Jeff Greenspan, comedian meets experimental creative collaborator, and copywriter, let us into his world of finding enjoyment in what he does, paving a career path, and throwing rocks at establishments. With a handful of projects that, at the minimum, will make you laugh out loud, but possibly even make you question the inclinations of our society as a whole, his work is some you should be following. He even touched on upcoming top secret projects I can’t say any more about… because I don’t know any more about them.
I kept my questions brief; Jeff speaks with conviction and excitement, and hardly needed me to get the ball rolling to speak on his work. I hope it’s not the last opportunity I have to chat with him.
How do you source the people you collaborate with; are they all friends, or do you meet them by word of mouth?
You know, every project is a little different, but one project that I had done was these short films, NightLights, they’re on my website, and they got a couple thousand views. Nothing that lit the world on fire. But this was right at the beginning of Youtube, there was no Facebook to share things. And I remember I needed someone that could make miniature sets for night lights so I went on Craigslist, and I just wrote “Who wants to do a little project, it’s very little money, and it is my idea, if you like this idea, let me know.”
And this guy wrote to me, a strange wonderful guy, named Aaron Glazer. He was just a strange artist, he would use found objects and disassemble them and make them into these miniature worlds and it was perfect! So we collaborated on that and he became the guy that actually built the hipster traps. years later, all those hipster traps were made of cardboard, but they look really real, they look metallic. So you know, Craigslist, ask friends of friends of friends, Facebook… who wants to help, who wants to do this?
But the bigger answer to this is, I believe if you really want to do something, and you really set out with some energy to do it, not just talk about it, but start doing it, the world actually will collaborate and help you. I’m not even an optimist, but I didn’t know that someone would take The Bush Booths, but because it was done, I had it done already, someone said, “Oh wow, you did this? I want to help. I’m excited that you did something.” And the same with all my projects. I’m working on a project right now that’s difficult to execute, and a lot of people told me ‘No, not only do I not want to help, but you don’t know what you’re getting into. And you’re not going to be able to do it.’ And you know, it’s easy for someone to believe that, but you just go, ok, that’s just one person and I’ll move on to the next person.
I think if you jus persevere and put energy into your projects, people come out of the woodwork to help you, so many people want to be a part of something. And sometimes they don’t have time or money or ideas, but they’ll support you with yours. So I think that’s an important takeaway that I got from these projects.
What are your personal projects about… are you trying to send out a message or is this just experimental and fun? Are you trying to make some sort of guerrilla marketing statement?
No, no, I got into this because I was pretty involved in comedy community and was obsessed with performing and learning and studying and watching longform improv comedy. And as the Upright Citizens’ Brigade community got a lot stronger in its talent base, it became harder and harder to get stage time. And I wasn’t the best, I wasn’t one of the strongest performers, I was pretty good but I wasn’t awesome. So I was trying to find another way to put my comedy out there, the things that I thought was funny.
So if you look back at some of these projects they’re kind of just funny, you know, Tourist Lane, funny statement, NightLight, the short films, they’re all kind of comedic, but I had a good string of luck of people liking these projects in the world. And now, the three projects I’m working on do have a message, and it’s not about guerrilla marketing, it’s just that, I’m trying to experiment… can you do something that’s theatrical, can you do something that’s visually arresting, because that’s what advertising taught me, too, that if I have an idea, it has to be visual, punchy, short, and have some friction so people pay attention. So can I mix those things, can I mix my experience doing comedy, my experience doing advertising, my experience doing these projects, can I put those things together to lead peoples’ attention to something that’s more culturally relevant. That’s what I’m working on now, I don’t know the answer, maybe the reason all these projects are shared is because they are so silly, just something silly to distract themselves with, and that’s fine. But I guess the same is with television, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, they’re just funny shows, and through their comedy they deliver really incredible authors and writers and thinkers to the general public through their interviews. So, we’ll see what happens, these projects might fail miserably and no one will like them because they’re too heavy or, maybe people don’t want to hear a statement.
I wanted to talk to you about the whole career front. Facebook and BuzzFeed are kind of a big deal, was there a way you felt you got your foot in the door for these creative opportunities, or would you say it was just knowing the right people?
I’ve been in advertising for 20 years so it’s been a long process to get into those positions in those companies. I started as an account executive at an ad agency called Young and Rubicam in 1994, and you know, didn’t even know there was a creative side and a business side. Maybe there are more sides now. But, I had to learn where I fit in within the agencies, and go back to school and put a portfolio together at the School of Visual Arts, I took a couple night classes. Back then all you really had to do was have a few ads in your portfolio. That was my getting my foot in the door, being an account executive, transitioning to being a copywriter, then trying to go to a place where copywriting was something that was appreciated, a place that was doing interesting work. Back then that was a place called DeVito/Verdi, which was one of the best agencies in New York, at least creatively, I think so. I learned an awful lot there, from this guy Sal DeVito, who owned the agency who hired me out of his class… on the last day of his class he offered me a job at his agency. I just kind of kept progressing and I went off to Saatchi & Saatchi in San Francisco, which is no longer in business. This was like 17 years ago, but one of my partners Joel Rodriguez, he was someone who really kind of opened my mind to the fact that, yeah, my business card says ‘copywriter’ but I’m not really a copywriter, I’m a creative person. I shouldn’t limit myself to trying to write wise-ass headlines or write clever statements, I should think visually if I chose to.
All those things were tools we picked up along the way and eventually I worked my way up to being a going to a place called RGA which was not only an ad agency but a place that actually built things, built websites, digital tools, and that gave me a whole other set of experiences about learning a completely different process. All of that combined, comedy, copywriting, agency experience, learning different styles of work, led to me being a creative director at BBDO New York, which is one of the most reputable agencies in NYC, and then by that time I had also amassed a bunch of side projects, and that’s really what caught the attention of Facebook, because Facebook wanted people who could help with branding messages, but the very type of people that Facebook hires are self starters, and people who self-initiate projects. By that time, I had a good mix of both worlds, I had worked at places people knew and everyone kind of knew that if you got into those places you had a certain level of professionalism to bring to the table, but then I had these other projects that they just knew culturally, so thats how I got into Facebook and Facebook was a progression into BuzzFeed. By that point I had just learned that I’m probably not really, right now, at my stage in life, I’m not a great employee, I’m better as a freelancer because I lose interest in things fairly quickly, I want to move on to the next thing, and that’s not the mindset to have if you’re going into a very senior position, which is a marathon, not a sprint. I also like to be the person who throws rocks at establishments, the more senior you get the more you become the establishment. So my place right now, not forever, but for now is to not have a full-time job, be more free to observe things going on around me, comment on those things, and ad agencies right now and a lot of brands find that useful to them, for a short period of time, 6-8 weeks at a time maybe, and I’m good with that.