Who is Rance?

The latest buzz in the blogosphere is about the weblog of 'Rance,' an anonymous blogger who claims to be a well-known, A-list, Hollywood celebrity. Or as he coyly puts it on his weblog, "I can tell you what it's like to see your picture on the magazine rack every now and again when you pay for groceries." For a couple of months he's been dishing up dirt on life in Hollywood, and he's succeeded in attracting a huge following. He even got interviewed (anonymously) by Reuters last week. But of course, he won't reveal who he is... which just makes everyone crazy to find out the secret. Is Rance really a celebrity, or is he just an average schmuck pretending to be a celebrity?

There have been quite a few theories about his identity. Xeni Jardin, over at BoingBoing posted a rumor that he was Owen Wilson, though she conceded he could just as easily be George Clooney or Mr. Potato Head. The Defamer weblog posted a clever theory from one of their readers that an LA-based ad agency named Butler, Shine, Stern, and Partners is secretly behind Rance's weblog. Their reasoning was that Rance's url is captainhoof.tripod.com, and the ad agency has a mascot called Captain Hoofers. Defamer also has suggested that Rance is really Ben Affleck, because Rance once made a reference to the initials 'OV,' and Ben has 'OV' tattooed on his back (seems like a bit of a stretch to me).

Anyway, I got hooked by the mystery and decided to see if I could find out anything about the identity of Rance, and I now have a lead suspect of my own. I think Rance is a cartoonist/filmmaker/screenwriter named Keith Thomson.

Here's my reasoning. What immediately struck me about Rance's weblog was that it attracted a very high number of comments from very early on. Within two hours after Rance posted his first entry on December 29, 2003, four people had left comments on his site. Most weblogs, by contrast, struggle to get anyone to read them, let alone leave comments. So how was he attracting so many visitors to his site straight off the bat?

What I discovered was that immediately after Rance posted his first entry on Dec. 29 at 4:49 EST, someone going by the screen name 'InvaderFromPluto' began posting messages about his weblog on various fan discussion groups. For instance, at 5:52, about one hour after Rance had posted his first entry, a message from InvaderFromPluto appears on Yahoo's thematthewperryplace message board. It reads:

i read slate reported a famous tv actor keeping a weblog under
pseudonym "rance" at http://captainhoof.tripod.com/blog/
it's hard to know if it is him, but it might be as it is funny and
seems witty in his sort of way

Obviously Slate hadn't written anything about Rance's weblog. Rance's weblog, at that time, was only an hour old. So how did InvaderFromPluto know about Rance's weblog so quickly, and why was he so interested in promoting it? Perhaps InvaderFromPluto was Rance himself. Makes sense to me.

InvaderFromPluto can be found promoting Rance's weblog in other discussion groups. Here he is with the same message over at HugeHughGrantFans.

So how can we find out who InvaderFromPluto is? A simple Google search revealed that throughout 2002 and 2003 InvaderFromPluto was busy on various message boards promoting the cartoon work of Keith Thomson. He even promoted what seems to be an early Keith Thomson hoax: an online petition trying to stop Britney Spears's lawyers from suing him (even though Spears's lawyers don't seem to have had any intention to sue him).

So I think it's very likely that InvaderFromPluto is Keith Thomson (who else would be so tirelessly promoting his work). Therefore, by extension, Keith Thomson is also Rance. To put it in mathematical form: Rance = InvaderFromPluto = Keith Thomson.

Or, if Rance isn't Keith Thomson, then, at the very least, Thomson seems to be involved somehow.

Here's a bio of Keith Thomson from the atomfilms site:

Keith Thomson played a season of semi-professional baseball in Europe before becoming a political cartoonist for New York Newsday. His work appeared in many other publications, including GQ and Howard Stern's book Miss America. His short film, "Cupidity," played at Sundance and can now be seen on Atomshockwave. He has since written feature film screenplays for Imagine, Paramount and Sony. He also wrote for Bill Plympton's animated MTV show, "Helter Shelter." Thomson is represented by Nick Reed of ICM.

