Interviews: Alec Brownstein

September 18, 2008

alec brownstein is an artist, writer, and all-around creative guy.

When he responded to my plea for an interview, little did he know that i’m a big fan of using brackets [to insert things that i meant to say, twist sentences to my fancy, put things into perspective, or take things out of context].

Read below for his advice on how to score a job in the advertising world (the ol’ “class credit” method), how to score another gig once you’re tired of your current one (subtitled: the rise of the sponsored link), and how to turn laziness into art.

What can I say? He’s a champ.

– start of [edited] transcript –
me: are you ready [to get introduced to the world of nonpretentious]?
alec: …sure.
me: [Because it's around lunch time and we're all pretty hungry, we'd prefer if you talk with food in your mouth.]
alec: i’m eating a burrito from chipotle as we speak
me: chipotle or qdoba?
alec: chipotle. love it.
me: but! chipotle lacks the queso that qdoba has.
alec: i’m a big fan of cheese.
as a young boy, i only ate american cheese and drank tropicana orange juice
it was a very binding diet
alec: and just like that, i’ve steered the interview to scatological humor
me:no, we can get serious.
so, which came first – the sponsored link to David Droga or your job at publicis?
alec: the job at publicis.
the droga link is to get a new job
me: you want out that bad?
alec: ha
not THAT bad
but bad
alec: [...]actually, droga used to work at publicis
me: exactly!…i was looking over droga’s website & it seems like a good number of them wanted out of publicis as well. do they lock you up in chains over there?
alec: no it’s actually a really great work environment
me: [saved!]
alec: unfortunately, they don’t do the type of advertising that i want to do
droga does more conceptual, unorthodox stuff
me: how did you learn your trade?
me: it doesn’t seem like a skill you pick up in your classes on International Relations.
alec: right
international relations doesn’t really prepare you for anything
except maybe a desk job at the UN
which i didn’t want to do
me: and maybe a job on the daily show.
alec: i wish
the daily show has been so good lately…i’ve been spamming everyone on my facebook list with vids from the daily show
me: [I don't really want to hear about your violations of anti-spam laws. We're here for an interview, dude.] so, was creative writing more of a hobby?
alec: yeah, it was kind of a hobby
i was an editor at my college satire magazine
called the zamboni
i wrote such articles as “the top 10 places to take a dump on campus”
me: [While I didn't publish articles during college, I did create a poop group.] at [umich], you could create e-mail groups and add as many people as you wanted to them. me and another contributor to are the only members on the group ishitat3oclockdaily at umich dot edu. it was a pretty useful e-mail list.

alec: sounds like it
me: except everyone was out of pocket at around 3 pm
so, did creative writing somehow segue into design?
alec: well, when i graduated from tufts
i was basically unemployed
and unemployable
my friend suggested advertising
which seemed kind of fun
so i started calling ad agencies
and i got a few meetings
me: like crankyankers style?
or what would you say on the phonecalls?
alec: so i would walk in and say “you should hire me”
and they’d say “let’s see your portfolio.”
and i’d say “what’s a portfolio?”
me: hah!
alec: apparently a lot of people go to portfolio school
which is a 2 year program after college
where you learn how to do ads
all the places i went to suggested that i go to portfolio school
but there was no way i was going to do that
me: like the advice given to Pam on the office.
alec: yeah basically
me: i always feel so bad when i hear that.
alec: so i decided to lower my sites a bit, and try to get an internship
me: because we both know that 4 years at Tufts and a 3.7 GPA, dean’s list each semester just screams – “i’m eligible for an internship!”
alec: ha
me: a non-paid internship!
alec: eventually, i convinced the recruiting woman at BBDO
new york
to give me an internship
but then she called me back and said i couldn’t do it because they didn’t have money to pay me
so i said that i’d work for free
alec: so then she said that i couldn’t work for free
apparently labor laws don’t allow that sort of thing — you have to get college credit
me: yeah, i think we freed the slaves a long time ago
alec: if you’re going to work for free
right. i thought of myself more as an indentured servant.
since i had just graduated
i couldn’t get college credit
me: …a learner, a soaker-upper of information…
alec: so i called montgomery county community college and told them that i wanted to take an internship “class” through their school
they said that was fine
me: brilliant!
alec: so i asked for a letter of enrollment
and then i mailed that to BBDO
and said “see! i’m getting college credit.”
so they hired me as an intern
and then i never signed up for the class
me: i won’t tell them.
alec: yes, please don’t.
me: i love your creativity.
alec: ha. thanks.
i think that my creativity emerged as a lazy way to do things
like, i don’t want to do much stuff, so i think of creative ways to not do it
or to find an easier way
me: you keep referring to yourself as lazy. is woody allen an inspiration?
you seem a little self-deprecating.
alec: woody allen is definitely an inspiration — i am awed by how prolific he is
he has put out 1 or 2 movies a year for the past 3 decades
that’s really amazing — he must be a very disciplined writer
me: yeah, he’s not lazy.
alec: which is something i struggle with
me: what’s your work environment like
alec: hmmm
me: how do you cultivate those flows of inspiration
alec: as we are talking, i am simultaneously eating a burrito and watching family guy on
so i guess you could say it’s pretty laid back
at ad agencies, they tend to coddle the creatives
so we can do whatever we want and say that we’re “concepting”
me: fatten them up like foie gras

