Getting to Know … International Talk Like a Pirate Day


John “Ol’ Chumbucket” Baur

International Talk Like A Pirate Day is perhaps the only holiday that began as a sport’s injury. On June 6, 1995, John Baur and Mark Summers were playing racquetball together when one of them strained a muscle and let out an “Arrr.” They had no idea this one moment would end up changing their lives forever.

Once the initial “Arrr” was spoken, the two friends from Albany, Oregon spent the rest of the afternoon talking in pirate voices. “After the game we decided there ought to be one day a year where everybody just talks like a pirate,” said Summers.

The two friends decided to create Talk Like A Pirate Day. The only problem was, they needed to pick a day for their holiday. “I’m a guy with a brain the size of a pea and I can only fit a certain amount of dates in my head,” Mark said. “I was recently divorced at the time. [My ex-wife's birthday] was stuck in my head and I just wasn’t doing anything with it.”

So, Sept. 19th, Summers’ ex-wife’s birthday, was declared Talk Like A Pirate Day.

“The next thing you know, it’s become a private joke among a few friends who call each other up at work every Sept. 19th and go, ‘Arrr,’ and then hang up,” John recalled.

“And then we got Dave Barry’s email address, so we invited him to be part of it,” said John. “He wrote a column that appeared on Sept. 8, 2002 and we thought, ‘Aww, there that’s cute, there’s our 15 minutes of fame.’ And the thing just took off.”

After Dave Barry’s column ran, Baur and Summers were contacted by the creators of Chase’s Calender of Events, who asked if they could include Talk Like A Pirate Day in their publication. They agreed and when their holiday was included in the book the following year, radio stations began contacting them for interviews.

Talk Like A Pirate Day began to grow. As the two garnered more attention, they had to adopt pirate personas. Baur dubbed himself Ol’ Chumbucket, which he imagines to be a pirate ship’s cook with subpar culinary skills. Summers adopted the nickname Cap’n Slappy, which was a moniker he used in videogames.

In the past few years, they have celebrated Talk Like A Pirate Day by doing radio interviews across the globe. They begin getting calls on the afternoon of Sept. 18th from Australia and continue fielding calls around the world, from places like England, Amsterdam, Ireland, Switzerland and, of course, the United States. They have received fan mail from all seven continents, including a research station in the South Pole.

“It’s amazing. We had absolutely no idea what we were letting ourselves in for,” said Baur.

“Talk Like A Pirate Day for us used to be as simple as calling our friends at work and saying ‘Arrr’ into the phone, then hanging up. We had no idea we’d spend so much time on the phone in future Talk Like A Pirate Days,” said Summers. “We literally got to travel around the world by telephone in our underpants.”

The two enjoy doing the interviews, but things can get rather tedious, since the DJs tend to ask the same five questions over and over again. They occasionally have to deal with small-town disc jockeys more interested in getting their own material over than actually interviewing the duo. And, in years past, they have done as many as 80 interviews over the course of 30 hours.

Working behind the scenes to support the two is Baur’s wife Tori, who is affectionately referred to by the pirate nickname “Mad Sally.” John and Tori met while doing community theatre, which is also where John met Mark. While Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy are doing their radio interviews, Mad Sally fields calls behind the scenes and does the interviews John and Mark can’t squeeze into their schedule.


Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers

“It’s crazy, we get no sleep at all,” Tori said.

Due to Talk Like A Pirate Day’s popularity, “Team Pirate” has been able to branch out into other ventures. They officially incorporated as The Pirate Guys, LLC, and set up a website, TalkLikeAPirate.com. The site, which is run by their “web wench” Jezebel, received 19 million hits the first September it was up. Capitalizing on their newfound popularity, the duo also decided to write a book.

John said, “Almost everything that’s happened to get us to where we are now started with the words ‘You know what would be funny …’” Baur and Summers began joking about writing a book about pirates, but never followed through.

“These are guys who sit around and drink a lot of beer and just talk a lot out of their ass,” Tori said. “So I basically said, ‘Okay, look guys, I’m going to find you an agent.’”

Tori, who was attending Oregon State University at the time, skipped a physical fitness class and used one of the campus’ computers to query literary agents. She created a form letter and sent it out to 50 agents, pretending she was John. One agent expressed interest and asked to see the manuscript in 10 days when he returned from vacation.

That’s when Mad Sally went back to The Pirate Guys and told them they had 10 days to write their book. John recalls that most of the book was written over one long weekend, which involved consuming large amounts of pizza and beer and very little research. They found an agent interested in selling the book, but they had trouble finding a publishing house interested in buying it.

They decided that if the book hadn’t sold by February 2004, they would self-publish it.

