Oobah Butler's Guide to Faking Your Way to the Top

Read an excerpt from the VICE writer's new book, 'How To Bullsh*t Your Way To Number 1: An Unorthodox Guide To 21st Century Success.'
Oobah Butler's new book just came out
Photo courtesy Eric Jenkins-Sahlin.

VICE's Oobah Butler just released his first book, How To Bullsh*t Your Way To Number 1: An Unorthodox Guide To 21st Century Success. We scammed an excerpt from the chapter "Adventures in Being a Bullshitter," which you can read below.

I think it’s fair to say you bullshit a lot. Sometimes you don’t know you’re doing it, but you are, constantly. Nobody is above bullshit. If you really want to get down to it, bullshitting is hardwired into the very nature of human psychology—taking that small nub of you that lives inside your head, that you know so well, and projecting it outwards, shooting it onto other people with a cloud of confidence, and thin air, and projection—that’s bullshit. Every time you express the soul of yourself in any way outside of you through your mouth, you’re technically bullshitting a little, just letting people know you’re there by making some noise about it. Don’t be afraid of being a bullshitter. It’s happening all the time.


The first time I bullshat, it was a wild success. I was five years old. My family was taking a beach day, and our dad handed us all a shiny £1 coin to go and buy a toy to play with for the day. I, impulsively, bought a sort of ray gun thing, a tiny plastic pistol that made electric whirring sounds when you pulled the trigger. You know the ones. You had one as a kid as well. It was alright.

My cousin, however, went to the shop 20 minutes after us, and while she was there she managed to find a far greater prize: a plastic bow and arrow set (that could actually shoot!), and maybe I am hyping it up with my nostalgia but the bow was as big as she was and the arrow could fire for approximately one hundred million miles. I absolutely had to have it, but I had already spent my toy money. “Dad,” I moaned, “Daaaad. Can I have another pound to buy a bow and arrow set?” And he said: no.

I want to make it clear that I have, with difficulty and a therapist’s help, forgiven my father for his cheapness, but at the time I was furious. The oral history of this incident is hard to factcheck, but among my brothers it’s pretty unanimously agreed upon that I went missing not long after this. I was from a large family (one of six siblings) so it was easy to slip away from the pack and go off and do your own thing. After a while, there was some mild parental concern about my whereabouts—”Where’s Oobah?”—that turned to a bigger group effort to find me—”Right, your brother’s missing—everyone go spend five minutes trying to find him”—until, at the top of the beach, on the base of the promenade up to the shops and the parking garage standing above it, they found me, smirking and pale and topless, hands held neatly behind my back.


I was selling a seashell to a grown man for 20 pounds.

What had happened in the minutes since I’d disappeared was this: with a sandcastle bucket in hand, I had scoured the beach for treasures—a shiny pebble here, an interesting-looking shell there, a couple of tiny crabs dipped up out of a rockpool—and arranged them on my beach towel in the form of a shop front. Then, with great showmanship and a whole lot of formative bullshit, I started selling to passersby.

Would you buy an interesting shell from a 26-year-old man? You would not. But back then, when I was just a cute, entrepreneurial little boy, the plan worked. Armed with my youth, my charm and my towel full of treasure, I managed to sell trinkets and sea gems and raised enough for one bow and arrow and an ice cream. The whole walk back to the car, my brothers covered in sea slime and sand, me eating and ice cream and firing an arrow into the sun, I beamed like the smug little goblin I was. This was my first taste of bullshit, and I instantly craved more.

When I was 15, me and a couple of my brothers were in a band. Obviously, nobody takes a band full of dish-faced teenage boys particularly seriously, so it was hard to secure any kind of paying gig anywhere in the surrounding area. We tended to play annual ‘Battle of the Band’ shows and the occasional pub-that-turns-a-blind-eye-to-underage-drinkers open mic night. That’s until I came up with the bright idea of hiring Martin Davey.


The Psychology of Bullshitting

Martin Davey was a gravel-voiced middle-aged cockney band manager, with a wealth of experience bringing local bands to the top and the gift of the gab to prove it. He also was just me, on the phone, pretending to be an old cockney band manager, calling up venues and fronting to them as if our band was good. And… it worked. Not every time, but most. Realizing that venues took bands more seriously when they had representation, I got us representation. It just also happened to be me, doing a voice, after watching one too many Guy Ritchie films.

This went well for a few months—we booked the kind of gigs that, sure, weren’t going to have stadium rock bands shaking in their boots, but put us a couple of strides ahead of similar bands in our local scene. Then we made it to Madhouse, a big practice and rehearsal space in Birmingham, and that’s where the scheme started to fall apart.

Turned out the venue was run in a kind of backwards way where all the bands appearing there had to pay a compulsory fee to play to cover the usual ‘cost of putting a gig on’ stuff, like security and staff and the hiring of the venue. I didn’t understand that, because I was 15 and an idiot, and when my band and I turned up we were shell shocked that the venue’s staff immediately asked where Martin Davey was. “He was supposed to pay us ahead of schedule!” they said. “You can’t play without it!” I just shrugged indifference while they desperately called the mobile phone that was buzzing in my jorts pocket. “We just work with him,” I said, innocently. “We don’t know where he is.”


In the end, we played, smashed it (according to the six to eight fans of ours who came to see our segment of the show, anyway), and after the show the desperate venue staff ended up apologizing to us for all the confusion. “And here’s a band now,” the announcer said, as we made it up onto the stage, “they’ve had a difficult night so far and I’m so sorry your manager’s let you down, boys…give them a big round of applause, it’s The Meek!” Once again, bullshit won out.

As my teen years progressed, I started to put a lid on these silly bullshit schemes of mine. That was due to a mix of things. There were voices of doubt around me, an internal nagging need to be seen as mature, the idea that abandoning such folly was a grown-up thing to do. I plodded from my teens to early adulthood largely bullshit-free.

And then I found myself in the rut I described earlier. You know, living in a shed, stagnant career, strange-smelling clothes. I was working for someone else doing work I didn’t believe in and didn’t feel anything for. I was making just about enough to get by but nowhere near enough to live comfortably. Bills were piling up, stresses and debts were piling up. I was, as I have detailed at length, living in a shed.

And then I met Georgio Peviani. And my faith in bullshit was restored to me.