alec: exactly. [...]the difference between me and a goose is that they don’t have to force feed me

i balloon up my liver of my own accord
me: …back to woody allen
alec: yes, back to woody.
me: one of my co-contributors on nonpretentious, who happens to be an orthodox jew, wanted me to ask you if you went to hebrew school
alec: i did.
me: he also wanted me to ask you if you suck at anything because it doesn’t seem like you do
alec: haha
i suck at lots of things.
like hebrew.
i hated hebrew school
i had to go on sunday mornings
which meant that i could never sleep over friend’s houses on saturday nights
if they want jews to do the whole hebrew school thing, they should make it on monday afternoons and you should get to leave school early to go to it
the should also serve reeses peanut butter cups and country time lemonade
or yoohoo
me: like the high holidays – those are like 3 free days off.
alec: this is true
and i
now take off for the high holidays and then skip services
me: as do i.
alec: it’s win-win. except for the whole “not being written in the book of life” thing.
me: [speaking of life], back to sperm donation…which we never started talking about in the first place.
alec: i think it was an undercurrent to our conversation
me: definitely. it almost always is.
i think you definitely picked up on an upcoming trend. with free sites such as craigslist or gumtree springing up everywhere, it seems like investing in a sponsored link is a way to put your money where your mouth is.
as an attorney, i’m always worried about consequences.
do you foresee this technique being used by stalker ex-boyfriends or children of sperm donors looking for their parents?
alec: so you mean, kids taking out ads to find their sperm donor parents?
me: exactly.
i read about it in “The Genius Factory” by David Plotz
alec: sure, why not. where would it go on craigslist? casual encounters?
alec: what would you say in the ad
alec: the problem is that they can keep sperm frozen for decades
so you don’t know when your “dad” made his contribution
like, i have a few tupperwares of sperm in my freezer, and i wish i had written the date on them because i have no idea when they’re from
me: i noticed that you did a bit of research about this for your piece in the huffington post. [i guess it was "personal research"].
alec: yes, a bit.
alec: not much.
me: so, what’s your stance on positive eugenics?
alec: well, if it existed when my mom was pregnant with me, she probably would have aborted me
alec: [...]she actually tried to abort me…six months ago[...]
me: that’s sad.
alec: i’m actually writing another post for huffington now
me: so, what is your new post about?
alec: it’s an open letter to hillary clinton
alec: i’m asking her where the hell she is, and why hasn’t she opened fire on sarah palin
i then compare her frustrating loss in the democratic primary to an experience i had in second grade in which the cafeteria at my school promised our class milkshakes and then the milkshake machine broke
it was awful.
me: that’s like blue balls.
(not that i would know)
alec: but i’m sure you can imagine.
me: can i ask you a question that i was wondering the other day – does mcsweeney’s have trademark rights to the open letter? i mean, it’s simply a letter? a form of communication that’s been around forever. but, is the open letter different?
can you post an open letter on the huffington post and not give notice to mcsweeneys?
alec: i dunno. i always thought that an open letter means that you’re addressing a specific person but delivering it to everyone
i don’t know about that
i think that’s huffington’s trademark issues
you’re the lawyer
me: i’ll look into for you. (sidenote: here is my research. thanks, wikipedia!)
alec: yes, do.
me: [...]
how did you decide to collaborate with justin racz on your books?
alec: we worked together at bbdo ny. he’s a neurotic jew, i’m a neurotic jew. we just sort of clicked.
me: is a collaborative site. what type of advice do you have for creative people (read: people who think very highly of their own work) who embark on the “collaborative endeavors”?
alec: i find collaboration on projects to be very useful. it’s a lot like having a partner at the gym. you might not work any harder, but the fact that they’re means you have to show up.
sorry–the fact that they’re there means you have to show up
me: i agree.
alec: and as woody allen said, 50% of success in life is showing up.
me: and, on a final note, you probably get this question all of the time but i have to ask – what was your worst day ever?
alec: hmm…
when i was 8, i went to israel with my dad and my older sister on a synagogue trip
it was awful
but one day, when we were walking around in the old city
on our way from one old synagogue to another
i was walking along a wall, about three feet high
the wall kind of ended, and the group kept walking, so i just sort of stood there for a second
my dad saw me and said, “jump to me alec!”
and he held out his arms
so i jumped to him
and then he stepped back and i crumpled to the ground at his feet.
as i looked up at him, he said, “the lesson to be learned is, never trust anyone.”
and that was pretty much the end of my childhood.
and still the worst day
me: you didn’t even have to get bar mitzvah’d.
alec: ha. i did get bar mitzvahd
i was a portly young man
and when they hoisted me up on the chair
they dropped me
me: 2nd worst day?
alec: hmm. probably that one.
me: what shame for a 13 year old boy!
alec: it was.
me: okay, well, i could go on and on but i know your burrito is getting cold. if people have any questions about copyrighting or your industry or your work or your dating life, can i provide your contact info on the site?
alec: sure
me: thank you so much alec!
we’ll have to do this again.
alec: thank you
sure anytime
– end of transcript –
if you want to know more about alec, you don’t even have to google search him. here is his history along with his contact info.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: one of my editor’s called me out for “s cking his d” too much. i holla back to Iordain’s post and reply, “was your first time any good either?” this is my first interview for this column. a little warning for the next interviewees: i may get a little more feisty)
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12 Responses to “ Interviews: Alec Brownstein ”

