The Steve Gadlin Interview

Hey, need something to do tonight? Come to the Young Chicago Authors Holiday Book Bash! I'll be there!

Steve Gadlin's a friend of mine here in Chicago: I first knew him as half of Sasha and the Noob, and then eventually as a performer at Funny Ha-Ha and the producer of the show The Nairobi Project (along with several other funny, successful show and projects in the city). I've been endlessly amused by his project I Want To Draw a Cat For You and it got tipped over into an obsession when he sold his services on Groupon, with the offer selling out. That's a lot of cat drawings. I had so many questions for Steve I figured I'd share them with you.

What's the last cat you drew?
The last cat I drew, at 12:30 AM last night, was a big fat cat saying, "Meow!" A smaller cat is next to him in a fireman costume and is saying, "Where's the meow meow?" This is cat #251, and should post to the web site soon.

Can you walk us through the process of submitting I Want to Draw a Cat for You to Groupon and getting it accepted?
I work in fits. One day on a whim I hit up all of the deal sites and submitted IWTDACFY, pretending it was a completely legitimate and serious business in my email. I got a quick rejection from LivingSocial, but a salesperson from Groupon called me hours after I sent my email! He was really jazzed about the idea, and thought it fit the company culture really well. He thought it would be a Chicago main deal. When he ran it past the higher-ups, he was shot down... so it hung around on the bench for a while. Finally he was able to squeeze it in as a side deal in Santa Cruz on Cyber Monday - fortunately on a day that Groupon was getting a lot of extra attention with all of those Google buyout rumors - and the rest is history!

Did you expect the Groupon to sell out? How many cats do you have left to draw?

Not at all. In fact, I purchased one myself at 4 AM, just to help it reach the tipping point (of 5). At one point I told them to cap it at 500, but my wife talked me out of that... so I had them cap it at 1,000. This was a 3-day Groupon, and each day I fully expected it to peak and slow down. But then I'd click refresh, and there'd be 20 new sales... over and over again. By Wednesday morning I was pretty sure we'd hit that 1,000 mark - and we got a little boost from a front-page mention - so it sold out pretty early in the day! I've drawn 100 cats. Only 200 of them have been redeemed so far, so I'm only 100 behind. Hopefully the redemptions will be spread out over the next month or so, and hopefully I'll get caught up over the weekend.

What inspired I Want to Draw a Cat for You?

It's an idea I had years ago. Originally I wanted to shoot this video and find some cheap TV commercial spots for it. But by the time it came to fruition, it was pretty obvious that the Internet was a more perfect distribution channel. I like doing experiments like this. It was inspired by my desire to do silly things and make people watch them. Also, I wanted to see if a stupid idea, coupled with a clever jingle and mass exposure, could create demand for something. It can!

What have been some of your favorite cat requests?
I'm really bad at remembering what I've drawn further back than one day. Yesterday there was a really fun one with George Washingwhiskerton crossing the Delaware. Often, my favorite is when the person says something simple, like, "I want a cat in a hot air balloon." Those are always such a relief after trying to sketch out some of the novels that people send as descriptions.

If I may be so gauche, what are you going to do with your Groupon profit?
Boring things. I did just upgrade my broken phone, so some of it will go to that.

How did you expect "The Nairobi Project" to go over? Are you surprised by the reaction it received?
That went over about as well as I expected. I knew once the right audience found it, they'd get a kick out of it. The Annoyance Theatre was a great place to start. I've finally learned that if something makes me laugh, chances are it makes a few other people laugh, too... and it's worth the risk of trying to assemble all of those people into a theater space to watch it.

What's the latest news from Victor?
What timing! Shortly after the first show ended, I sent Victor a plot for a sequel. I just received the play this morning, at around 4 AM. I laughed so hard I cried. At one point I even howled. So hopefully we'll have some plan for producing The Price 2 in conjunction with a re-mount of his first play some time in 2011.

Did you also come up with Cat vs. Dog? Do you secretly root for the dogs because you're so sick of cats?
I did! I just needed something quick and easy that could drive some web traffic to, which is where I work. It's a very simple concept, and easy to make rain around. I don't like cats (I'm allergic) or dogs (too messy).

What's new with Blewt?
Impress These Apes 6 will run at ComedySportz in July, 2011. We have a nice little twist for the next run that should make it pretty exciting. Don't Spit the Water will be making an appearance or two at the Wilmette Theatre in January. And Sasha and The Noob will return to cable access for another season of our live call-in show, Talkin' Funny, in April, 2011.

Have you ever tried to float one of your projects and have it fall flat?
Certainly! I have a good sense for when something isn't going to be very entertaining, and usually bail out before it sees the light of day. A few years ago we booked space at IO for a run of a concept show called Judge Doody. I still love the concept - real people try real disputes in front of Judge Doody, an idiotic judge character - assisted by wacky character lawyers, similar to the comics you might see at Don't Spit the Water. We even had a bunch of folks come out and audition - but as the show grew closer, the bits weren't clicking into place, and I cut bait on the whole project. It just wasn't working. We've also had some terrible nights at Don't Spit the Water, including one time we almost set fire to the Playground Theater and killed a bunch of people.

Of all your projects, which have been your babies?
All of 'em! I've been lucky enough to work with some very hilarious and awesome people, and everything we do is a collaborative effort. But most of these projects start with one of my brain farts, and I'm just fortunate that a handful of people will go along with them.

What's the last thing that made you laugh?
Watching the Groupon sales skyrocket over the last few days has had me laughing pretty hard, as I realize the herculean drawing task ahead of me. Also, reading Victor's new script this morning had me rolling.

What's next for you? Are there any big Gadlin dreams you'd like to achieve?
I'd like creativity to be my day job some day. It's tech skills that pay the bills right now. Since I've worked at Radio and TV stations, I'm always surrounded by people who ARE creative for a living. If I ever see a path to making that feasible, I'll leap on it. Also, I'm hoping to have the time and attention span to finish writing some young adult fiction. Ooh, and I'm working on a web site for candy reviews, because I love candy, and want companies to send me free samples.

What's so great about Edzo's? What do you get when you're there?
Edzo's! It's the perfect distance from my apartment for a nice, quiet Sunday walk, and the food ain't half bad. I get the 8oz char burger with cheddar cheese, fries, and a drink. The angry fries are great, as are the truffle fries.

How does it feel to be the 269th person interviewed for
Awesome! 269 is a great number. At some point tonight, probably around 10 or 11, I will be drawing cat #269. When I do, I'll think back to this interview, and think of it fondly. There's a lot of pressure being the 269th anything - but I think I knocked this one out of the park.