Tape Face

Tape Face

A former street artist, New Zealand'sTapeFace, also known as The Boy With Tape On His Face, was a semi-finalist on the 2016 season of America's Got Talent. He previously won the breakthrough act award at the Chortle Awards 2011 following a hit Edinburgh Fringe show.
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Fans' anger over 'fraud' of Tape Face stand-in

...but creator says he's a character who others can play

Tape Face fans have complained that he has been ‘duping’ them by having an ‘imposter’ perform in his place at his Las Vegas show.

Audiences who paid up to £82 a ticket say they were expecting to see Sam Wills perform his inventive act that made such waves on America’s Got Talent three years ago. But instead, some shows at Harrah’s casino have been performed by an undeclared understudy.

Wills defended himself against accusations he was 'defrauding' fans – saying Tape Face was always intended to be a character who can be played by other trained performers.

He told Chortle it was always his intention to have multiple Tape Faces performing in different cities at the same time, similar to franchises such as the Blue Man Group.

‘People who follow me on social media are aware that this has been very much part of my dream,’ he said, adding that he made the conscious decision early on to never bring his real identity into the Tape Face branding.

That aim of running multiple shows at once will be realised this autumn, when Wills tours the UK, leaving his doppelgänger, dubbed T2, to hold the fort in Vegas.

However, no explicit mention of this fact is made on Hannah’s website, Ticketmaster or the official Tape Face website, all of which use a picture of Wills. 

The venue advertises the show with the phrase ‘as seen on America’s Got Talent’ and with a  blurb that ambiguously states: ‘Tape Face is the creation of New Zealand comedian Sam Wills, and he’s created a killer cast for you nightly at The House of Tape.’

Whoever plays Tape Face adopts the same distinctive costume and make-up as the original, and Wills has trained them to perform the very same act.

But already, disgruntled fans have taken to Trip Advisor to complain that they did not see who the performer they expected.

Under a review headed, 'An impersonator ….really?!?', one audience member complained that 'I just spent $600 to watch a person dress up and pretend to be Tape Face!' and accused the show's producers of 'false advertisement'. 

They noted that after-show photographs with the understudy were not allowed because 'of course not, because the hoax would spread like wildfire and people would stop going … when I brought it to the attention of the box office people I was told to fill out a comment card and that they couldn’t offer any type of refund because, and I quote "you already watched the show."'

Another, posting under the heading, 'The real TapeFace is gone...the show is a fraud’ adding: ‘The real TapeFace is gone from the show (this impostor does not have a tattoo on his right wrist). The stand-in was mediocre, as he did not have any of the charisma or facial humor of the original… If you are a big TapeFace fan like we are, stay home and watch the AGT videos on YouTube. The Harrah’s show is a disappointment and a fraud. '

Tape Face's US publicist, Shannon Bentham of Shiny Apple Public Relations, responded to this complaint with: 'Ideas and concepts can last a lot longer than people. Tape Face is a concept based on spreading joy and happiness. We want the Tape Face experience to exist loudly around the world. The character is played by different performers, comparable to other productions such Blue Man Group. Thanks for visiting House of Tape.'

To the first complaint, she wrote: 'Like other performers on the Las Vegas Strip (Blue Man Group, Jabbawockeez, etc), Tape Face is portrayed by multiple performers. This is necessary to meet the demand for both international shows and the Las Vegas residency. This has been talked about publicly on the Tape Face social media platforms multiple times. We’re transparent about this fact and apologise it didn’t meet your expectations.'

However, prior to Monday night, when Chortle approached Wills's UK publicist for comment, there had been only two Twitter post this year on the Tape Face account alluding to T2's role.

In March, a photo of the two Tape Faces was posted to his 100,000 followers, captioned: 'After months of hard work, training and tape I can now personally guarantee the show quality of T2 is 100% Tape Face approved. T2 is getting standing ovations, sold out crowds and amazing reviews. #beyondhappy#tapeface#TFVegas'.

And a month later he posted a picture from the stalls as T2 was on stage, saying he was ‘beyond proud and happy to see the show ironically speak for itself’

Following Chortle's enquiry, the two Tape Faces image was re-posted to Tape Face's social media, leading one Facebook commentator to remark: 'Am I the only one who has a problem with this? It's like trying to pass off a cover band as the real deal. No matter how much they dress up and sound like the real band, it's not the same.'

Another added: 'Agreed. When I go see Tape Face, I wanna see *the* Tape Face and not his stunt double.'