So Thomson is a guy who knows Hollywood. Plus he has a sense of humor. Sounds a lot like Rance to me.
Update: David Emery just emailed me some more evidence linking Keith Thomson to Rance. Check out the
screen name ("Captain Hoof") on this 2002 newsgroup post that links to a Keith Thomson video.
Update 2: Another theory to consider is that the person using the screen name InvaderFromPluto wasn't Keith Thomson. It could have been Thomson's agent at ICM, Nick Reed (Reed gets a 'co-created by' credit on Thomson's films, so he would be just as likely to promote the films as Thomson). If this is the case, then Rance could be Nick Reed. Or he could be one of Reed's other clients.
Update 3: I just posted some second thoughts about the Keith Thomson/Rance connection. I still think Thomson is a prime suspect, but I'm not 100% sure.

Identity/Imposters Technology

Posted on Tue Jun 01, 2004


Nice sleuthing, sleuthy!
Posted by witz  on  Tue Jun 01, 2004  at  04:45 PM
Hats off! Did you contact Keith Thomson for a chat?
Posted by Emmanuelle  on  Tue Jun 01, 2004  at  04:57 PM
I don't have an email address for Keith Thomson, but I did send an email to InvaderFromPluto. No surprise, he hasn't written back. Maybe he hasn't checked his messages yet.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Jun 01, 2004  at  06:17 PM
Given the amount of promotion, maybe it's Keith Thomson's mom? Or his agent.
Posted by Joost Schuur  on  Tue Jun 01, 2004  at  06:19 PM
by george, i think you've done it!
Posted by tgrace  on  Tue Jun 01, 2004  at  06:23 PM
Excellent! Why didn't you let him pay you off, i.e.: "If you in fact know who I am and are considering taking that info to anyone in the media (or, for that matter, anyone), please contact me first. I'll beat their price!" I've always wanted an imaginary Dodge Viper, who wouldn't?!?
Posted by Rance is a Posuer  on  Tue Jun 01, 2004  at  07:19 PM
The IP of "invaderfrompluto" comes from Stanford. I couldn't find anything linking Keith Thomson or Nick Reed to Stanford, however.
Posted by Wendy  on  Tue Jun 01, 2004  at  08:36 PM
Wendy, where are you finding invaderfrompluto's IP address listed?
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Jun 01, 2004  at  09:34 PM
Excellent job Alex.
Posted by Paul  on  Tue Jun 01, 2004  at  09:48 PM
You're Batman. Awesome work.
Posted by Ellison  on  Wed Jun 02, 2004  at  07:46 AM
Here's another possible explanation of InvaderFromPluto's posts. There's a common practice in the movie-marketing business of making tons of fake forum posts to promote movies and things (sometimes fake weblogs). Studios, etc., do this in house and there are third party firms that specialize in it. One of the things they do to add legitimacy to their posts is keep a stack of fake "identities" around the office (at my old office these were kept on a yellow legal pad at first and then in an excel sheet. Url, login, pass). A post on any forum that obviously promotes something and comes from a new user with zero posts looks fake, gets ridiculed, and is often deleted. Sometimes, interns or similar at these firms have the job of just making posts *not* promoting anything, to make the poster seem more legit for later use.

It's possible that some firm or agent created the InvaderFromPluto persona for any number of reasons, used it to promote Keith's work, either for pay or because they were friends, and then used it again for this Rance thing for someone else. Maybe Keith, Rance, and the real IFP are all friends and Rance was telling Keith and IFP about the plan to make this blog and IFP offered to help by astroturfing it all over the place. Maybe 'Rance' is part of some marketing project.

Just remember that "Heaven Hills Mall" episode of the Simpsons.
Posted by pighate lovepig  on  Wed Jun 02, 2004  at  08:33 AM
excellent work! what's the next mystery though? i enjoyed all the speculation:)
Posted by kim  on  Wed Jun 02, 2004  at  08:43 AM
So, who the heck is Keith Thompson?

I have never been to a grocery store and seen HIS name on a tabloid!

I think your theory, while very good, is off somewhat. Also, how does this guy know so much about Hollywood if he is a cartoonist?
Posted by Nat  on  Wed Jun 02, 2004  at  09:06 AM
Pighate lovepig, that is a possibility. But it still indicates that Keith Thomson is involved somehow... if only to the extent that he might have some clue who the person astroturfing for Rance was. Plus, how do you explain that someone with the username 'Captainhoof' was also astroturfing for Thomson, and Rance just happens to choose 'Captainhoof' as his url. That suggests a closer connection.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Wed Jun 02, 2004  at  10:02 AM
Alex, if you go to the YahooGroups page and click on "View Source" you'll get full header info, including this:

From: "invaderfrompluto" <invaderfrompluto@a...>
Subject: Matthew's secret weblog?

