I had just gotten a job writing for a sitcom, so when my agent Mickey got married I felt a lot of pressure to give him a "funny" gift. I got him a goat—specifically, I paid Oxfam International about $40 to donate a goat to a village in the developing world, on Mickey's behalf. If you're wondering how a goat is funny, it's not.
Mickey did his best to politely thank me for this gesture. But I knew the truth: Nobody likes a donation as a gift. They just want the pizza wheel that they put on their wedding registry. I asked Mickey if his wife liked the gift. After a long pause, he said, "Yeah, I haven't told her about it yet, but I'm sure she will."
He fucking hated it, which was perfect—because the goat wasn't the real gift.
About a month later, Mickey received a letter in the mail, post-marked from South Africa, from the recipient of the goat. The guy explained that he asked Oxfam for Mickey's address in order to personally thank him for the goat: "Thank you so much! We haven't had a goat in a long time. We even named the goat after you. The kids are drinking Mickey's milk right now!"
I got a call from my agent after he got the letter. He was over the moon: "I'm really making a difference in these people's lives!" He thanked me, and I was so happy—mostly because he didn't realize I wrote that letter. I'd emailed the text of the letter to a college friend who was working in South Africa, who hand-wrote it onto South African air mail. It was totally convincing.
I sent letters to Mickey this way for the next three years.
The second letter arrived about six months later. The recipient of the goat told Mickey he was writing to "check in" and update him on the goat's welfare. "Everything is fine," he wrote. "The goat kind of ran away. But don't worry! I found it and gave it the beating of its life. It will never run away again. Your investment is safe!"
I got a call from Mickey, and he said, "I got another letter from South Africa ... and it was kind of weird." That was all he said.
The third letter arrived several months later—this time, from the neighbor of the guy who sent Mickey the first two letters. The neighbor explained that the goat Oxfam had sent was meant for her, but the guy who'd been writing to Mickey took it. "You need to do something about this," she told him.
Mickey called me right away. "Are you doing this?," he asked. I played dumb and said I didn't even remember giving him that goat, it was so long ago. Besides, I'm not that funny. He agreed, which made me quietly furious. He went on to say that he had no idea if this letter was for real, but if it was, an injustice was happening in his name. He said he had to go figure this situation out and hung up.
Months passed, and a fourth letter arrived. I had a graphic designer friend help me out with this one. It required an embossed logo on heavy stock paper, because the letter was from the government of South Africa.
In a formal tone, the writer of this letter explained he was a local politician whose district included the township to which Mickey donated a goat. The politician informed Mickey that, unfortunately, a dispute broke out over ownership of the goat, which escalated into communal riots throughout the township. "This goat is causing too much trouble, so we're sending it back."
A week later, I had a live goat delivered to Mickey's office.
"Mickey the Goat." Photo via Sanjay Shah
I hid in a cubicle nearby. When Mickey came out to see the goat, he just stared at it for a long time. I heard him say, "You've got to be shitting me," under his breath.
We did the big reveal, and he found out it was me. He immediately went into agent mode. "Hey, can you turn this into a writing sample?" He mentioned the prank to some showrunners. The story eventually got to some people at South Park, and they hired me for a writing job because of it.
I wish I could say I planned all of this as a clever backdoor way into working there. But really I just wanted to fuck with my agent by creating a fake international incident. And if you're wondering: We released that goat onto Pico Boulevard where he was immediately smashed by a bus.*
Sanjay Shah writes for Fresh Off The Boat. Follow him on Twitter.
* The goat was not harmed in any way—he was a professional Hollywood goat whose work you've probably seen. I paid him for his time.