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Small Talks with Big People

Kevin Noonan | Thursday, September 27, 2012

Editor’s Note: Scene Editor Kevin Noonan sat down with ’02 Notre Dame alumnus and humor writer Ted Fox, whose new book “You Know Who’s Awesome? Not You.” is on shelves now. Check his website www.tedfoxisawesome.com to find where it’s sold.
Kevin Noonan: I’d say it’s probably a good guess, not to diminish your accomplishments so far, that most university students probably don’t know who you are.
Ted Fox: I’d say that’s very accurate.
KN: So I’ll give you the opportunity now to introduce yourself to the student body.
TF: Well, thank you first of all for having me in Scene. My name is Ted Fox, I’m a 2002 Notre Dame graduate; I lived in Morrissey Manor all four years. I’m also an alum of the Observer – I was a columnist for four years in the sports section. My column was titled “Fox Sports … Almost,” which was the brainchild of the editor calling me at like 10:30 on a Sunday night going, “Okay well, we need a title for the column now.” And I was like, “Well when do you need it?” and he said “Well we need it for tomorrow, you’ve got five minutes to come up with something.” After I graduated I worked at ESPN for a little while, and then I came back to Notre Dame in 2004 to work as a writer/editor for the College of Arts and Letters, developed a passion for wanting to be a humor writer professionally and that really became my focus. I moved over to the provost office in 2010, and I’ve been there a couple years now. I write for them: speeches, website stuff, things like that. I work for them part-time, and they’ve been great about letting me focus on my humor writing career, which gave rise to this, I always tell people it’s my second book, it’s the first that’s actually been published, but “You Know Who’s Awesome? Not you.” It’s based off a Twitter feed that I write and hopefully is kind of a gateway for me to get into eventually the only thing that I do would be humor writing.
KN: The Twitter feed that you’ve got,
@KnowWhosAwesome, where did that start?
TF: The genesis of it actually was, and Notre Dame students, you will be able to relate to this once you graduate and you go out into the world, I was on the way back from a wedding of one of my Notre Dame roommates. That and football games are like the pseudo-reunions after you graduate. So this was a wedding out in Pennsylvania I think, and when my wife and I were driving back we were at a McDonald’s, because all road trips end up at McDonald’s at some point. We were stuck in line for like 10 minutes and the woman who finally got to the front of the line was sitting there looking at the menu like, “What am I going to order?” and I’m in the back of the line thinking “How many times have you been to McDonald’s? There is nothing to think about. There’s like three options.” So I was so annoyed I got on my phone before we left saying something like, “You know who’s awesome, people who are in line for 10 minutes at McDonald’s and can’t make up their mind.”
A week later at the Pancake House over on Ironwood I had another kind of obnoxious experience with fellow diners, wrote a second “You know who’s awesome?” But for me these were funny blog posts; I never was going to think about it again. In the process of trying to get the first book I mentioned published, and part of what you need to do if you don’t want to be self-published but actually have a publisher is get a literary agent. In the process of trying to get a literary agent, I struck up a friendship with a woman who said, “I don’t think I could publish that first thing you wrote,” because, much like Notre Dame students, no one knows who Ted Fox is, “but would you be willing to take this idea that you came up with, “You Know Who’s Awesome?,” turn that into a Twitter feed and then once we build that up, I will try to sell a book based off that.” KN: Has it been successful so far?
TF: It’s hard to say because I don’t have anything to compare it against. It’s certainly not in danger of hopping on the New York Times Best Seller list anytime soon. I think on Amazon right now I’m like the top 500,000 out of 8,000,000 books.
KN: Well that’s pretty good.
TF: But the thing that’s crazy is that you can drop down to like 1.2 million, you sell one book on Amazon and you go back up to like 150,000, which tells you how many bad books are on Amazon. I’ve been pleased with it so far, and I think for a first book I think it’s doing well. I’m working on a second book right now that’s not related to this one, but I certainly hope I get to write a second “You Know Who’s Awesome?” and that will be determined by how well this one sells.
KN: And it’s funny, which is the important thing, right?
