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This Startup Paid the Fake Sign Language Interpreter From Mandela’s Funeral a Ton Of Money to Star in Its Ad

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Thamsanqa Jantjie’s brush with celebrity should have been fleeting. In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Jantjie was the phony sign language interpreter during Nelson Mandela’s funeral who signed things like “hand me scissors” while dignitaries honored one of the last century’s greatest leaders.

But no. While Jantjie was in a mental institution—he told anyone who would listen that his ineptitude was brought on by visions of angels and a history of schizophrenia—an Israeli startup thought it would be a great idea to send a journalist into a mental ward to pitch him a job as being the spokesman for a live streaming video app.

This worked for Jantjie because, as he told Betabeat: “I want to be a professional actor—[being famous] was my dream since I was a little boy.”

And so, in the ad, Jantjie lies about having an “ancestral ceremony” to attend so he could bust out of the hospital for a day and star in a completely tone-deaf commercial for Livelens, an app that streams videos to your friends. He jokes about essentially turning Mandela’s funeral into a farce (“I speak sign language—not,” he signs) and got paid a lot of money to do it. Or at least enough to buy a new house for his family, Jantjie told Betabeat before clarifying that he wasn’t sorry for any of his actions at the funeral.

“We needed something surprising,” Livelens’ Sefi Shaked told the New York Daily News. “We wanted to choose a presenter who is the worst presenter for a live app possible; you know, the person who did the worst screw up on live TV — ever.”

And Livelens’ pandering for shares is obvious. Jantjie even signs “I’m on a horse” as his head is photoshopped on an image of the “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” riding a horse in an Old Spice ad.

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