Movies + TV

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Infomercials

A celebration of an unsung goldmine of comedy.

Rest in peace, you beautiful angel.

Infomercials! They’re an insomniac girl’s best pal, perhaps second only to muttering out loud, to herself, “I’ll go to bed after five more minutes of Tumblr.”As anyone with going-to-sleep issues knows, infomercials air during the wee hours when lonesome, wide-awake television watchers are most primed to buy questionable goods from the friendly-looking people on the television screen. Watching them late at night is like staring into an inverse reality where everyone’s smiling and also very excited to find out all the versatile uses for OxiClean instead of sleeping peacefully, as you probably should be.

In addition to being overly cheerful, the hosts of infomercials are usually also hilariously terrifying due to their Silly Putty grins and desperation to unleash upon the late-night consumers of the world what they know are the world’s shoddiest products (or “shoducts,” if you want to use catchy infomercial-ly language). These items usually have super-ambiguous names like the “GT Express,” which is the star of my favorite half-hour distraction from my own wired anxiety (“ang-wiredty?”…no, too far, shut it down). Doesn’t that name sound like it belongs to a fancy car or an electric shaver or something? So masculine! So edgy! With a such a cool title, it’s got to be, like, a hybrid of those things, right? A convertible that also depilates. You have to be wearing sunglasses to even sit/shave inside of it–it’s just that advanced. Well, it’s actually a glorified panini press, people. A panini press shilled by a grandmotherly type named Cathy Mitchell who often is far more grimace-y than gregariously happy—to my delight. She occasionally even seems like she’s on the brink of punching somebody out, and may in fact be tougher-looking than a razor car. She reminds me of the elderly, gruff piano teacher I once had who would smack my hands when I hit the wrong keys.

Less overtly threatening-looking is the fabulous and inimitable Billy Mays, who unfortunately passed away two and a half years ago but will always be the true king of late-night to me (suck it, Letterman). Before he died, he became famous as the spokesperson for a slew of household helpers, from the aforementioned OxiClean to Zorbeez to something called “The Ding King,” hahaha.

Billy Mays has been a true friend to me since I developed insomnia at the age of 13, so naturally I’ve become well acquainted with all of his signature moves. My personal favorite is how he gestures when he really wants to drive a “heartfelt and genuine” point home to viewers about stain-removal or something: hands splayed out towards the viewer, then brought in close to the chest, to the heart, in tight fists. It’s somehow even more effective and convincing than his amazing beard.

Billy Mays was so dedicated to infomercials that not only did he come up with his own style of consumerist choreography, but was also reportedly buried in his signature blue OxiClean shirt. Rest in peace, you beautiful angel. I bet there are no ink stains in heaven.

The most ridiculously amazing all-around infomercial, though, has got to be the one for the Magic Bullet. It’s pretty subversive in the way that it celebrates illicit substances, especially within a genre of television best characterized by its micromanaged nicey-niceness. “How subversive?” you may be asking. Well, does an old lady chain-smoke cigarettes on camera? Oh, yes. Does it have a groaning, still-drunk-from-the-night-before character named “Berman” for whom the hosts make a hangover-helper smoothie? You bet your sweet ass it does. In fact, the whole “plot” of this infomercial is that the effervescent hosts, Mick and Mimi, had a swingin’ party the night before and are now entertaining their guests on the achy morning after.

To me, that beats the hell out of your typical black-and-white “before” montages that ask questions like “Is YOUR food shopping unorganized and stressful???” while the breaking bottom of some frazzled mom’s grocery bag flings produce everywhere…although, let’s face it, I definitely love that aspect of infomercials, too. In fact, I can’t help loving just about every part of this unsung goldmine of comedy.

You know what? You can keep your pleasant dreams and eyes that aren’t ringed like thousand-year-old oak trees, normal sleepers. As for me, I’m going to hang with Cathy, Billy, Mick, and Mimi. The joke will be on you when I’m the one who gets free shipping and an additional instructive DVD because you were busy sleeping. Like a sucker. ♦

32 Comments

  • fizzingwhizbees January 3rd, 2012 7:07 PM

    The “before” part of infomercials is one of the greatest things that exists. Seeing someone get THAT upset that their blanket doesn’t have sleeves is usually the best part of my day.

  • missblack January 3rd, 2012 7:10 PM

    OHMYGOD I loooove infomercials!!!!!!! This stems from a childhood of helping my mother fold clothes, during which she liked to watch infomercials (wise woman that she is) and I developed a near-absurd love for them, especially TimeLife Music Collection ones. To my delight our DirecTV package includes a WHOLE CHANNEL dedicated to infomercials. I watch it a lot.

    Little&Trivial

  • Marguerite January 3rd, 2012 7:32 PM

    I hate these things! I’m always flicking threw channels in the morning and I land on my fav channel, and think it’t on commercial, but no! this thing lasts the whole hour! i don’t like you infomercials!
    i LOVE Billy Mays voice! the way he shouts at you to buy oxi clean! Its great! :)

  • maggiemadge January 3rd, 2012 7:35 PM

    I remember the Magic Bullet informercials as a kid! I always remember how odd the people were in that (i.e. the sad, lonely man in the robe, chain smoking grandma, happy suburban couple) I also like this one, which is a baby version of the Magic Bullet, but there is this YouTube video that remade it in a creepy way by slowing down the dialogue. It’s pure magic fun.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5Gn8jt55LQ

  • Fortune_Goddess January 3rd, 2012 7:48 PM

    Billy Mays TERRIFIES the shi* out of me! Him and his yelling voice… *shivers*

  • rachele January 3rd, 2012 7:58 PM

    this is great, and oddly nostalgic! my sister and i have become little connoisseurs of the magic bullet universe over the years…somehow we could never convince our mom to get us one. for even more raciness, though, check out the commercial for the “magic bullet to go,” in which the gang goes camping and everyone’s two favorite characters get it AWWWWWN.

