The Paul Davidson Interview

July 25, 2003

Today is the day to make me feel like dancing.

David Mogolov was late, but not so late that I won't let him submit this one last bit of real-life dialogue:

Three boys, two with razor scooters, one on a bike, standing at the edge of an alley beside a bakery.
Razor Boy 1: You're going home?
Bike Boy: Yeah. I gotta go. Mom said...
Razor Boy 1: If you go home, I'm never inviting you over again.
Razor Boy 2: And you never get to listen to my 50 Cent CD again.
Bike Boy (riding away): Well, I gotta.
Razor Boy 1: You're crap!
Razor Boy 2: I mean it! You never get to hear 50 Cent again!
Bike Boy (yelling from the distance): See you tomorrow!

I'm pulling the 'ol' switcheroo' on you this Friday with my interviews. Remember yesterday when I mysteriously alluded to royally screwing up an interview yet running it anyway? That interview will run next week. This interview, however, was no less screwed up than most of my interviews.

I received a friendly email from a stranger, who politely asked if I wouldn't mind reviewing his book. It consisted of a bunch of wacky letters to major corporations, and it's called Consumer Joe. And it made me laugh. And wouldn't you know it? Not only did he write a book, but he's an entertainment and web writer as well, so we had a lot to talk about.

The Paul Davidson Interview: Slightly Less Than Twenty Questions

So what inspired Consumer Joe?
I am one of those "thinkers" who think too damn much. You know the type. I'm that guy sitting in a parking garage with his friends saying out loud how amazing parking garages are. You know, "we're underground! That's a pretty damn amazing feat if you think about it. We're breathing, in a car, under the Earth!". And then, of course, my friends abandon me for people who talk about normal things like bologna and cheese.

For me, I'm just always wondering about things that most people shy away from talking about because they're afraid of sounding stupid. Hell, I don't care. So I started writing letters for fun, and the responses came flooding back. My ego loved the attention, so I kept going.

Your correspondents had to put up with a lot from you at times. Did you ever get angry letters, or were you fairly well tolerated?
I got a couple of "dude, it just ain't happenin'" responses, but for the most part companies very rarely communicate "extreme feelings" in writing. You know, paper trails and all. The anger and lack of tolerance came later when I actually had to get them to let me use their responses in the book. (More on that, later.)

Why did you use a fake name in your letters?
There's a fine line between someone knowing who you really are and respecting your privacy, and an angry mob coming to your apartment late at night with a flame-throwers. I figured, just to be safe, why not change my name to protect the guilty. Course, when you really think about it, instead of David Paulson, I should have gone with something like Senor Frankie Jimenez. You know, at least then, my enemies would be looking for me in the wrong part of town. But as David Paulson, well, there's not a lot of "stealth" going on there.

One good thing I learned from the book is that if you write a company, oftentimes you get free stuff (hence my recent letter to Sephora.) What was some of the best stuff you received?
I'll tell you, I ate for free from some of the swag I hooked up. I was invited to Gala Grand Openings for El Torito restaurants, I got Trapper Keepers, pencil pouches, free ice cream coupons, one-thousand plastic spoons, t-shirts and my all-time favorite was a gigantic one-of-a-kind linen Circle K flag. This thing is huuuuuge. (I had informed them that my Circle K Fan Club was having our annual "Party On Weekend Extravaganza" and we were desperate for the flag. After a sob story about losing my job as "VP in charge of flags", they made one up for me. All they wanted was pictures from the event. I'm still trying to fake some.)

Which were some of your favorite correspondences?
My all-time favorites include my letters to Federal Express (in which I express my concern for sending packages Internationally after seeing the movie Cast Away); Scrabble (letters in which I pitch a new version of the game that penalizes incorrect words with electrical shocks); Jamba Juice (where my ideas for Tuna Melt, Thanksgiving Turkey and Fresh Fish smoothies were taken extremely seriously), and Ziploc - where I fight for the rights of colorblind people everywhere who can't secure the "yellow-and-blue-make-green" seals because they're colorblind, for god's sake!

What percent of your letters were of questions you legitimately had (not necessarily legitimate questions), and what percent were you just harassing corporate America?
55% of all letters were questions I legitimately had. 12% of the letters were me, harassing corporate America. 19% were ones I dreamed about writing someday when my word processing software wasn't crashing. 9% were inspired by the classic television show "T.J. Hooker", and 5% were written under the influence of sugar, molasses and Advil.

Did many companies not agree to be in the book? Can you give us any hints as to who they are?
One of my favorite letters that we were unable to print involved the Paris Casino in Las Vegas. I had informed them that I was desperate to take my girlfriend to Paris but had no money to do so. I wondered, if I were to take her to the Paris Casino in Las Vegas (blindfolded until we got there), would she believe she was actually in Paris? The good people at the Paris Casino confirmed that indeed, if I never let my girlfriend out of the casino, she would think she was in Paris. Because…they have all the monuments (although half the size of the real ones), they all speak French, and above all - they sell baguettes.

I also had a great set of exchanges with Biff from "Back to the Future", and Cool Whip (in which I wanted to use their logo for my 'Whip Off The Weight: Cool Whip Diet" after eating nothing BUT Cool Whip and losing 87 lbs.), but alas - reprinting such letters would not be a reality.