“The whole thing has been one serendipitous event after another,” said John. He was working as a science writer at the time for Oregon State University, but due to budget cuts, he was informed that his last day of work would be the end of February 2004.

“It was like God telling us what to do,” John recalled.

The Pirate Guys self-published their book, entitled Well Blow Me Down. The book sold enough copies to make back their initial investment and New American Library, a division of Penguin Publishing, expressed an interest in buying the manuscript. At New American Library’s request, they tinkered with the format, added new material and renamed the book Pirattitude, which was a term Mark coined.

Summers defines Pirattitude as “that swagger, it’s that devil-may-care attitude that a pirate has. It’s the spirit of fun.”

In addition to writing the book, Mark and John perform live shows under their pirate personas. Their shows are mostly all-ages and rely heavily on interaction with the crowd.

“It’s very much audience participation because we want them to do as much of the work as possible,” said John.

The Pirate Guys teach the audience how to talk like a pirate, sing pirate songs and “create a public nuisance.” And, while they try to keep things PG, occasionally they slip up.

“We try to keep it family friendly, but occasionally I ad lib something that is so terribly off-color it makes John weep,” Mark admitted.


Tori “Mad Sally” Baur

Perhaps one of their strangest stops on their serendipitous journey was ending up on the ABC show Wife Swap, which Tori refers to as “Wench Swap.” Jezebel, their web wench, forwarded an email from ABC to the other members of Team Pirate, which was looking for pirate reenactors to be on the show. Jezebel asked if they wanted to put a link up on their website, adding “unless Tori wants to show them how it’s really done.”

“So, of course, I took that as a dare and I sent an email off to ABC saying, ‘Well, why would you want reenactors when you can have the real thing?’” Tori recalled.

The next day, they got a call from executives in New York and, before they knew it, they were filming Wife Swap. While the show garnered a lot of attention for their cause and helped to sell copies of their book, it was definitely a grueling experience.

“The filming aspect was amazing. The crew and learning that side of the television business, I thought that was amazing. I would do that again in a heartbeat because I love the film industry and theatre,” said Tori. “But actually trading families and trading lives, that was really hard because John and I are really close, we’ve never been apart from each other more than a couple of days. So being away from him for 10 days was really, really difficult because I had no contact with him at all. So being in a strange household with people who weren’t too friendly, that was hard.”

Tori traded places with Lisa Fine, a California women who ran an organizing business. On the show, Fine and her family were depicted as obsessively neat and organized, caring very much about appearances. The Baurs were depicted as slobs living in a chaotic household.

For anyone considering signing up for Wife Swap, John has some advice: “The first thing you have to do is ask yourself, ‘How bad can they make me look and do I care?’”

The film crew shot over 200 hours of tape, which was cut into a 48-minute show. John feels that they purposely slanted the show a certain way. “They came in knowing the story they were going to tell and knowing the shots they needed to tell it,” John said. “Even though I think a more interesting story developed, at the end of the day they told the same story they had planned to tell right at the beginning.”


John “Ol’ Chumbucket” Baur

One of the things ABC failed to mention was that the Baurs actually have six kids. Only three of them were seen on the show, the other three are older and are no longer living at home. They also didn’t mention that Tori was attending college at the time, which is part of the reason the house was such a mess. She ended up graduating Magna Cum Laude with an English degree.

Tori isn’t bothered by her portrayal on the show. “I’m secure with who I am. I’ve never had a problem being who I am,” she said.

As for her messy house: “It was an amazingly freeing experience to not give a shit about cleaning and how my house looked. And I’ve never cared. If people don’t like the way I live, they don’t have to come over.”

However, she didn’t enjoy her time with the Fines. “I was in a family in a household that was so oppressed,” she said. “They weren’t kind people at all. The husband was rude, he was boorish.”

The Fine’s daughter called Tori fat and lazy. “She was the antichrist so far as children are concerned,” said Mad Sally.

Tori also displayed some of her signature pirate spirit during the filming of the show. She was given a list of chores that she was expected to perform the next day in front of the cameras, but instead decided to do them on her own, filming herself using one of the cameras they left behind.

“The family had gone to sleep and I knew I had this list of chores to do and I’m like, ‘Screw this, I’m not going to do this list of chores with some asshole standing over my shoulder telling me how to clean or scrub things,’” Tori recalled. “And so I said, ‘I’m going to pull an all-nighter.’ So I stayed up all night long and I filmed myself doing all the chores all night long.” At the end, she licked the floor to prove how clean it was.

The next morning, the camera crew arrived and was a bit bewildered to discover she had already completed the chores, but they decided the video she shot was good and included it in the show.

Cap’n Slappy also made a guest appearance on the Wife Swap episode, but his experience was much different from the Baurs. Mark was flown to California to assist Tori. He was driven to the airport in a limo and had an assistant with him for his day of shooting.

