Peeing in hotel kettles and other extraordinary confessions heard by Fesshole comedian Rob Manuel as he heads to Cambridge
After five years of soliciting anonymous confessions through his viral Twitter account, Fesshole, comedian Rob Manuel reckons he has learnt one important thing - never use the kettle in your hotel room.
Perhaps you had been expecting a thoughtful treatise on human nature from the man who reads up to 400 confessions a day sent to him by members of the public. But this is what has stood out for Rob.
“A lot of confessions I receive are about people peeing in hotel kettles,” he says. “Before I started running this project, I would happily make myself a cup of tea when I got into a hotel and now I’m like, maybe not. Although someone did submit a story about taking the back off a hairdryer and pooing in that. Oh my God, what is wrong with them? Horrible!”
The account, which Rob set up as an amusing online project that was running alongside several others, including one that gathers people’s most unpopular opinions, has begun to take over his life.
He now spends hours each day searching through the hundreds of confessions sent in to find just a handful of truly funny or shocking submissions that then get posted on his Fesshole Twitter account.
“It’s an extraordinary amount of effort,” says Rob. “It’s not a low effort project at all because I’ve got to read between 200 and 400 that come in every day. So it’s a lot of material to get through and then I have to choose what to post.”
How does he decide what will make the grade? “I’m looking for something funny or interesting. Some people have an eye for noticing funny things in their life and then we’ll try and tell a good story about it, although I think there’s some people out there who have an inability to ever notice anything funny and stop telling the story when they get to the funny bit!”
Some of the best include a man whose wife bought a dashcam for their car. “I didn’t know it recorded the sound in the car,” he confessed. “She now has lots of recordings of me pretending to be interviewed by Sky Sports as manager of my FIFA team while driving to work. Mortifying.”
Another revealed: “I put a fake planning notice on the lampposts on our street, saying the local school was closing and being turned into a migrant centre. The WhatsApp group went ******* mental.”
And who wouldn’t love to do something like this with their work email? “My organisation decided that the statement at the end of all email signatures should also be in Welsh to be inclusive. As the only Welsh speaker I translated, and added at the end the words ‘here be dragons’. The whole organisation has had this on emails for four years now.”
Rob explains he never tries to confirm whether the confessions are true - they just have to be possible and make him laugh.
“I’m encouraging people to be competitively funny,” he says.
“And that’s an inherently appealing thing to be part of: can you anecdotalise your own life into a 280-character story that will make people gasp or laugh? That’s a challenge people enjoy. Obviously there are some people who find it cathartic, there’s some people who would just want to know they’re not alone in their madness.
“It is genuinely anonymous. I don’t have any more information about the submission than you have reading it. But I tend to believe that extraordinary things happen. And people have mad lives you know, stuff happens. I don’t know how much is true.”
Along the way, Rob has collected reasons people have told him about why they sent in their confessions. These have included:
“For the glory of having my filthy life out there and people not knowing that it’s me.”
“To see how the world reacts.”
“For the satisfaction of having my fess deemed worthy of publishing.”
“I confess because my boyfriend follows all my social media and questions everything. Confessing anonymously helps me vent without being judged.”
“Confess? This is my therapy, man.”
“Anonymity in a social media age is an interesting concept. What if I wanted to tell people something but them not know it was me? My early Fess about gaming Sainsbury’s online shopping (or more accurately, “supermarket fraud”) allowed me to do this.”
According to Rob, the regular confessions that don’t see the light of day are mostly sexual fantasies about politicians. “There’s a lot of stuff I don’t publish, quite a lot is about men talking about stealing shoes and stuff like that. I think, oh God I’m not going to share too much of that world,” says Rob.
“There’s also a lot of endless sub-Razzle confessions of men, generally men, wanting to talk about being dominated by female Tory politicians and horrible fantasies about Priti Patel and Penny Mordaunt.. Anyway, basically, if there’s a high profile female Tory politician, there’s those scuzzy men just sort of going, ‘I voted Labour since 1946, But I wouldn’t mind having her telling me to stop my boats’.”
Another common confession is from people who urinate in sinks. “By surveying our audiences, we have found 65 per cent of people admit to this,” he says.
Surely none of these can be women, just because of the logistics of the exercise?
Rob has purposely set up a link on Google Forms into which people can write their confessions completely anonymously, so he isn’t able to see their email or IP address and whatever they write cannot be traced.
“Still, some people insist on directly messaging me on Twitter with their confessions, when obviously I can see their names.”
A recent one was a man who messaged Rob to tell him about defecating into a carrier bag and throwing it into a gym after an argument. “I had to block him in the end,” he says.
Now Rob is taking a show about the confessions on tour, with a selection of the best confessions alongside some sent in by that night’s audience.
He admits to being stunned by one confession from a member of the audience in Manchester. He explains: “We had this guy who was telling us about how he would fart into his phone and send it as a WhatsApp message to his brother and he played it to us. And then we had a later confession from this guy who was running a 200-member strong WhatsApp group for exchanging farts and so we were able to induct a new member into his group live as a show.
“I probably wouldn’t join that group myself. But what I personally enjoy about the internet is the ability to run stupid projects. It enables you to start something about anything. And that’s why I’ve running a thing called Beta for 20 years which is all about people starting and running internet projects; funny ones mostly, stupid lots of lots of time.”
He is curious to hear the confessions at the Cambridge show, wondering what kind of audience will turn up. But he is able to search through confessions that come in mentioning the city and has found these already:
End of April, Year 2000, I saw a Mountain Lion - stalking lambs on a farm. No doubt it was a Mountain lion. I didn’t want it shot, so didn’t tell anyone. I am a vet in Cambridgeshire. Hope it found a partner and had cubs.
I lecture on English literature at Cambridge University but all I read in my spare time are trashy crime novels I buy from Tesco (2 for £8).
When I lived in Cambridge I had the chance to knock over Maggie Thatcher and Jeffrey Archer in Grantchester as they crossed the road to church and I didn’t take it. It was a Ford Fiesta, my first car and I loved it. I realise now that cars come and go.
In the ‘90s an annual Cambridge-London bicycle race went through my village. For several years my mates and I would take great pleasure in moving the direction arrow signs and then counting how many laps the cyclists did before realising something was up. Record was 12 laps.
If I stop the microwave before time, the unused seconds remain on the screen. When I next use the microwave, I make sure to use those seconds rather than ‘waste’ them. I have a PhD in physics from Cambridge University.
Cambridge Station used to have a bank of lockers. 60 seconds after closing a door, it would spring back open if not paid for. We would close every door going left to right, then wait. The doors would spring open in a noisy wave, chasing passengers along the platform.
I live in Cambridge, my wife works in publishing, and I use the Oxford comma all the damn time.
Rob Manuel is coming to the Arts Picturehouse on October 11. Visit https://designmynight.com/cambridge/whats-on/comedy/fesshole-live-cambridge?t=tickets for tickets, starting at £18.