show

Steven Heller

Canned Laughter



Recently, I caught a whiff of a pungent odor emanating from a local construction site and noticed a thick green, anaconda-sized hose running from a tank on a truck emblazoned with the words “Call-A-Head” in bold gothic letters on the side. I was immediately reminded how indispensable portable toilets are to many walks of life, and how verbal and visual puns are copious throughout this indispensable industry. Manufacturers and suppliers go to great lengths to make the portable toilet experience clean and sanitary, as well as warm and cute. Portable toiletry is only second after hair salons (i.e. Mane Street, Clip Joint, Hair Today, etc.) for warm and cute, albeit excruciating, pun names. And yet this is a dirty job, so why shouldn’t those who attend to our bodily hygiene have the opportunity to practice a little wit and double entendre?

With this in mind, I set out to determine how widespread this branding phenomenon really is. Is it localized in comedy-centric locales, like New York, Chicago, Waco, or Walla Walla? Or is it a trend that knows no regional borders or boundaries? For the better part of a day I visited New York City’s numerous construction sites, a veritable forest of portable out-houses, copying down names and numbers. Not surprisingly I learned that Porta-Potty was the most common brand, with Call-A-Head a close second. Scattered throughout the city were the variants on John, including Sani-Jon, Porta-John (note the former spelling may be a homage to Jon Stewart), Johnny on the Spot, Johnny on the Potty, Mr. John, Gotta-Go-Johns, and Little John. There was also Port-o-Let, and, the regal A Royal Flush. My favorite, however, was Zack’s Shacks (which could also be misidentified as a chain of roadside eateries).



I wondered who came up with these puns – was it people who lacked internal monologues (terets sufferers, perhaps) or professional copywriters? After an unsuccessful attempt was made to contact an official at the Porta-Potty company, I admit I did not pursue the quest. I did, however, find that there were other people (an online user-group, of sorts) who had been collecting novel names unique to other regions, which are listed below for your edification in no particular order:

Happy Can Portable Toilets, Atlanta, Ga.
Drop Zone Portable Service Inc.,
Frankfort, Ill. Best Seat In The House Inc.,
Bradley, Ill. Plop Jon Inc.,
Port Saint Lucie, Fla.
Port-A-Pots Inc., Hampstead, Md.
Ameri-Can Engineering, Argos, Ind.
Bobby's Pottys, Joppa, Md.
LepreCAN Portable Restrooms, Chicago, Ill.
Loader-Up, Inc., Sarasota, Fla.
Royal Throne, Washington, D.C.
Tanks Alot, Tomball, Tex.
Tee Pee Inc, Roseville, Mich.
Wizards of Ooze Ltd., Anacortes, Wash.
Oui Oui Enterprises Ltd., Chicago
Gotta Go Potties, Tobyhanna, Pa.
UrinBiz.com, Chicago
Willy Make It?, Oregon City, Oreg.
Doodie Calls, New Orleans

With the exception of the last (and most juvenile), they are not all that cringe-inducing. But what does this branding technique say about American popular culture? Perhaps all it needs to say is that a little levity can go a long way in making such a essential product, and therefore everyday life, more pleasant. I agree that two thirds of a pun is PU, but since these toilet names do, in fact, trigger chuckles, they do, in fact, serve a purpose. So I don’t see any need to can the laughter, do you?

Posted in: Branding, Culture

Comment 33  |     |     |   Like 0  |   Tweet 0
Comments [33]
Here in Eugene, OR the porta-potty suction trucks have the slogan "Yesterday's Meals-on-Wheels."
Steve
08.22.08
12:32

I see a lot of "johnny on the spot" toilets at outdoor events here in Arkansas. I like that name.
Tim Campbell
08.22.08
01:59

Seattle,WA has the Honey Hole for all you scat freaks out there.
James
08.22.08
02:32

We have a port-a-john delivery truck around here (upstate NY) that claims to be:

#1 in the #2 business.
Doug Bartow
08.22.08
02:44

And a beautiful link on this subject, to further the conversation:

http://www.eventective.com/blog/parties/2008/07/22/porta-potty-paradise/
William Drenttel
08.22.08
02:52

"was it people who lacked internal monologues (terets sufferers, perhaps)"

Are you referring to people with Tourette's syndrome? I'm fairly sure a lack of an internal monologue is not the issue at stake with people diagnosed with Tourette's, having worked with many such people in my life.

It may, however, be the issue at stake with copywriters.
earl
08.22.08
03:19

I agree, Earl. This otherwise amusing article is contaminated by that stupid, parenthetical speculation—patronizing, obnoxious, and unnecessary --about those poor souls (non-designers, no doubt) who lack “internal monologues.” And then, why not add those people who are sadly afflicted by disease so poorly understood by this author that he can’t even spell it? Perhaps somebody’s internal monologue requires an external editor.
Jeff
08.22.08
03:36

Chiming in from Memphis, I have fond memories of the old "Johnny on the Job" at childhood baseball games. During my backpacking days in Scouts, there were two styles of wooden outhouses that took their names from military aviation: the "Pilot to Co-Pilot", an enclosed crapper in which two people sat side by side, and the "Pilot to Bombardier", which had no walls or roof and you sat back to back. Both were potentially constipation-inducing to any city kids who had never sat on anything other than clean, cold porcelain. I always felt that it was a hell of a lot better than having to dig a latrine.

