The True Story Behind “No Bozos”
Yes, the rumors are true. I invented the (in)famous “No Bozos” image you see above. Over the years, people have asked me for the story behind how this all came about. As an exercise in blogging, I thought I’d write it all down here, once and for all.
If you were around in the 1960s, you might have heard (of) the Firesign Theater. They were a group of performers who recorded several albums of stream of consciousness-like ramblings and rants. One of their albums was called “I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus”. Very funny stuff. For some reason, this title stuck in my mind.
In the 1970s, I made several trips to Europe. One of the first things I noticed was the preponderance of signs containing an image surrounded by a circle with a line through it. The idea was that such things were trying to explain that whatever the image was, it wasn’t allowed. Cars, cigarettes, and swimsuit tops often appeared in these images. For some reason, these images also stuck in my head. At some point, I connected the “Bozos” saying with the image style I had seen in Europe, and the “No Bozos” image was born. Unfortunately, since I can’t draw, it was held prisoner in my brain.
In fact, it was still in my brain in the early 1980s when a fortuitous sequence of events happened. I had a friend, Ed, who worked at a place where a graphics person, Kristi, also worked. One day I mentioned the “No Bozos” idea to Ed, who thought it was pretty darn clever. He, in turn, mentioned it to Kristi, who also recognized its brilliance. Unlike me, Kristi was a good artist – so good that she was able to quickly draw the world’s first “No Bozos” image. Then, another person where Ed worked, Howard, saw the “No Bozos” image and instantly recognized its tremendous commercial potential. Howard was the kind of guy who liked to put together companies and promote them so he contacted me and proposed that we try to make some money from the image. How could I say no?
The main obstacle was getting clearance from the holder of the “Bozo” clown image, who was Larry Harmon. Howard did all the negotiating and managed to work something out. As I remember, Larry Harmon got more out of the deal than Howard, Kristi, and I did put together. Howard and Kristi found a printing company to produce a “No Bozos” sticker in several sizes and shapes. I’ll always remember when I got my first box of stickers. I was at UC Santa Barbara at the time and I did a good job handing them out. There was even a “No Bozos” Hall in one of the dormitories on campus. (I had nothing to do with creating it, and I was very surprised when I saw it).
As a good promoter, Howard was able to generate lots of publicity for “No Bozos”. There was a time when I was interviewed regularly by radio stations and newspapers. It seemed like each one asked the same question, which was “What’s a Bozo?”. The highlight was a big mention in Playboy Magazine.
Again, I don’t remember all the details, but the stickers sold fairly well. Being young, lazy, and naive, I didn’t want to wait very long to start seeing my share of the money. So, I made Howard and Kristie a deal – in exchange for an amount of money I no longer recall, I’d give up my share in the partnership. They agreed and paid me a lump sum. I used this money to buy a hot tub. I was planning on getting the “No Bozos” image silk screened in the hot tub but I never did. I should have.
That’s most of the story. After a while the “No Bozos” image lost its popularity. Maybe this was because a whole bunch of other emblems with similar designs started appearing. I don’t know. I do know that “No Bozos” had a resurgence when Eddie Van Halen and Steve Wozniak were photographed wearing “No Bozos” tee shirts.
As far as I know, any “No Bozos” products you see now are bootlegs. I’ve seen stickers for sale in various places but they aren’t the official ones. (There’s an easy way to recognize them but I’m going to keep that a secret for now). I don’t really mind seeing them. In fact, in makes me feel good. About 10 years after starting the company with Howard and Kristi, I contacted Howard to see if he had any interest in re-releasing them but he was onto bigger and better things. I haven’t talked to either of them in probably 30 years. Plus, now that Larry Harmon is dead, I don’t know what would be required to do it again.
Every now and then somebody asks me about the story behind “No Bozos”. Now you know.