Danny Wallace’s career is hard to explain. He’s a writer, former tv producer, and has even appeared on panel shows. I’d read his book ‘Are You Dave Gorman?’ (which he co-authored with Gorman, a comedian who used to be his flatmate). In that book, a true story, Wallace bet Gorman that there weren’t that many other people with the name Dave Gorman. This set off a worldwide trip to meet as many Dave Gormans as possible.
In Join Me, Wallace starts a cult (or a collective, as he insists – understandably – on calling it) largely by accident. He’d just got back from the funeral of his great uncle Gallus in Switzerland where his family told him the story of Gallus’ grand plan to form a sort of commune. He wanted 100 people to live there with him, an ambitious prospect as it was 1/10 of the population of his village. He only attracted 3 people and gave up on the idea.
Wallace is part touched and part inspired by this. One day, bored at home, he enters an advert into the London small ads paper Loot. The ad simply read ‘JOIN ME’ and asked joinees to send a passport photo of themselves. There was no explanation of what people were joining, quite simply because Wallace didn’t have a purpose.
As the collective begins to grow, Wallace wrestles with the challenges of keeping all of this secret from his girlfriend, Hanne (who has already had quite enough of his ‘stupid boy projects’ following his exploits with Dave Gorman) and trying to avoid the question of what the collective is for. Eventually he is forced to invent a reason and tells his joinees to do good deeds every Friday. The ‘Karma Army’ was born.
The collective attracted a media attention in a number of countries and grew quickly. Wallace tells the story in entertaining fashion and is honest about where he went wrong. Perhaps the best testament to the power of this tale is that ‘Join Me’ still exists. They even have annual meet-ups and Wallace still leads the group. What started as one man’s bored experiment started a movement which has, albeit on a limited scale, been a real force for good, and that deserves respect.