If you’re into watching “best scare pranks” on YouTube or TikTok, you may have noticed some new content coming out of Fisherman’s Wharf recently.
That’s because there’s a new Bushman in town—Cory Barnette of San Jose—who’s taken on the baton of scaring people while dressed in fake foliage, as his predecessors and former Bushmen Gregory Jacobs and David Johnson once did. (Jacobs passed away in 2014, and Johnson retired in 2019.)
It’s an iconic, long-running San Francisco prank: A man disguised as a bush jumps at unassuming passersby—often tourists—as they walk nearby. Screams, shouts and eventually laughs ensue.
Now, Barnette arrives at Pier 39 early most weekends to settle into his alter ego as the “Bay Area Bushman” for an afternoon of spooking.
“When I first started, I was kinda nervous about the whole thing. Like, putting the bush suit on in front of people,” Barnette said. “But people are just smiling and laughing like, ‘I know what you’re doing.’”
Barnette was inspired by social media content portraying the classic prank, and he’s been at it himself for almost three months. Now 33, Barnette also remembers watching the original Bushman as a child.
Nostalgia seems to be a shared theme, as numerous scare victims on a recent Friday could be heard exclaiming “The Bushman is back!” after recovering from being spooked.
Barnette approaches the Bushman identity with great care and positivity, scanning the streets only for people that seem up for the prank. Contrary to the arguably severe nature of the previous Bushman, Barnette often doesn’t try to frighten people when they’re by themselves. If they are alone, there’s no one to share the laugh with, he said, and it’s more embarrassing than fun. Rather, he’ll more subtly make his presence known with a “How are you doing?” or a “Have a wonderful day.’’
But it’s true that some passersby make better victims than others: People immersed in conversation or looking down at their phones are the most ideal candidates, said Barnette, as are blissfully unaware children.
“I call it next-level people-watching,” said Barnette. People’s reactions to the prank provide a glimpse into their personalities.
That was certainly the case Friday, when people mesmerized by the Bushman’s act lingered after their own scaring to watch others fall into the same fate.
“I talk to people all the time. People give tips, they watch for 30-40 minutes and say it was the best entertainment of the day,” Barnette said.
“I think people are looking for something like that, something to bring everybody together.”
Morgan Ellis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org