Even supporters of the move are confused. After the March post on Twitter, one fan responded 'that is great news but I'm happy that I'll be seeing the one and only Tape Face here in Houston on April 3rd! #ThereIsOnlyOneTrueTapeFace'. To which the Tape Face account replied: 'There is NO such thing as a true Tape Face as I believe that we all have a version of Tape Face in us. We are all weird.’

Similarly, when one posted, 'there can only be one true Tape Face you are irreplaceable', they received the reply: 'It’s a shame you can’t see the true dream of my show.'

Speaking to Chortle, Wills accepted that more could have been done to inform fans that they may be booking to see T2. 

'We will absolutely be doing more' he said. 'And one of the reasons why I think there's going to be even more clarity is that, because of the demands of the show, we've started thinking about adding a third Tape Face. That will provide more clarity in the direction we want to be going.'

Asked if it was fair to be advertising a show ‘as seen on America's Got Talent’ when his understudy was performing, he said: 'I'm more than happy to walk away from that America's Got Talent branding. It's one of the things that I think would actually do me some credit.

‘I took advantage of that platform. Going on America's Got Talent was 100% an advertising decision. It wasn't a case of, "Oh, I'm going to go on the show and hopefully win a million dollars". Hell no! I went on it to advertise the show… to get us worldwide exposure for a show.’

And he said the franchise model was always part of his plan:  ‘I like the idea of having a show that is international and being able to go to multiple different countries. And there was never going to be time for me to be able to got to all of the countries that I want to be able to do the show in … to create, essentially, a Blue Man Group variation with a bunch of Tape Faces.'

He argues that the situation is different to a fan going to see Kiss, for example, only to realise that it's not Gene Simmons singing behind the elaborate make-up.

'That's very different because Gene Simmons is a real person. People aren't paying for a ticket to see Sam Wills. That's why I've worked so hard over the last number of years and months, to make sure that we've found a suitable [double] who can actually embody the character of Tape Face. I want the representation on stage to be consistent. That way, the audience aren't getting just a theatrical performance. And also, Kiss are celebrities.

'Speaking as the creator of Tape Face, a lot of people don't know who the hell I am… When I went onto America's Got Talent, there was a very clear decision of going, "am I Sam Wills, comedian, creator, doing my backstory of "I've worked my butt off on this character and act? Or do I just take the character?" 

‘I didn't want to be on the show. The character was totally what I wanted to put forward in public. I have no interest in my personal world out there doing its thing. Whereas I'm more than happy for the character to exist in the public domain.’

Despite that statement, Willis has called out the numerous unofficial plagiarisms of the Tape Fact act globally. As recently as April, he took the Chilean late-night comedy show Morandé con Compañía to task on Twitter for ripping off a segment of his act.

But T2 he says, offers 'consistent show quality, we 100 per cent stand by the product that is being put in front of the audience', including his understudy's capacity to improvise with the audience members he brings on stage.

Having performed the act for more than 11 years, initially as The Boy With Tape On His Face, Wills says that he has ‘seen every possible outcome of what an audience member can do on stage with these various routines, so it was very easy to create a literal guidebook to what they might do, a pick-a-path book of [how his understudy needs to react]. The actor on stage playing the part of Tape Face knows exactly what the character of Tape Face will do every single time when an audience member does something.'

Wills suggests that he'd be happy to address disappointed fans post-show, the logistics of being in another country notwithstanding.

'I'd want to talk to them after the show because most of the people who have seen the show are still entertained. People aren't walking out. People are standing up at the end and giving an ovation. Social media makes it seem as if everyone is storming out. In reality, we're doing shows to 180 people, six nights a week in Vegas, and the audiences are happy.’

And he elaborates on his dream of multiple Tape Faces.

'I would love to have that' he says. 'People who identify with Tape Face are social outcasts and wonderful people like that. The context of Tape Face is very much a Tim Burton, Edward Scissorhands-style character. It doesn't have to be limited to a white male on stage with tape and costume… I would love to be able to write comedy for a female Tape Face. Why can't we have a Tape Face of a different colour? The essence of the character is a silent clown, so there's a certain Dr Who element to it.'

The controversy surrounding Tape Face's understudy was initially highlighted by journalist Alex Belfield, and the pair have exchanged heated Twitter messages over the issue. On Sunday, Tape Face concluded his argument with Belfield by stating: 'I can absolutely confirm that I will be touring the UK in September and our T2 will be presenting the same standard of show here in Vegas during that time. I can also confirm that T2 will be presenting the show in South Korea later this year as we are a very international show.'

- by Jay Richardson

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Published: 17 Jul 2019

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