There's an Australian comedic movie about the life of a man who installs and empties these facilities. Released in 2006, it's called Kenny. Pretty funny in places.

On the topic of niche local businesses with puns for names, one of my favorites here at home features a large portrait of J.S. Bach on their delivery vans. The name for this deli delivery service? Bach's Lunch.
Benito
08.22.08
04:23

Porta Janes, as they are called, are used at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. (sorry boys, girls only)
Carol K
08.22.08
04:28

Earl and Jeff, Consider me chastened. I agree the comment about Tourette's was crass and insensitive. I apologize.
steve heller
08.22.08
05:36

There's an Australian film called Kenny, where the character Kenny is a portable toilet engineer/plumber/installer/expert (?) who works for a company called 'Splashdown'? (not a fictitious company). It actually won some significant film awards here recently... believe it or not.

Here's the trailer.

Andrew Haig
08.22.08
11:17

I was at an upscale wedding in the Hamptons some years ago. On the grounds of the property, fancy portable bathroom trailers were brought in for the guests to use.

Their name: Porsche Potties.
Joanne Kaliontzis
08.23.08
11:08

Here's a funny one for you...

http://growabrain.typepad.com/growabrain/architecture_doors/index.html

I used this image for a project in school I did about 50 Ways to see a Door.
Sallie Keys
08.24.08
11:24

Hard to believe no one's mentioned the Woodstock movie, with its extensive treatment of the "Port-o-San." It's a hilarious scene.
Kikuchiyo
08.24.08
02:07

Actually the principal one in Ireland is called

Handy Hut

No so witty perhaps, but I do like their email address.

aesthetics@eircom.net

(eircom is the principal telecom in Ireland.)
Tommy Weir
08.24.08
06:12

I think the portable toilet thing is national. Out here, near La Push, we have La Flush.

But the big thing in Washington State is the espresso shack names, e.g. Thanks A Latte, Common Grounds, Higher Grounds, Simmer Down, Grounds For Perfection and Roundup Alatte.
Kaleberg
08.24.08
08:07

Here in Portland, OR we have the wonderfully named Honey Bucket.
Andrew Fuller
08.25.08
01:29

"Seattle, WA has the Honey Hole for all you scat freaks out there.

Posted by: James on 08.22.08 at 02:32"


Actually, James, the Honey Hole is a sandwich shop. You might be thinking of Honey Bucket, which is most likely the same as the service in Portland.
polich
08.25.08
03:49

Thanks for the correction polich. If you have ever tasted a sandwich at the Honey Hole then you know how I got the two mixed up.

08.26.08
01:22

I'm so happy to see that others have posted about the Honey Bucket. Talk about a misnomer!
Tina
08.26.08
11:44

In VA I see alot of Don's Johns also.
Stacy
08.26.08
01:44

There is a place in Lewiston, ID by the name of King's Thrones
Jesse
08.28.08
07:48

Up the block, there's one in bright orange called Ker-Plunk
sam mcmillan
08.28.08
08:14

I was curious what the upstanding and proper British do for their loo. Here's what I found:
M T Loos
Flush-It Limited
Lav Hire
The Convenience
Igloos
D Tox
Dial A Loo
Waterloo Co
Toodle-Loo Toilet Hire
P & P Toilet Hire
Loos for Do's Ltd.
Time in Lieu
Latta Loo Hire
Ab Fab Loos
Superloo Ltd.
Desilou Ltd.
steve heller
08.29.08
10:51

My favorite is a sanitation company in Silicon Valley:

Acme and Sons.
Mike T.
09.01.08
09:26

A whole other post could discuss slogans of some of these companies. A recent walk past a construction site yielded the following slogan on the site of a truck picking up portable toilets: "We're #1 and picking up #2"
David Hughes
09.02.08
10:08

I never understood what "Call-A-Head" was referencing until I took up sailing. I always knew it was a pun of some sort, but couldn't quite reconcile it. I now know that a toilet is known as a "head" on boats. Genius.
Marc Levitt
09.08.08
01:33

As a kid in Southern California I distinctly remember the "Dipper Dan" company, complete with a ladle graphic. Somewhat icky even at the age these jokes ruled.
Kira C.
09.08.08
03:56

At upscale outdoor events here in South Florida, I've seen a trailer-based restroom with multiple stalls and sinks. Fairly swank, for a bathroom.

It's called, "The Crowd Pleaser".
thebullfrog
09.08.08
04:02

Chicago: Lepracan
New Orleans: Pot O' Gold
permawash
09.09.08
08:26

Very Good Site
fifa55
09.10.08
03:58

this post is fantastic
Janni
09.10.08
03:58

Gloomy tales
Bob
09.10.08
03:59



Creative Opportunities
  • Twitter Facebook Google+
    Tumblr Pinterest RSS

    Design Observer
    social media à la carte
  • Newsletter signup

  • Design Jobs
    Observer Jobs Spotlight




Places Journal
Mail Chimp