewish mother candidate, Yetta Bronstein.

We’re proud of Jennifer and Jeff for all that they put into Abel Raises Cain and we feel they have truly captured our lives. In past years others wanted to tackle this feat, but none of them could “find the hook.” Jenny and Jeff found it and we’re grateful to witness the glowing reviews and standing ovations.

Last comment: Aug 7th 2015 12 Comments
  • Ralph says:

    Great stuff, I know i must have seen you on TV many times. I wish you and your family the best !
    And thank you.

  • the Prisoner says:

    Ban kneeling in church, it hurts your knees!

  • Jenny Abel says:

    Jimmy, I’m so glad that you stopped late-night wrestling long enough to become engrossed in our documentary! Thanks for all of your kind words about my dad. I don’t think I’m going to grow up to be a prankster, but since I have my father’s genes, I WILL be an eternal ham.

    Thank you, Seikojin, for the compliment! And Deb, I’m so happy to hear that your hair-eating nightmares are finally over.

    Thomas, please email my dad directly if you haven’t already. You can find his email address on our site’s home page @ http://abelraisescain.com.

    To Dave…YES, we have future plans to release both of my parent’s films “Is There Sex After Death?” and “Faking of the President” on DVD as well as my dad’s music from the documentary. If you join our mailing list, you’ll be the first to know!

  • Dan Lorenzo says:

    Absolutely the best show I ever seen. Your Dad rocks and lucky you for having him in your life.

  • Deb says:

    that was such a blast seeing those characters again and finally getting to know the man behind them. I remember as a kid seeing the “guy who eats hair” and up until an hour ago would still occasionally shiver from the memory — thank you for finally clearing that out of my head. I’ll be looking out for something big and outrageous to come

  • Thomas Michael McNulty says:

    Is it possible to meet with your Dad?
    I am an NYU Grad with a script about two friends who pull a hoax. It’s a black comedy… I’d like your dad’s input and participation.

    I have worked on David Spade films… my material has been on Stern, letterman, Man Show, Mr. Show and SN L – I would be honored to meet Mr. Abel

  • Carol says:

    Will hulu be available in the near future on roku? Hulu would make a great addition. Thanks!

  • Are their plans to release your movies, “Is there Sex After Death” and “The Faking of the President” on dvd? I’d really like to check them out and better yet, since I’m broke, could you put them on HULU?

    I also enjoyed the music in the movie and thought it was really cool that it was all your music. Do you have CDs out or website that people can download your music?

  • Jimmy Little says:

    I stumbled on this movie at around 4am after a few drinks and wrestling with my girlfriend and it just sparked my interest so much that it is now 6am and I just feel the need to leave a comment.

    To Alan:
    I don’t know how to really express my thoughts completely about you as a man or your work, but if I were asked to sum it all up as quickly as I could I would say that you, in my book, are a hero to humanity. I have a huge respect for you and wish I had known about you sooner but am glad I saw this in time to personally leave a message. A true artist and a man of my own heart (though the scale of my jokes is enourmously smaller due to my general laziness lol). You truely are a force of good karma and joyful childishness in a world thats become so dark and adult :)

    To Jenifer:
    Thank you to you and your boyfriend for taking the time to make this film. It must have been a trial and a joy to grow up with the family you had and I hope that this documentary brings you all kinds of good fortune… you ever think of pulling a hoax yourself?

  • Seikojin says:

    I remember seeing the headlines for many of the later pranks pulled; like the ban against breast feeding and the suicide cruises. I laughed voraciously at them (like I do to most news headlines now). Knowing the finesse and detail in the pranks makes them all the more powerful and epic.
    The film was very good. It definitely shows how powerful words and determination can be.

  • […] The interview is below, but you can also check out the Abels’ guest blog entry for Hulu (http://blog.hulu.com/2009/05/11/guest-bloggers-the-abels/) — Rebecca Harper, […]

  • Paul Perrier says:

    Fantastic Family Film !!!