You are a seasoned television writer. What have you learned about writing from writing for TV?
Setup, joke. Setup, joke. Setup, joke.

What's some of the best advice you have for somebody who hopes to write for comedy television?
Writing for TV is a tough thing to get into. Basically, in a nutshell, none of the producers in TV are ever looking to staff their shows with people who "want to write for TV". They're always looking for people who have excelled in OTHER forms of art. So publishing a book, having a popular radio show, writing for a magazine or even being the best hacky-sack player in your neighborhood - these things give a writer an added cache. It gives a writer a set of different life experiences to pull from that the powers-that-be are intrigued by. If all you're doing is writing tv specs from home and watching Nick at Nite, well, you're not as appealing as more well-rounded peeps.

Then again, if you have a gigantic, huge, powerful agent or you once shared a gyro with Jennifer Aniston - you're pretty much set.

Give us two truths and a lie about writing for television.

Free lunch is delivered on Fridays.

Krispy Kreme doughnuts are available at 9am on Tuesdays.

Producers completely respect your creative vision and insight.

I have never been to Los Angeles. Should I ever go, and how imperative is it to live there to have a career in screen/script writing?
Unfortunately, the reality of wanting to be a screenwriter or TV writer is that you need to know people in order to make it happen. You need to meet the managers and the people who work for the agents in order to get your writing on their desks so you can turn it into representation. And even then, you need to keep producing quality samples so your representation can get you work. It's a process that never ends - you're only as good as your last sample or project.

On the other hand, if you're allergic to smog and chicken & waffles - you can write screenplays from anywhere in the World and attempt to get an agent by sending out query letters. People in Hollywood are always looking to be a part of a "great story" (i.e. housewife from Rhode Island sells script for a million bucks! OR Homeless can collector writes script about a Worldwide aluminum conspiracy that sells to Spielberg!), so they've always got their eyes open for a script from "out there". You just have to be patient, cause it does take time.

Then again, if you're African-American, Asian-American or any other minority - your chances are extremely increased. So, congratulations to some of you, and tough-luck to all those white kids out there.

Can you give us a hint as to who this is?
Not if I want to keep working…

Are you, Ted Nancy, and Jerry Seinfeld all the same people?
I have never, to my knowledge, ever heard of the individuals you refer to in your previous question nor have I ever heard of any types of books that they may have penned, published or publicized.

Does James Garner kick ass?
You joke about it, but there's an underground network being formed as I write this response THIS MINUTE. People are gathering in support of all things James Garner. From The Rockford Files to My Fellow Americans - James Garner not only kicks ass - but he's drivin' around. Driving, I tell you. All over the damn place.

Is he still alive?

What are some of your favorite commercial jingles?
Really, nothing compares to the spoken jinglish words, "Pretty sneaky, sis!" I mean, you gotta wonder where those two kids who starred in that CONNECT FOUR commercial are these days. I think that kid is probably in his mid to late 50's, working in some boring office job, except for a few times over the course of the week when the mailroom lady comes by and slips a few envelopes on his desk and he's able to throw out his "Pretty, sneaky sis!" trademark line.

He's probably real close to being fired - the higher-ups have circulated a ton of memos about his consistent usage of his trademark line. People are getting frustrated. Why can't he just let go of the days gone by? Why can't the guy just move forward and enjoy his twilight years? You know?

The "Slinky" jingle isn't half bad, either.

According to some of your online bios, you're working on screenplays. What are some of the story ideas you've got going?
Oh, Claire. Don't you know how inappropriate a question like that is? I tell you, you print it on your site, and then twelve people steal my idea?

Ok, since you asked.

I can tell you this. I'm currently working on a screenplay that no one has EVER seen anything like. It is one-hundred percent original in a world where nothing is original anymore. It is, all at once, invigorating, enlightening and damn funny. There's talking animals in it, too!

Did you ever follow up with your corporate penpals after you told them about the book? I imagine you must have gotten a lot of "Your letters were totally normal compared to a lot of the stuff I've gotten" comments.
The crazy thing is this - I was solely responsible for getting clearances from every single company. It was, honestly, a bit of a nightmare.

Initially, I just sent out legal clearance forms that Random House provided me. I typed 'em out, sent them away, and waited. The No's started flooding in about two weeks later. Thus began my elaborate phone campaign - which went on for three-months.

A good portion of the companies simply had small issues I was able to resolve, which allowed me to reprint their responses. Some were annoyed, others were angry I had "pulled one over on them". Others wanted me to sign their own contracts to ensure I wouldn't be printing negative comments about them or their products. And then, Martha Stewart… Well, I am unable to speak about her or her letter that is included in the book per the gag-order Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia served me. You'll just have to read the book to figure out why.

How does it feel to be the 62nd person interviewed for
You contacted sixty-one people for this before me? That like, really brings back horrible memories of being chosen last in little league baseball.

Oh well, I'll try to get over it.

Editor's note: Actually, he was the 66th person interviewed for, give or take a few. We hope he doesn't mind.

By the way, if you'd like to pre-order Paul's book, it's easy!