“I highly recommend anyone who can get an assistant, get one,” Mark said.

However, he could see the toll the show took on his friends emotionally. Mark, who is a licensed clinical social worker, said, “By the time we all got back together after the whole ordeal was over, I realized that the two of them were responding like people who had been through a trauma.”

When the episode originally aired last September, sales of their book skyrocketed on Amazon.com. And the response Team Pirate got was mostly positive.


The Baurs and their children – Ben, Jack, Max, Millie, Alex and Kate

“One of the best compliments I got were letters from teenage girls and grown women with children of their own who said, ‘Thank you for showing us that there is an alternative way to live. You don’t have to pretend to be perfect,’” said Tori.

Wife Swap also has garnered them more attention in their town, making them quasi-celebrities.

“We were not unknown in the community before the pirate thing started,” said Ol’ Chumbucket, who explained the Baurs would occasionally be recognized from their performances at the community theatre. “We are what passes for celebrities here. We used to be curiosities, we’ve worked our way up to oddities and we are working on celebrity now.”

Cap’n Slappy also gets recognized around town. Being a man of larger carriage, he says that it’s not hard for people to pick him out of a crowd.

“When I go places, people either say, ‘I saw you on Wife Swap‘ or ‘Aren’t you Santa Claus?’” Mark joked.

He also gets recognized during his day job as a social worker. He goes into schools to council troubled kids and inevitably, some of the kids will recognize him from his appearance on Wife Swap. Usually, this leads to kids asking for his autograph, which is something Summers can’t quite understand. “Those kids need a Tiger Beat magazine.”

As their popularity continues to grow, The Pirate Guys have found support in the strangest places. Some of their biggest supporters are Pastifarians, followers of the parody-religion created by Bobby Henderson known as The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. One of the beliefs of Pastifarians is that global warming is caused by the decrease of pirates worldwide.

“Makes perfect sense to me,” John said. “I think this entitles us to federal grants because we are obviously doing our part to reinvigorate pirates and therefore reduce global warming.”

Mark agrees: “The science is indisputable.”

Talk Like A Pirate Day has also spawned imitators. In response to their holiday, the creators of the Ninja Burger website declared Dec. 5th The Day of the Ninja. This added fire to an already heated Internet debate over who would win in a fight – pirates or ninjas.

“For some reason, there is this whole pirate-ninja war that frankly I don’t understand,” said John. “I think we are all kind of working the same side of the street. We’re guys with swords that misbehave. I do think that perhaps the reason for all of this animosity is that ninjas are kind of jealous because pirates are so much cooler. Ninjas are supposed to be silent and invisible, so they should shut up and go away.”

“You’ve got to give ninjas a lot of credit for training,” Mark added, “but a pirate has a cannon. And, as far as fashion goes, a pirate wins every time. And really, wouldn’t you rather win the war on fashion?”

There are sure to be a lot of fashionably-dressed pirates at Ye Olde Tattoo Shoppe in Studio City, Calif., Sept. 19th. The pirate-themed shop has been celebrating Talk Like A Pirate Day for the past three years and has invited Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket to attend their big celebration, promising free tattoos to The Pirate Guys. So, the duo is breaking tradition and skipping out on 30 hours of radio interviews in order to party with tattooed pirates. Last year, the shop inked 120 skull and crossbones in 12 hours.

While out in California, The Pirate Guys will also attend a screening of Pirates of the Great Salt Lake, which the filmmakers will be showing on Talk Like A Pirate Day in hopes of selling their film to a studio. The boys, who both say the original Pirates of the Carribean movie is their favorite pirate film, are both big supporters and fans of Pirates of the Great Salt Lake.


Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers

It’s unclear what the future holds for Team Pirate. The Baurs are planning on leaving Albany and heading to the Virgin Islands. The Pirate Guys partnership will be continued via email. They also recently sold the sequel to Pirattitude, which is scheduled to be released next September. Tori has also written her own book Mad Sally’s Guide to Living Life, which encourages women to reject traditional feminine roles by borrowing pirate ideals, and she is looking into teaching full-time.

“Our life is an adventure and we’re having fun doing it,” said John.

“I would try to take stock of it all, but I’d have no confidence in the market,” said Mark. “It’s fun; it’s been a fun ride.”

And, for all of you planning on celebrating Talk Like A Pirate Day this year, Cap’n Slappy has some advice: “Drink a lot of rum and let the rest of it come naturally.”

Written by Joel Murphy, September 2007. For more information on International Talk Like A Pirate Day, visit the official website. To read Aeo from Ninja Burger’s response to The Pirate Guys’ pirate vs. ninja comments, click here.

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Comments (1)
  1. P.J. September 24, 2009

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