Infiltrating Bryant-Lake Bowl

Going undercover with Harmon Leon

How’s this for irony:

A guy gets kicked out of a convention for professional celebrity impersonators when the pros discover he’s just pretending to be a professional celebrity impersonator. The real fakes give the fake fake the boot.

This happened to Harmon Leon, a professional humorist and writer who makes a living pulling off these types of undercover stunts. A Hopkins native whose cell phone now has a San Francisco area code, Leon takes the stage at Bryant-Lake Bowl this month to share stories of his adventures in a show he’s calling “Ironic/Not Ironic.”

To sneak into the professional celebrity impersonator convention Harmon posed as a “fourth-rate Austin Powers impersonator” — a purposely pathetic disguise that only seemed to anger the convention-goers who put time and money into creating their celebrity personae.

“You can actually see the clip from Fox News of Las Vegas where I’m being pushed off camera by an irate Joan Rivers impersonator who’s so angry she actually starts screaming at me completely out of character,” Leon said.

The author of four collections of humorous journalism, a road trip book for National Lampoon, a novel and numerous articles, Leon has plenty of material to draw from. He’s also adopted an alias that reflects his work method: The Infiltrator.

“I started with my first book, which is called ‘The Harmon Chronicles,’” he said, referring to collection released in 2002. “There, I was infiltrating such things as crashing the Church of Scientology celebrity center by posing as a German pop star — because they love celebrities — to getting jobs at fast food restaurants with the sole intent of getting hired and fired within three hours.”

The let’s-get-fired bit was Leon’s first foray into undercover work, the story that launched The Infiltrator’s career.

“I worked the graveyard shift at Jack in the Box, 10 p.m. to 4 in the morning,” he said. “No matter what I did they wouldn’t fire me. There’s your irony there.”

The Infiltrator’s other adventures include assembling a fake family to get into a tryout for the Family Feud game show and going undercover at a large marijuana growing operation in northern California. Concocting a fake identity for each infiltration is a key piece of Leon’s reporting process.

“It’s interesting to relate to people on a level where they think you’re one of your peers,” Leon said. “Rather than be a reporter who’s kind of looking in from the outside, I’d rather … examine these subcultures from the inside by posing as one of them.”

The multimedia stage show combines monologues with videos of Leon’s undercover exploits, like those from his web series, “The Infiltrator” ( Leon said he’d toured the show widely, including stops at the Montreal International Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Go see it
“Ironic/Not Ironic” is 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27 at Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St. Tickets are $12. 825-8949.


How much for that painting?

WHITTIER — One of the big art events of the year comes around every fall when Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) invites the art-buying public in for its annual art sale.

This is one of the few cases when the phrase “art-buying public” doesn’t necessarily mean the designer suit crowd. Nothing at the MCAD sale is priced over $1,000, and many items sell for $100 or less.

That’s the hook: a chance to buy serious artwork at bargain prices and — possibly — discover a future star in the process. The artists include both students and recent alumni.

Go see it
The MCAD Annual Art Sale is 6 p.m.–9 p.m. Nov. 20 and 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Nov. 21 at the school, 2501 Stevens Ave. Tickets for the first day are $35 in advance or $40 at the door; the second day is free.