By Admin | February 14, 2009
Joey Green is a comedian and funnyman who has published more than 40 books, including a history of the slinky. He is best known for his iconic guides to using common household products in odd and interesting ways. His next book is Joey Green’s Cleaning Magic and is due out later this year. He gives us his thoughts.
Where are you from?
My parents say I’m from another planet. But my birth certificate says I’m from Miami, Florida. So I’ve been basically living in a state of confusion.
Where did you go to college and what was your major?
I’m a graduate of Cornell University, and according to my father, I majored in “Time and Space.”
I was the political cartoonist for the Cornell Daily Sun and the founding editor of the Cornell Lunatic (the campus humor magazine), and according to the Cornell Alumni Magazine, I was “the university’s most persistent prankster.”
What has been your career path from college to the present?
My career path? I followed the Yellow Brick Road, of course. After college, I wrote for the National Lampoon, got kicked off for writing an article in Rolling Stone on why the National Lampoon wasn’t funny anymore, and continued writing for the Lampoon without their knowledge under the pseudonym of a woman.
I had my first book published at age 24, worked at J. Walter Thompson writing TV commercials for Burger King, backpacked around the world on my honeymoon for two years, and wrote TV commercials for Walt Disney World in Florida.
In 1994, after a few more lousy jobs in advertising, I decided to write books full-time.
How did you get into the business of writing books about off-beat uses of brand-name products? Is the Nestea Ice tea story really true?
Yep, the Nestea story is true. While working at J. Walter Thompson in New York, I was asked into a conference room for a meeting on Nestea and told to generate alternative uses for the ice tea mix. One of the account people in the meeting told us that he was an avid sailor, and that one weekend while on his sailboat, he got badly sunburned.
So he went home, poured an entire jar of Nestea powdered mix into his bathtub, filled the bath with water, and soaked in it. I told him, “That’s not what they meant by ‘Take the Nestea Plunge.'” He said, “No, really, it’s the tannic acid in the tea that relieves sunburn pain. If you’re ever badly sunburned, think of me and do it. You’ll thank me.”
I thought to myself, “This belongs in a book.” So many years later, I went to the grocery store and bought thirty to forty products that we all know and love, contacted the companies, and asked for their secret files. People write in to the companies all the time with their alternative uses for the products, and the companies never publish that information.
I also sequestered myself in the public library and did a lot of research.
What is your favorite book that you have written?
That would be a four-way tie between Selling Out: If Famous Authors Wrote Advertising, The Zen of Oz: Ten Spiritual Lessons from Over the Rainbow, The Jolly President: Letters George W. Bush Never Read, and Marx & Lennon: The Parallel Sayings.
Which book has been your most successful commercially?
Joey Green’s Magic Brands.
What one non-fiction book written by somebody else do you wish you had written?
The Bible. It’s sold more copies than any other book in history. The author must be very rich.
How many of the thousands of suggestions in your books have you actually tried?
Why did you decide to start the Cornell Lunatic? Is it still being published?
To make the students, faculty, and employees of Cornell University laugh and stop taking themselves so seriously. The Cornell Lunatic publishes to this very day. It’s now more than 30 years old.
Why did you write the slinky book? Where did the idea come from?
I thought it would be fun. Everyone loves a Slinky. I had come up with a few alternative uses for the Slinky while writing books on offbeat uses for brand-name products, and I thought an entire book focusing on real and ridiculous uses for the Slinky might be fun.
Did you have a slinky when you were growing up?
Yes. As one of four children, we had several. Somehow they all ended up as a big tangled knot of steel coil.
Why does Heinz Apple Cidar Vinegar work to attract and kill bugs?
I’m not a chemist, but my guess is that the sweetness of the apple cider attracts the insects, and then the acetic acid in the vinegar kills them.
Why do you think so many manufacturers are resistant to having their products in your books?
The lawyers in the legal departments of the companies get scared that they’ll be sued and lose their jobs. For instance, Kraft advertises Jell-O gelatin as a dessert, not a hair mousse product. The lawyers are afraid that if someone uses Jell-O as mousse and doesn’t like the result, they’ll sue Kraft.
Ever since that lady spilled McDonald’s coffee on herself and sued McDonald’s, many corporate lawyers are easily freaked out. So now there’s a warning on every cup of McDonald’s coffee that says “Warning: Hot.” It should really say: “Please allow this coffee to cool down before pouring it on your crotch.”
Are you legally required to get manufacturer’s permission before you name alternate uses for their products?
Which manufacturer has been most open/friendly/helpful in having their products in your books?
The people who make Kleenex Tissues. They were originally invented solely to remove makeup from the faces of Hollywood stars. But people started writing into the company, raving that the tissues were great as a substitute for a handkerchief.
At first, Kleenex didn’t want people blowing their noses in their product, but then they realizes that there are more people who blow their noses than there are Hollywood stars who need to remove makeup.
So, the company is indebted to the American public for coming up with this alternative use for the tissue. And they gave me a list of alternatives uses for Kleenex Tissues that they had been compiling since 1922.
What advice would you give to someone starting out writing non-fiction?
What has been your biggest career mistake?
What has been your biggest product alternate use catastrophe?
Surprisingly, I haven’t had one.
What is your best memory working for National Lampoon?
I was there for the premiere of Animal House in the summer of 1978, followed by a party at the Village Gate. The entire cast of the movie was there. It was a blast.
What are your three all-time best/favorite alternate product uses?
My favorites are polishing furniture with Spam, deodorizing smelly feet with Jell-O, and shaving with Jif Peanut Butter.
How do you deal with people who complain that your uses don’t really work and Spam ruined the dining room table?
I ask if they followed the directions properly.
Have you really used M and M’s for fishing bait?
No, I don’t fish. But if I did fish, I would definitely use M&M’s as bait. You can snack on the bait while you’re fishing. That’s not something you can do with worms. Well, you can, but I don’t recommend it.
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