You don't want the eGroups Remote IP. You want X-Originating IP. Run that IP number through:
and you should find that it links to a Stanford IP. I'm not up on detecting forged IPs, and it could be forged. However, the IP generally tells you where the computer is if it's not forged.

Some of Rance's "friend"'s posts came through an AOL IP. I find those to be nearly impossible to trace unless you're an AOL insider.

Good luck!
Posted by Wendy  on  Wed Jun 02, 2004  at  10:10 AM
FANTASTIC! Thanks for de-bunking this. I knew Rance was fake because no celeb is going to give so much care to his blog comments. That's almost as bad as answering fan mail!

Anyone know if Stanford has public Internet terminals? Seems like a smart place to start anonymous blogging from....
Posted by Nick Gray  on  Wed Jun 02, 2004  at  01:11 PM
Nat in Toronto asks:

Also, how does this guy know so much about Hollywood if he is a cartoonist?

NEVER underestimate the powers of a cartoonist!
Posted by anon  on  Thu Jun 03, 2004  at  10:22 AM
I don't know if any one knows this but Ron Howards fathers name is Rance. I'm sure Ron has seen his face on a magazine cover or two in the line at the grocery store. I included the link to his dad's bio page below. Just a thought...

Posted by Eroser42  on  Thu Jun 03, 2004  at  07:16 PM
I went back to Rance's blog after reading your article and noticed that there are no longer invederfrompluto comments up anymore. Perhaps you spooked him. I have seen some blogs dedicated solely to Rance (all female)and they are pathetic! I think this is just some poor lonley sucker who wants some attention like the rest of us.
Posted by katkins  on  Tue Jun 08, 2004  at  02:46 PM
Maybe Rance, is just a group of women who think or thought that they were smart enough to fool alot of people......just a thought!

but then again maybe it isn't.......maybe you should check out what i found......i posted it at this blog and theirs more to come....
Posted by eyeswatching  on  Thu Jun 10, 2004  at  12:33 AM
Posted by eyeswatching  on  Thu Jun 10, 2004  at  12:35 AM
Rance just posted another entry...whoever he is, he's posting from New Zealand.
Posted by Deep thoughts  on  Mon Jun 21, 2004  at  01:44 AM
Another point of interest--a "Kevin Thomson" is a cricket (sp) player for New Zealand. Rance sets his time zone as "New Zealand". Another "clue"--or just a coincidence? *NOTE: I'm not saying Rance is the cricket player KT, I'm saying the New Zealand/Kevin Thomsan is a clue connecting Rance to Kevin Thomsan the artist. Whew. That was a mouthful.
Posted by amystery2  on  Thu Jun 24, 2004  at  06:58 PM
rance said he never finished high school. is this the same for keith thomson?
Posted by me me me  on  Fri Jun 25, 2004  at  12:16 AM
Rance is Tim Robbins.
Posted by Andy  on  Sat Jul 03, 2004  at  09:43 PM
So this explains why so many people were hitting my website after searching for "Keith Thomson" on google and the like....damn, and I thought I was getting popular 😉
Posted by Keith Thomson  on  Tue Jul 20, 2004  at  12:39 PM
Keith Thomson's new little anti-Nader film is advertised on Rance's site. Coincidence? Hmmmmmm....
Posted by Lena  on  Sat Oct 02, 2004  at  05:48 PM
What about Kevin Smith (as Rance)? He's into comics, cartoons, and a close friend of Affleck. He could be playing with the identity factor by feeding Affleck-type hints.

I checked his site, he doesn't appear to have his own blog. Also, couldn't locate details re: location for shoot, etc. but he is involved with a documentary called, "Reel Paradise," shot in Fiji (reference to an earlier poster who traced a rance post to New Zealand). ?? -Marty
Posted by Marty  on  Wed Oct 13, 2004  at  01:38 PM
Given today's Gus Openshaw post, Keith Thomson is looking a bit more likely... 😊
Posted by Froosh  on  Fri Jan 07, 2005  at  06:20 AM
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