Whoops – the most disgusting laff getter!
U.S.-made fake vomit takes the cake
The building holds a secret.
A vile and totally eeeewwwww secret, one that brings together 12-year-olds and 12-year-olds at heart.
From the outside, it is another two-story brick warehouse on Chicago’s West Side. Step inside, and visitors return to a certain back-of-the-comic-books kind of American childhood.
The secret is this: It’s the world capital of fake vomit where it’s still made the old-fashioned American way, ladle by ladle, formed and coagulated for the next generation of pranksters and troublemakers.
Helping put the ick in America since 1941, Fun Inc. is a repository of practical jokes, magic tricks and gag items — from chattering teeth to hot pepper gum, oversize sunglasses to oversize toothbrushes to oversize anything. The building, near Grand and Major avenues in the industrial Hansen Park neighborhood of Chicago, is where springs were once manufactured and, later, Cracker Jack prizes.
Guests walking into the office of Fun Inc. President Graham Putnam might expect to be greeted by a joy-buzzer handshake or a whoopee cushion planted beneath a chair seat. But it is surprisingly bare bones, a room he shares with his wife, Kathryn, the company’s corporate secretary, and a clutter of paperwork and faux wood paneling. Fake vomit, it turns out, is serious business.
Especially at a time when the American fake vomit business is not what it used to be: In the 1960s, upward of more than 60,000 fake vomits were produced annually. These days, Fun Inc. brews up the recipe only a few times a year, making around 7,000 latex barfs annually, as tourist gift shops and joke stores look overseas for cheaper versions (though for $15 a dozen wholesale, Fun Inc.’s prank puke is still a heck of a deal).
Still, Putnam proudly pointed out, "It’s the best vomit on the market."
Set your eyes on Fun Inc.’s 5-inch disc of latex and colored foam, marketed as "Whoops — The Most Disgusting Laff Getter," and savor the realism: It is amber-colored and translucent, with tiny bubbles. The texture is soft and sturdy, pliable and complex, with ridges of multihued solid chunks looking like a jagged lunar landscape. It is, the package suggests, perfect for the bathroom, refrigerator, auto seat or sidewalk. And what other fake vomit comes with this suggestion: "Sprinkle with water to make it look more realistic"?
Fake vomit’s pop-cultural significance earned it a reference on "The Simpsons" during Season 4 in the "Last Exit to Springfield episode. Nuclear plant owner Mr. Burns shuts off power to the city. When he turns it back on, production at Fake Vomit Inc. resumes. Mechanized fake vomit machine squirts; workers rejoice.
"What is the greatest gag of all time? This is it. It is literally a gag item because people react with a sympathetic real gag," said Erick Erickson, a toy historian and former toy designer at Chicago-based Marvin Glass & Associates.
"It’s as gross and vile as you can imagine. It’s flawlessly convincing. You can’t name one that’s better."
Although fake vomit is immersed deep enough in the pop-culture zeitgeist to warrant its own Wikipedia entry, its ambiguous history exists only in tales passed around factory floors.
One version goes like this: Sometime in the late 1950s or early ’60s, an employee of Marvin Glass, the Chicago toy inventor of the "Operation" and "Mouse Trap games, pitched the idea of latex and foam for fake vomit. Glass thought the idea was disgusting. Then during a meeting with H. Fishlove & Co., a local novelty gag company, the designer barged into the meeting room and slapped the fake vomit onto the table. The representative from H. Fishlove & Co. laughed hysterically, and Glass thought the idea was disgusting no more.
About the same time, an independent latex-toy manufacturer from Arkansas (he made phony burgers, Jimmy Durante fake noses) found some dried-up discs of latex, which he thought resembled vomit. He threw them in a drawer and forgot about them. After H. Fishlove & Co. acquired the fake vomit idea from Marvin Glass, Fishlove asked this gentleman in Arkansas about mass-producing the fake vomit. The man pulled out the discs and said, "You mean like this?"
H. Fishlove & Co. was eventually sold to Fun Inc. In 1992, Fun Inc. stopped using outside vendors to manufacture fake vomit and began making it in-house.
The exact blend is a proprietary secret, but this much is revealed: Production of fake vomit begins with 55-gallon drums of natural latex, which resembles thick milk. Colored bits of foam the size of coarse bread crumbs are added: red, yellow, "natural," two shades of brown, but no green. "Too strong a color," Putnam said.
"It’s kind of like Grandma’s recipe," he observed. "A pinch of this, two shakes of that. You kind of know when it’s right."
The slurry is then ladled onto one Teflon sheet.
The vomitmaster smooths the mixture with the back of the spoon, the way a short-order cook does with pancakes on the griddle. Depending on weather, season and humidity, the pools of fake vomit, 500 to a batch, take overnight to a day and a half to dry. Like snowflakes, no two fake vomits are ever alike, which in the world of manufactured practical jokes is a rare trait.
At Izzy Rizzy’s House of Tricks on Chicago’s South Side, Fun Inc.’s version is the best-seller among the three fake vomits available ("Fake Barf has a darker tone and "Pet Barf" has fake hairballs).
There are two types of people who purchase fake vomit, said owner Mike Rzeminski.
"You get the adults who come in, and it’s a nostalgic thing for them. Then you get the kids, the 10- to 14-year-old boys, who come and say, ‘What can I get for two bucks?’ "
Article by Kevin Pang; Chicago Tribune
Fun, Incorporated (wholesale sales only)>>