Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Chris Wilcox and Anthony O’Loughlin with their Bad Advice sign. The pair do shifts daily in Harvard Square to help pay for food, diabetes medication and rent. (Photo: Megan Gonzalez)

Who wants bad advice? Lots of people, and they’re willing to pay for it.

A young blonde walks up to a man with pink hair holding a cardboard sign saying “Bad Advice, $1” near the Massachusetts Avenue and Holyoke Street.

The man, Chris Wilcox, takes her dollar, looks at her and says, “Go bleach your hair again, and dye your roots.”

The young woman, Delaney Ford, stalks off, offended and embarrassed.

Later, she laughed about it. “They’re comical to a certain extent,” said Ford, 17. She said the advice has entertainment value, but she wouldn’t recommend it to people who feel insecure.

Wilcox, 26, is part of a duo dispensing dubious wisdom in Harvard Square. The Bad Advice boys, unemployed friends Wilcox and Anthony O’Loughlin, 23, started their shtick because O’Loughlin needed to pay for his diabetes medicine. Wilcox had seen another man holding a “bad advice” sign months earlier, and thought they could try it.

They made $20 in their first 10 minutes.

They started giving bad advice in June and now are getting permits, at the request of the Cambridge Arts Council. They continue to give bad advice while waiting for the permits to be confirmed. (Here’s a clip of the duo in action in July, with sincere but bad advice that there’s little for the underage to do in the area.)

Business is slower now, $10 to $20 a day, but they still make enough money for food and the medication. They have gone from homeless in Harvard Square to renting a small apartment in Medford. Their sign has improved from cardboard to etched wood.

Wilcox handles advice about drugs and relationships, while O’Loughlin covers all other topics, including the job market and economy.

Nathan Donovan, a 16-year-old Harvard summer school student, approached the Bad Advice men on a recent Saturday and paid them a dollar.

“What’s going good in your life?” Wilcox asked.

“I’m hooking up with this hot girl!” Donovan said.

Wilcox played with the little strand of pink hair coming out of his hat and said, “Go on a date with me. Wear leather, bring money, I don’t pay for anything. Oh, and you would make a good drag queen.”

Donovan just laughed and walked away.

Wilcox and O’Loughlin are trying to turn themselves into a brand. They created a Facebook page and a Youtube channel and plan to sell T-shirts advertising “Bad Advice.” What they are after most is crowd reaction.

Hence the advice they gave to Taha Uheba, a 17-year-old from London who told the duo, “I have a loving family.”

“Start drinking,” Wilcox said.

“I’m underage!” Uheba said.

“Even a better reason to start,” Wilcox replied, getting a laugh from Uheba.

What’s the worst advice they’ve ever given?

“I once told a guy to date me,” Wilcox cracked. Asked whether anyone has ever followed his bad advice, he says “The worst advice I have ever given to anyone was to meet me in a parking lot wearing a leather suit. He actually met me in a parking lot wearing a leather suit.”

The Bad Advice men come out most days around 3 p.m. and stay late through the night. Wilcox usually takes the afternoon shift, O’Loughlin the evening one.

I asked Wilcox for advice in writing this story. “Smoke weed,” he said. “Get high, and receive a high score on your story.”

Bad advice, as advertised.