The man paid to prank: A look into the life of David Nifoussi ƒ?TM07

By Charlie White

David Nifoussi ƒ?TM07 recently bought the singing telegraph company that he has worked for since the summer. Nifousi is shown above in his telegraph costume. Photo by Phil Chen.

Getting a job is hard. Getting into a good grad school is hard. When most people near their graduation from college, obviously these are a couple of the things running through their minds. “Maybe I’ll own a company one day,” one might think. “Maybe I’ll spend a million more years of my life in school and maybe then they’ll hire me.” Well, it just happens one Macalester student is way ahead of these suckers. David Nifoussi ’07 already owns a company. A company that will put flamingos in your yard while you sleep and attack you with embarrassing songs on your birthday.

Nifoussi began working for Eastern Onion and Flamingos by the Yard this past July. “I was [in the Twin Cities] for the summer, and didn’t have a job,” he said. “So I was looking in the classifieds, and there was an ad for a ‘singing telegram company seeking talent.'”

The curious young music major was hired as a deliverer and performer of singing telegrams, and continued with his unique job into the school year. His breakthrough came in October. “I got an email from the owner, sent to all employees, saying he was going to sell the company,” he said. “I spent the weekend thinking about it, then emailed my father and asked him, ‘What would you think if I bought a company?’ then he replied, ‘You should do this, and I will help you do it.’ It’s been in the works since then—I officially bought the company on December 16.”

One of the Eastern Onion and Flamingos by the Yard’s two main products is the singing telegram—a little skit performed by one person, usually dressed up in a costume, ordered by somebody with the main goal of embarrassing somebody else. “They tend to last about 10 minutes, and consist of two songs incorporating some personal information about the person being performed to that embarrasses them a little,” Nifoussi explained. “The main point is to help everyone have a good time.”

On top of singing telegrams, Nifoussi’s company also offers a service familiar to many. Remember that douchebag who had those friends who were assholes, and they lived to make middle school suck for you? Well, late at night, maybe you and your cool friends snuck into his yard and stuck a bunch of plastic forks into his lawn, praying that his parents wouldn’t come out and yell/chase you. Eastern Onion and Flamingos by the Yard does the same thing, except with, well, flamingos. Penguins and tombstones are also available. Indeed, with a simple phone call (and forking over some cash), one of Nifoussi’s minions would be willing to fill anybody’s yard with your choice of 50 flamingos, penguins, or tombstones between midnight and 6 am, then clean them up after giving your victim a surprise they hadn’t expected for years.

Of course, Nifoussi isn’t the only employee of his company. Other positions include an office secretary, located in his office in New Hope, MN (about 20 miles from St. Paul, northwest of Minneapolis) who works full time answering calls and requests. Others include two drivers to deliver the flamingos, three male singing telegram performers (with Nifoussi, there are four male singers), and six female singers. Nifoussi also plans on expanding his staff soon.

Although nearly his entire job consists of funny experiences, Nifoussi recalls one in particular that stuck out in his mind. “At the beginning of January, a woman called us up and explained that her mother was incredibly afraid of rats. She wanted somebody to get dressed up as a rat, go to her mother’s office, and give her a surprise,” he said. “So, I dressed up as a rat, and sang ‘Ben’ by Michael Jackson—there’s a movie about a boy whose best friend is a rat named Ben—but instead of saying ‘Ben,’ I said her name. It went really well. She was crying…probably from embarrassment.”

Rates vary on location, but generally in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, the base rate for a telegram is $98, and $99.99 for a yard of flamingos. Telegram singers are willing to travel, if the price is right. “We did one in Rochester [about an hour an a half from the Cities] once, which we charged $250 for, plus they gave us a great tip, so it ended up over $300,” he said.

Nifoussi plans on expanding his company with more business and marketing ideas. “I just had a meeting with people who do children’s entertainment that I want to hire to do telegrams,” he said. “We really want to start going for the children’s aspect of things also.”

Nifoussi is also looking to go corporate. “Corporate entertainment is really where it’s at. Personal gifts get a bit expensive, but if a corporation spends $300 on entertainment, it isn’t a big deal.”