TF: I appreciate you saying that. If you said, “Well I’ll do a story on you but I really didn’t think this book was very funny,” then I’d be in trouble because, I mean the book that I’m working on now is what I tell people is like a book-book, like a real book with chapters and everything. A book based on a Twitter feed, if it’s not funny there’s not a whole lot else to hang your hat on. So I appreciate you saying that.
KN: And then the book you’re working on now, “Project 33,” what can you tell me about that?
TF: So I turned 33 two weeks ago, and so the book is based around the idea of, and this is potentially a little offensively put, this is my “Jesus Year,” in that a lot of historians speculate that Jesus was 33 when he died. As a humor writer, it also turns out that Chris Farley and John Belushi also died when they were 33. So over the course of the next year, I have a list of, it’s like a 33-year-old male humor writer’s version of “Eat, Pray, Love.” I don’t like abandon my life and go live in Europe, I actually just do things that I’ve always wanted to do like, beat the “Legend of Zelda” on my original Nintendo because I never got around to doing it, or break 90 for 18 holes of golf or drive cross country, things like that. So I’m in the course of doing these 33 things during my 33rd year, and also at that point then kind of reflecting on what I have or haven’t accomplished at this age, and things that I’m dealing with or struggling with. My agent described that as it’s not a humor book, it can be funny but it has to have that like life deeply examined kind of thing that you hope a lot of people can relate to. “You Know Who’s Awesome?” on the other hand, the target audience for that, and one of the reasons I was so excited that you guys wanted to interview me is that it’s really 18-35, it really targeted that college age, those kids are kind of my target demographic. I had a Notre Dame senior one time tweet back at me [saying my tweets are funny], and I actually put that in my proposal, like, okay I don’t have that many followers yet, but people who are the right age think it’s very funny. They’re very different kinds of books, but I enjoy working on both of them. I’m hoping to have a sequel for “You Know Who’s Awesome?” and I’ve already written half of it.
KN: Who would you say are your comedic influences? I see a lot of Seinfeld references on your Twitter.
TF: Yeah, I would say 1a, 1b and 1c would all be Jerry Seinfeld, and then by extension Larry David. I’m kind of a Seinfeld, Conan, Larry David, “Family Guy” kind of a mix in there. And I don’t consciously try to emulate Jimmy Fallon, but I do think my humor tends to be a little more good-hearted. I’m not a mean comic, and I make fun of myself a lot too. That to me is very Jimmy Fallon. I try to be clever while not being mean-spirited, because I don’t like mean comics, so I try to make fun of myself a lot.
KN: So, big question, if this was a job interview they’d ask you this (not that I’d know)- 10 years from now, where do find yourself?
TF: As much as I love my alma mater and the folks in the provost’s office and Dr. Burish is one of my best supporters on the campus, I don’t see myself working at the University anymore, I see myself writing books full-time for a living, writing funny books. Obviously, with what I’m trying to do with that “Project 33” book, getting beyond just that Twitter kind of book. Like I said I’m trying to do a sequel to that, and I’m planning to for it as if I will get to do a sequel. But really I want to write books that make people laugh. Those are my two passions: writing and making people laugh, and hopefully giving people joy that way because it’s something that I really enjoy doing. And if it became something more than that, if I had opportunities in television or if I had an opportunity with a screenplay, to me that would just be like icing on the cake. What I want to be able to do, it’s not about fame and fortune, I’m quickly discovering.
KN: All right, last question. You were a sports writer here, you worked for ESPN for a while, you’re a big Boston fan, what is the deal with the Red Sox?
TF: It’s so creepy, because we got our dog last, like August 21. We named the dog “Buckner,” because the idea was, you know what, [forget] the curse, it’s over. The Sox were nine games up in first place, so we named the dog Buckner, I put the video on my blog with the puppy, I’m wearing my Yaz jersey, and I say “[Forget] the curse, we named this dog Buckner, it’s over.” They go like 6-20 that September, miss the playoffs, and then this year happened.
KN: So it’s your fault.
TF: It is, it absolutely is. And you can tell that I’m a Red Sox fan who did not grow up in New England, because no self-respecting New Englander under any circumstance would ever name their dog Buckner. Any Red Sox fans reading this on campus, please don’t kick my [butt], and I am really sorry. I don’t know what we’re going to, we can’t change the dog’s name. In retrospect, I think we may have angered the baseball gods with that one.