The Bumbys tell it like it is
Nobody likes to be judged. Unless, of course, the judgment is that you’re awesome and in possession of an unappreciated talent.
Which is precisely why a duo of Brooklyn-based performance artists called the Bumbys are catching on in fashionable, arty circles around the world. The pair sit in heavy disguise in front of electric Brother typewriters — at events as varied as Men’s Fashion Week in Paris and GQ’s Super Bowl party — and offer “A Fair & Honest Appraisal of Your Appearance.”
The goal is not to tear people down but rather to produce a short story in less than three minutes about the person based on the associations and impressions that arise from his or her demeanor and body language. A numerical rating between 1 and 10 is then issued, but the Bumbys say they rarely give anyone a ranking lower than 8.0.
“There’s enough hate and negativity in the world already,” “Gill” Bumby writes via email. His partner calls herself “Jill” — she’s the one who usually wears an electric-red wig while Gill sports a matching red beanie. Both wear anarchist-style bandannas over their faces along with white sunglasses and big, chatter-blocking Skullcandy headphones.
The Bumbys don’t break character and they don’t reveal their real identities. The disguises, they say, are not so much to protect their anonymity as they are to keep the focus on the person being evaluated.
“It’s one moment in your life that you can be sure that someone is staring at you, really seeing you,” writes Jill.
The Bumbys, who have been written up in media outlets including the New Yorker and the New York Daily News, mainly perform at private events and get paid a flat fee by the company that hires them, so nobody waiting in line pays for the service. (They appear periodically in L.A. but have yet to announce any upcoming dates.) They do their best business during New York Fashion Week, although they raised their profile recently with performances at Sundance and the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas.
At a recent L.A. performance in the back room of the Pikey, Jared Meisler and Sean MacPherson’s new British pub on Sunset Boulevard, a line of the young, hip and tipsy waited to get Bumby’d (yes, it’s a verb). They chatted loudly, twirled their hair, sipped nervously on tequila cocktails (Milagro sponsored the event) and fiddled with their smartphones. Standing quietly while the Bumbys shine a light on you is nearly impossible for many people, Gill writes in his email.
“I wish the person was more engaged with the situation,” he writes of the multi-taskers. “I do respect the fact that time is valuable and these people like to make the most of a free minute. I’ll usually allude to some inability to relax or compulsive behavior with this person.”
The concept for the Bumbys was born in Brooklyn in 2006 when Gill, a struggling musician in need of some quick cash, set up shop on a corner by the Bedford Avenue subway station. He soon joined forces with Jill, who tracked him down after being Bumby’d. Things really took off after an entertainment business manager named Viranda Tantula joined them and began helping produce the shows.
“One of the coolest aspects of this is that every single card they type out is a stand-alone analog piece of art,” says Tantula of the old-school lined notecards participants are given.
At the Pikey, Jill handed Amoeba Music General Manager Chris Carmena a card that read in part, “You are the definition of the guy next door. Lovable in that geek-chic approachable way. In teen movies you would play the nice friend who is in love with the girl — everyone is rootin’ for you, but she’s dating that stupid football guy. BUT in the end you get the girl.”
Carmena’s overall rating? A 9.2.
“It’s dead-on,” Carmena says of his assessment, shrugging and grinning sheepishly. “Because I know I’m a geek, and I like to think I’m lovable.”