In the spring of 2001, the California Medical Association approached Charlie Varon about giving a speech. They were thinking comedy: Charlie would do a few routines over lunch to lighten up a seminar for physicians and attorneys.
Charlie had a different kind of comedy in mind. He proposed to do the speech posing as a ranking expert on human genetics. To Charlie's amazement, the C.M.A. agreed to the prank.
To create Genome Out of the Bottle, Charlie assembled a team that included his collaborator and director, David Ford; humorist Jim Rosenau; and Jonathan Karpf, who teaches genetics at San Jose State University.
In less than five weeks, Charlie created Albin Avgher, Ph.D. and his theory of human communication, supported by an intricate web of fabricated statistics and personal anecdotes.
The prank worked perfectly, receiving high marks from conference attendees and press coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle and The Recorder.
Charlie has reprised the speech, each time fooling a new group. And each time, members of the audience have stayed afterward to thank him for his artful deception.