Comedian Calls Telemarketers at Dawn

Mon Apr 22, 9:29 PM ET


Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON (AP) -

Louisville comedian Tom Mabe went undercover at a telemarketing convention in the nation's capitol Monday to turn the tables on an industry he loves to hate. He was on the phone calling telemarketers in their hotel rooms before dawn Monday.

Asked if he felt bad about waking the telemarketers and owners of call centers who attended the American Teleservices Association conference, Mabe said no way. "What they do is so intrusive," he said. "I think it's trespassing."

Mabe was working out of his home office writing commercial jingles in 1993 when telemarketing calls started to exasperate him.

"When you're self-employed, you jump when the phone rings, hoping it's a client," he said.

Mabe, who moonlights as a stand-up comic, decided to get even by recording his conversations with telemarketers and playing pranks on them. He told a telemarketer trying to sell him an alarm system that he was robbing the place but suggested the man call back later.

And Mabe told a caller trying to sell him a burial plot that the man had perfect timing, because he was considering killing himself. The telemarketer asked him for credit card information, Mabe said.

Mabe put together a CD of his recorded calls and said he sold more than 50,000 copies. A few years later, the now-defunct label, Virgin Nashville, released two other Mabe recordings. "I decided if they're not going to allow me to make a living, I'll make a living off them," he said.

Mabe hopes some of his calls to the telemarketers attending the Washington conference are funny enough to launch a fourth CD.

He called the conference attendees in the middle of the night offering to sell them a sleep aid and pretending he was calling on behalf of the "Telemarketers with Insomnia Foundation." None of the people who picked up the phone were amused, with most hanging up and calling him a jerk.

Matt Mattingley, director of government affairs for the American Teleservices Association, says he wasn't too disturbed by Mabe's actions. "There are a number of anti-telemarketing groups. This is America. They're certainly free to do and express what they feel their views are ... but do they make an impact on the business? No."

Mattingley said last year the telemarketing industry contributed $661 billion to the U.S. economy in sales, taxes and jobs. Mattingley said much of his attention these days is devoted to opposing so-called do-not-call laws.

Under federal law, companies conducting business by telephone are not supposed to call a consumer who has requested to receive no more calls from that seller. But the federal government is considering a proposal that would let consumers call one toll-free number to stop most telemarketing calls.


On the Net:

American Teleservices Association: Mabe's Web site: