Author Harmon Leon goes undercover at a UFO convention. Which fellow is Harmon? Exactly!

 

Round about 1995, I was managing a comedy club on Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. It was kind of a crappy job. I got to hang out with comedians, sure–but then they wanted me to pay them when they were done making jokes. As it happened, the owners were, to put it mildly, lunatic nutcase wacko tightwad freaks. They would, often, give me like four cents and some stale popcorn to divide among all the entertainers.

One night, this guy from San Francisco was performing and I eyed him suspiciously. I think it’s because he wanted us to actually fulfill our agreement to give him money just because he worked for us. So I wasn’t really nice to him. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was mean to him. But Leon Harmon, as exemplified in his writing–for Harmon is also a writer–is one patient and persistent mofo. Thus, he was kind to me despite my antics and we’ve been friends ever since. I’ve even had sex on his couch (but not with him.) And he’s taught my son that Abe Lincoln invented the cable cars in San Francisco.

Harmon has a new book out, called The Harmon Chronicles (ECW Press), a collection of some of his journalistic endeavors over the years. Harmon’s specialty is going undercover. He goes undercover as a graveyard-shift worker at Jack-in-the-Crack with the goal of getting fired within three hours. He goes undercover as a German pop singer begging for help from the Scientologists. He goes undercover as a scary kids’ clown. He interviews a naked sax player under the pretense that he, Harmon, is contemplating the formation of an all-nude band. He procures work as a telephone psychic. He goes undercover as an advocate for all things pineapple. He and his "family," the "Smunts," manage to get a chance to try out for The Family Feud. Author Neal Pollack goes so far as to say that The Harmon Chronicles is "The funniest book every published in Canada." It may very well be just that.

How did you get into the infiltration business?

After having a series of the worst-jobs-known-to-humanity, I decided to seek revenge by writing my first story, which was going out and trying to get fired from a fast-food restaurant within three hours. From that moment on, I figure that instead of having to work for "The Man," "The Man" will work for me!

Why does you think these things need to be infiltrated?

I just like to examine, question and dissect various sacred institutions of everyday life and try to make sense of them, usually while adopting a clever persona and disguise. I like to take aim at things we take for granted, but never question, like bad roommates or Christian ventriloquists. Usually I use a very stupid pseudonym like Dieter Lietershvantz, for I often portray a confused German man, being that people like to explain stuff to foreigners.

What would you most like to infiltrate and why?

I guess some high sector of the government or CIA in order to get a first-hand account of the intrinsic evils behind our country. Either that or a topless female pillowfight convention.

How accurate are your accounts–do you embellish them for the sake of humor?

My job is to tell the people the way it is and let them live vicariously through my exploits, enabling them to relive and see firsthand things they themselves would never dream of doing. There's neither embellishment or animals harmed in my exploits.

What do you do besides the infiltration schtick?

I collect ant farms. I also perform comedy, mostly at comedy festivals around the globe.

It sure is fun, easy, and lucrative getting a book published, isn't it?
Tell us about that experience.

Yes, very easy. I just took one of those courses from the Learning Annex and they told me all I needed to know. One week later, I had a book deal! (long pause) In reality, it was a fine testament to the art of patience. I went through four different literary agents, the first of which dates back to seven years ago. Despite the fact that my work had appeared in just about every damn magazine on the planet, and through the course of time, I had two different TV shows in development based on my stories with networks down in LA, the various lit agents got rejections from every single big publishing house in NY.

In the publishing business, they are, sadly, not really willing to take chances; they want a sure-fire thing. They want you, as a writer, to have some other tie-in, such as a TV cooking show, or regular role as a wrestler with the WWF, so they can be assured to make back their investment. Though a lot of houses liked my stuff, they said they sure how they could market it. Sadly, almost all comes down to being a business.

Fortunately, I came across my publishing company by researching other books that I thought had similar content. I think the head guy at the house wasn't keen on publishing the book at first, but the rest of the staff pestered him so much about it, he finally gave in.

You’ve done lots of traveling–Japan, England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Austin.
Where else?

I've also been to Modesto. Yeah, I travel a lot performing at comedy festivals around the world. I really love getting off a plane in a different country and within hours of that, being on stage and making a room full of foreigners laugh. I just got back from a month-long comedy tour of Ireland, and you can imagine how my liver feels. Ireland is the Amsterdam of drinking.

The best traveling gig I had was being an ad spokesman for a Coca-Cola product in the UK called Lilt. They would fly me to a different country every month, sometimes on a day's notice, and have me virtually write anything I wanted; all I needed to do was somehow include a pineapple in the story.

So how'd you get that gig?

I was writing a column for this British magazine called Sky and the powers of the corporation came across some of my stuff. One day, out of the blue I got a phone call that said "How would you like to travel all around the world on Coca Cola's money?" My answer, "Yes."

Did you feel like a big sellout to corporate America?

No. Because this was in the UK and we don't even get Lilt cola over here, thus no one at home knew what I was doing; they just knew I wasn't home a lot. So I guess I was selling out to corporate Britain.

Tell us about your pineapple ideas.
Did some work better than others did?

I went to the Cannes film festival and tried to seek promotion for my new movie The Big Pineapple, which would star Demi Moore and a loveable talking robot, who take a cross-country road trip in search of America, but most importantly, themselves.

I also went to the island of Ibizia, and pretended to be a French DJ named Po-Po and tried to promote a club that didn't exist. The pineapple was used in the promotion process.

Describe some zany examples of pop culture you've witnessed
in Modesto and other countries.

In the former Soviet Republic, it's really popular for kids to put skateboard wheels on old garden sheds and ride them through the streets. While in Switzerland it's very popular to dress like you work at a shoe store.

Finally, what have you learned about your fellow human
in the course of your infiltrations?

We live in an absurd world. Absurdity is out there–all one has to do is look for it. The daily rituals which people undertake, such as 9-5 wage-slave jobs, religions that make you pay lots of money, or how easy it is for a drunk, crazy person to buy a gun in America, need to be stirred up and questioned. I do that questioning.

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