Humorous hijinks might not seem to have much of a place amid the weighty and often acrimonious policy debates taking place across the country these days.
But liberal pranksters Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno -- known as the "Yes Men" -- believe having fun and being funny are both legitimate and necessary components of lobbying for their political causes.
Bichlbaum, 44, a teacher at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, and Bonanno, 42, a professor of media arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., undertake bold pranks on corporate giants and political icons in legal -- but perhaps morally questionable -- attempts to publicly humiliate them into changing their ways.
The duo has infamously impersonated corporate spokesmen on international TV, distributed more than a million counterfeit New York Times newspapers, launched imposter Web sites to contradict their opponents' and even chased after a Democratic senator in outrageous costumes to try to embarrass him.
In their most recent scheme -- holding a phony news conference under the banner of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- Bichlbaum masqueraded as a Chamber spokesman to announce a dramatic reversal in the group's stance on pending climate change legislation.
The so-called news was broadcast by several cable news outlets before it confused reporters and was refuted by angry Chamber officials. The Chamber has now sued the duo, accusing them of trademark and copyright infringement.
The Yes Men's ploys, which are videotaped and posted online, have amassed a sizable following through blogs and social media. Their two independent films, collections of the duo's most famous pranks, have won over audiences at international film festivals. The latest film, "Yes Men Fix the World," is rolling out in theaters across the country.
But to many of Bichlbaum's and Bonanno's targets, their antics are not a laughing matter. The mixed messages sown by a prank can create an embarrassing and sometimes damaging public relations nightmare that's hard to prevent and counteract.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the Yes Men hoax distracted from the "genuine effort to find solutions on the challenge of climate change."
The Chamber also said it was asking law enforcement to investigate the incident for criminal wrongdoing.
For their part, Bichlbaum and Bonanno are confident in the legality of their tactics and say they have never been prosecuted for a crime.
"We want to promote the idea of direct-action protest, putting your body on the line," Bonanno said. "But this is a way to do it that's really funny that people aren't accustomed to. You think of direct-action protestors as people who go around breaking windows. But, really, it can be fun and funny ... we want to promote this idea that we should be out there doing things, acting on our ideals."
One of the duo's more notorious pranks came in December 2004 when Bichlbaum impersonated a Dow Chemical spokesman in an interview on BBC World and BBC News 24. During the live broadcast, Bichlbaum announced that Dow would fund a $12 billion compensation package for victims of the Union Carbide chemical disaster that killed thousands in Bhopal, India, in 1984.
Although Dow never owned or operated the plant involved in the accident, Dow acquired Union Carbide in 2001 and had said it bears no responsibility for Bhopal.