When Jeff Wysaski of Obvious Plant puts up one of his creations, he does not stick around to see the reactions. When he’s on a job, leaving fake signs and objects in his gym, at IKEA, in book stores, in chain stores, on the street or at a museum, he tries to be sneaky. Once the deed is done, “I run away as fast as possible,” he says.
Since January, Wysaski, a Los Angeles comedy writer who runs the website Pleated Jeans, has been planting jokes in the real world. They are delightful breaks in the world’s mundanity, like the Donald Trump pamphlet at the doctor’s office…
…a fridge that totally does NOT have bats in it…
…or the business that’s very flexible about payment options.
“The joy for me is not seeing someone discover it. The joy is knowing that it’s there for people to discover,” Wysaski says. “I want them to find something extraordinary in an ordinary place.”
He got started on this particular project after losing interest in the web comics and other forms of internet humor he’d been pursuing. He’d put up funny signs before, and it happened that, around this time, ideas for jokes in public places started flooding his brain. For the first plant that he characterizes as “a little more adventurous,” he paid $20 or $30 to have a legitimate-looking sign made up, listing rules for a park.
He stuck it in the ground at the park near his house:
The reaction to that sign, when he posted the photo on the web, convinced him that this was a genre worth exploring. Soon, he was crafting one or two plants a week and has executed more than 70 so far this year. And, yes, he leaves them up. And, no, they’re not photoshopped.
Some are simple signs, but others are much, much more elaborate. One of his favorite but most time-intensive projects involved writing fake book covers—front, back and inside flaps—and planting them in an actual bookstore. Making the covers took 20 to 30 hours, but it was worth it. After some Obvious Plant fans found the store, went to take pictures and pointed the books out to the store’s employees, the books were displayed prominently, at asking prices of tens of thousands of dollars.
The first couple of times that Wysaski went into a public space to plant a joke, he was nervous and kept looking around, for someone to stop him. But soon he realized that everyone around him was just going about their day, unconcerned with whatever he was up to.
“It’s amazing how inattentive people are,” he says. “No one is expecting someone to go into a store and put up fake signs. I’ve done it in front of employees, and they don’t notice.”
Occasionally, too, his plants will stay up for longer than one might expect. A fake hiring sign he put up in Best Buy was there for three whole months.
Right now, Obvious Plant is a local phenomenon, broadcast to the world via Tumblr and Facebook. Most of the plants were placed somewhere within a five-mile radius of Wysaski’s house. He’ll go into stores and look for something mundane, maybe a type of sign that can be replicated, so that from a distance his plant will look like it belongs. The best spots for plants, he says, are very ordinary places where he can put something exceptional.
“You go to a grocery store, weekly, or several times a month. It’s drudgery,” he says. “You’re not prepared to be confronted with something that you’re not expecting.”
Soon, he might try capturing the moments when people find his plants. “There are certain ideas I have that would provoke more interesting responses,” he says. “I can’t really discuss it right now. We’ll say… in the future there may be opportunity to see people’s reactions.”