  1. RustedJesus on September 18, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    You may have been s’ing his d a lot, but it wasn’t exactly a Palin piece. He’s not running for office or whatevs. If you were doing an interview with Colin Powel (a man I both admire and despise) after s’ing his d a little bit, I’d ram mine up his colon (intended). The point is, Alec Brownstein hasn’t disappointed anyone except his mother and father, so why hassle him?

    As is, the interview came off really well, I thought is was a little brown-nosing (intended) and a little pretentious. A perfect combination for a site called (non)pretentious dot com. Which, speaking of, how come the parenthesis aren’t on the title bar but are in the description?

  2. RustedJesus on September 18, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    p.s. did you conduct this interview via some instant messenger app? I’m thinking of doing my own with someone yet to be named.

  3. revisingproust on September 18, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    we did it over gmail. which worked out well. it has its pros and cons. here is one of each.

    pro: it’s already typed up.

    con: sidetracks/asides are harder to control

    that would be awesome if you interviewed unnamed person AND if you interviewed a few named people as well.

    we should come up with a column name together.

    i am planning to interview George Stanford this weekend before his show in Philadelphia. Sometime soon, I also hope that Brandy B & I will interview Red Ox.

    Fortuna may have an interview or two he can do as well…

  4. revisingproust on September 18, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    i added 2 pics.

  5. RustedJesus on September 18, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    i still shit at three o’ clock daily.

  6. alec on September 21, 2008 at 12:41 am

    i’m just glad you didn’t ask me about the bush doctrine.

  7. [...] you missed our interview with Alec Brownstein, go read it [...]

  8. revisingproust on October 3, 2008 at 3:14 am

    hrm… i was going to ask if you voted for Bush Doctrine or Drill, Baby, Drill. I had a hard time choosing.

    Second in Command, My Ass was sorta tempting too.

    I hope to have an easier time at the polls.

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