    • Amy Rose January 3rd, 2012 10:26 PM

      i love you, i love you, thank you for enlightening me, oh my god yes.

  • flamboyantD January 3rd, 2012 8:28 PM

    I thought I was the only one! I love infomercials, they’re awfully addicting!

  • Claire January 3rd, 2012 8:33 PM

    The greatest love-to-hate infomercial ever is the Jack LaLanne Power Juicer…always seems to be on TV when I’m sick. Making fun of infomercials with my dad is one of my favorite things ever (:

  • Maddy January 3rd, 2012 8:46 PM

    lol: “Rest in peace, you beautiful angel. I bet there are no ink stains in heaven.”
    and yes, in the “BEFORE” part it’s always in black and white too

    that pie is too flaky.

  • Tyknos93 January 3rd, 2012 8:50 PM

    What no ShamWOW guy!? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwRISkyV_B8
    Sidenote: I thought these commercials were completely logical when I was watching them at like 3 in the morning. They are downright weird and comical now that I’m watching them fully awake.

    • Tyknos93 January 3rd, 2012 8:54 PM

      Oh and the snuggie comercials were perfect campy goodness until they started trying too hard…I still own one.

  • I.ila January 3rd, 2012 9:10 PM

    The oranges in the background of the Billy Mays ad interest me. Why are they there? Decorative oranges? Lemon scented oranges? Traveling, vagabond oranges?

  • HeartPlant January 3rd, 2012 9:17 PM

    Two words: Cilit Bang. The shouty man is always right…. even if he makes you cry in terror.

  • Limey January 3rd, 2012 9:18 PM

    Aw Billy Mays.

    Also, I know this isn’t an infomercial, but I always cry at those ASPCA commercials with the sad music and the pictures of dogs and cats. I’m only mentioning it because they always seem like they last 10 minutes, but maybe that’s just because of the crying.

  • supernaturaldelight January 3rd, 2012 9:25 PM

    Yes! I have wanted the magic bullet since I was 11, not only for its obviously magical abilities to create whatever my heart desires, but because I, too, want to sip an alcoholic beverage I made straight out of its magic bullet attachment mug… The ultimate party machine!

    Never have I related to an article more…

  • neon_rattail January 3rd, 2012 10:10 PM

    I spent an abnormal amount of my childhood watching informercials. I could never get enough! My brother and I can still remember all the forgotten products and pitchmen from our youth and love to reminisce.

    I’m NOT ashamed to admit I own a Magic Bullet! I’m mostly ashamed to admit I own the GT Express. :(

    -Michelle
    neonrattail.blogspot.com

  • jadeione January 3rd, 2012 10:45 PM

    I like the infomercial about meatloaf. Obviously, I have just been ACHING for that perfect meatloaf pan that drains the grease and comes out CRACK FREE every time!

  • stephanie4786 January 3rd, 2012 10:56 PM

    i prefer to watch infomercials to regular tv.

  • Laia January 3rd, 2012 11:43 PM

    i’m a sucker for any and all time-life compilation cds infomercials.

  • cherrycola27 January 3rd, 2012 11:57 PM

    NOW I WANT A GT EXPRESS!
    I think it’s just because I’m hungry and that food looks kind of good. But isn’t half the fun of cooking, I don’t know…cooking?
    The Magic Bullet commercials are the worst because they pretend not to be infomercials. Just a couple of people making some smoothies/omelets/coffee/whatever!

  • Brit January 3rd, 2012 11:59 PM

    I caved. I have a magic bullet.
    It’s been sitting in my cupboard for the last 4 years.

  • Mags January 4th, 2012 1:05 AM

    This is awesome!! Oh, you made laugh so much. I love your writing.

  • Nusardel January 4th, 2012 5:59 AM

    This is hilarious, but I have to be honest. I did get a magic bullet. And I do use it. There must be something seriously wrong with me.

  • Susann January 4th, 2012 12:23 PM

    I used to watch (French) infomercials when I couldn’t sleep at 4 AM, too! I was really into those PedEggs..

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com/

    • Amy Rose January 4th, 2012 2:18 PM

      pedeggs really gross me out because it’s like grating parmesan off your heels. my mom loves hers, though…blugh.

  • anyone January 4th, 2012 5:06 PM

    I live in Germany and these things get REALLY great when they are synchronized bad into another language (we have the exact same comercials here… but just in “german”…).
    I mean.. the sound never fits to the lips-moving…
    It’s funny to see it now in the original language.

  • Kayelle January 4th, 2012 6:24 PM

    This is so cool! My dad just ordered our family a magic bullet for christmas, and his favorite part of the infomercial was the lady with the cigar.

  • popova261 January 7th, 2012 7:31 AM

    My first job was at a telemarketing company, in which we would process orders for a lot of these products. My favorite part of the job was actually having to watch all these infomercials during downtime (I worked the graveyard shift)–it made me appreciate just how wonderful, tacky, and hilarious they are!

  • caro nation January 8th, 2012 11:37 AM

    Anyone on here familiar with “Hot Booties?”

  • willow January 8th, 2012 10:47 PM

    Rookie always nails it with “Literally the Best Thing Ever” :)

  • roxy189 January 14th, 2012 12:56 PM

    I can’t count the number of time I have seen the Magic Bullet infomercial. I also just adore the Shamwow guy who talks so fast you can’t understand him.