Originally posted January 19, 2009
I’d like to talk to you about a man whom I’ve dubbed “Headset Vince”. He’s the guy from the ShamWow commercials. He wears a headset for reasons no one other than Vince can understand… maybe he’s expecting a phone call? From his agent offering him a better gig? Maybe his mom is calling to tell him that Stella from Bingo saw him on the teevee? I don’t know. What I do know is that this guy is someone who I, until now, felt the need to mock at any and every conceivable opportunity.
Headset Vince is actually a guy named Vince Offer. It sounds like he should be a cartoon bear-dog hybrid drawn onto the corners of coupons you get in the mail, but he is not a cartoon. In real life, Vince was an aspiring filmmaker – not a very good one, but his lack of filmwriting, directing, and acting skills were not about to hold him back from a career making talkies for the big screen. And yet, you notice I’m using the past tense. He was an aspiring filmmaker… but now he wears a headset in TV commercials and makes you feel like a dick for not already owning German-made spongetowels. So what happened?
The Church of Scientology happened.
Vince is the writer/producer/director/star of the film Underground Comedy Movie. When he began making the movie, he was a relatively new convert to the Scientology. He used his connections within the CoS’s “Celebrity Center International”, a group within the church for artist networking, to cast his film. He managed to muscle up some big A-list names like Slash from Guns n Roses, Ant, a couple of budding soft-core porn stars and Joey Buttafucco. (Being new, I guess he didn’t have access to the Xenu VIP Casting Suite where Travolta and Cruise hang out.)
The movie was intended to be hilarious and offensive. Unfortunately for Vince, the CoS (along with pretty much everyone who’s ever logged on to RottenTomatoes.com) only found it to be the latter. The CoS was so embarrassed that one of their members made a movie so offensive (and awful), they went all 8th-grade popular girl on his ass – shaming, embarrassing and shunning him out of the cool clique of Scientology.
In a normal church your pastor or minister might pull you aside and say, “I think we need to talk about the content of your film. I’m a little concerned it’s not in line with the teachings of our faith. I fear you’re violating [our religion]ism’s doctrine with some of the language and imagery in your film.” And you may decide to chat about it or you may decide to spit in your pastor’s face and head downstairs for pancakes. Either way, the church is expected to act with some amount of grown-up non-dickery.
In the Church of Scientology, the MO is passive-aggression, threats and coersion. Instead of taking the time to talk to Vince, and telling him that perhaps he needs to make a decision between the church and his terrible movie, they chose to push him out by turning the CoS community against him.
Vince says CoS officials stole clips from unedited film footage, added their own sass and passed it around the community as the first act in an elaborate smear campaign against him. They then coerced statements from other members of the church, threatening to “fair game” anyone who refused, declaring them them to be SPs (Suppressive Person, an apostate and enemy of the CoS) for not cooperating.
Statements and evidence were “collected” and the CoS charged Vince with 23 crimes against Scientology, and he was forced to stand trial in Scientology Court. Which is kind of like Night Court, but without the hilarious bailiff, sexual innuendo, and the ability to walk away without fearing for your life… oh yeah, and at least one of the judges is still in junior high. Vince was found guilty on all charges without being able to mount a defense, mostly because he was never told what the charges were.
After being found guilty, Vince was considered a criminal. He was still “welcome” to be a member of the church – in the same way that you’re still “welcome” to have cake at your best friend’s wedding after you just mentioned in your drunken toast that you nailed the bride the night before they got engaged.
Unfortunately for Vince, as is the case with cults, by this time he had left behind his entire life for Scientology. Everyone in his life was a part of the Church. He was still in the process of making his movie, and he was funding it through a business he started – a business that relied on his Scientology connections. He had dozens of sales reps working for him, all of them Scientologists. His clients – Scientologists. His friends were Scientologists. He had nothing left.
He appealed his conviction, and CoS overturned it. They admitted that the entire case against him was nothing more than a smear campaign and that it was unfair he was never informed of the charges against him. But it was too late. The damage was done, and while the conviction was overturned, he never received an apology or reparations. In other words, they said, “Oh that conviction shouldn’t have happened. We totally lied about everything, used fake evidence against you and generally ran the proceedings in a manner that was the complete opposite of ethical. But we didn’t do anything wrong. We’re not sorry. And it’s not up to us to make amends to you. Quit crying and go take some vitamins or something.”
Vince’s business was still bust. His friends were still gone. His network was destroyed. He was still an outcast in his Church (though I have a feeling he wasn’t interetested in returning at this point). He was on his own and completely broke. He finally f0und a job, not a great one, but a job nonetheless. He started selling vegetable choppers.
Turns out, he’s really good at selling vegetable choppers. He got promoted and started selling them at flea markets. He grew a sales team underneath him, and he eventually made enough money to finish his movie and put together an infomercial for it, released it on basic cable and DVD, selling over 100,000 copies.
And his unique sales style landed him Billy Mays’ job.
The next Deniro he’s not, but he’s certainly managed to turn things around for himself. If only other cult refugees could do as well.
But Vince isn’t just accepting that this is what the universe had planned for him. He’s not just moving on and leaving the whole CoS ugliness behind him. He’s fighting them. In fact, fighting the Church of Scientology is his new life’s mission.
He filed suit against them in 2004 for ruining his movie, his life, his business, and being dickholes. I couldn’t find any information on the outcome of this lawsuit, but according to ESPN, Vince is still fighting the good fight. And he is using every dime he makes from selling ShamWows and SlapChop as well as all the proceeds from Underground Comedy to fight them.
Taking on Scientology is one of the bravest things a former member can do. The Church doesn’t take kindly to dissent. Though they claim that fair game is no longer a Scientologist policy, there are plenty of stories to indicate that fair game is still alive and well, if technically “unofficial”.
My guess is that this probably is the last we’ll ever hear of Headset Vince’s fight against Scientology. But if I can drop $20 on towels that could save me and my shag carpet in the event of a Fresca tsunami, and at the same time help fund one guy’s shot at taking down the bad guys, it’s worth it.
So go, right now, and buy your ShamWows. Get your SlapChop. Buy what is arguably the worst movie ever made. Do it for the good guys. Do it for the little guys. Do it for skepticism. Do it for Vince.