This is the part of our ongoing series in which we interview people who have interesting jobs and get them to tell us how they landed them. They will also reveal how they handled the transition to the real world after graduation —
Todd Briscoe and I went to the same high school in Texas. (He was a yearbook editor, I was a newspaper editor.) We also had something else in common at our high school graduation – we were both getting out of West Texas ASAP. He went to NYU and I headed to Brown.
Currently, Todd is a hotel concierge by day but he’s also writer and an actor who just had a very lucky break off of his hospitality job.
He and his friend Anna’s blog “How May We Hate You” recounts insane and odd conversations they have with hotel guests while working as concierges in New York City. It’s very funny and addictive – so much so, that it went viral as soon as they started posting (outlets like The Daily Mail and Business Week interviewed them).
Now, they’re writing a book off the back of the blog. And a TV pilot! (Two Broke Concierges?)
I once randomly ran into Todd on the street during one of my summers in New York. We sat at a restaurant and he mapped out the subway system for me – a sign of his future job?
Read on for Todd’s post-graduate dispatch. It’s very, very funny and there are good advice gems in here, too.
What did you think you’d be when you grew up?
Actor. It’s what I’ve done since I was little. When I was in third grade, I took a trip to New York and toured NYU with a tour group – that was when I made up my mind that I was going to study acting and go to NYU.
And you did!
And I did!
It was everything I wanted and more. I’m very happy that I moved to New York with college as a buffer because it’s nice to have that support. I’ve seen a lot of people move here and they have a hard time meeting people or they aren’t prepared for how expensive it is, so it was nice that I had that comfort zone of college.
As third-grade-you hoped, you did a lot of acting at NYU – what was that like?
I was always doing shows in college. It was super-competitive and I learned my niche very quickly. I thought I wanted to be a musical theater guy, but actually I quickly learned that I was often one of the funniest ones in the room –so that steered me into the sketch and improv world.
I also realized that the acting I liked to do tends to be things that I’m making up rather than someone handing me a script and saying like, “Let’s sit and analyze a script for weeks on end before we get up and start doing anything.” I learned that I prefer making my own thing rather than a script someone has given to me. That’s how I started writing.
What happened after your college graduation?
Senior year, someone said, “Oh hi, we’re starting up post-grad sketch group, would you like to be in it?” I said yes and initially most of the things I wrote were really terrible. One of the first sketches I wrote was really stupid – it was about someone having a nervous breakdown because they “didn’t get enough protein!!” It was my first sketch and it was terrible. But after that, I got better.
What were your plans at the end of college?
One of the nice things people kept telling us all during college about trying to make living as an artist – everyone kept saying, “Most of you aren’t actually going to be doing this as a living. Those of you who do, well most of you won’t make a living at this for 15-20 years.”
So they were very blunt about it and it was kind of nice because I became very prepared after graduation that I wasn’t going to be making a living at what I wanted to do for a very long time.
I went on auditions and I realized I hate auditioning. I hate the whole “business of acting.” Just the headshots and the schmoozing – I hate it. I got a job in a theater marketing office – so I was technically working on Broadway. I got to meet a lot of celebrities and that was great for two years.
During school, the playwright Edward Albee came to talk to us. He’s been a hero of mine since I first read “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” And he said, “Try really hard to do anything else but be an artist, if you can. And if you can’t do anything else, then you know you’re supposed to be doing this and at least you now know that.”
So for two years I tried really hard to do something besides acting and writing. I had my theater marketing job – so I made some money and got to see what it’s like to have 9-5 in an industry I liked, but I realized I’d never really be content unless I really committed to trying to get a job as a writer or an actor. I knew if I didn’t try, I’d always be disappointed with myself.
What was your next step?
Well, so I quit that job, got my real estate license and spent all of my savings within three months. It was the worst idea ever.
How did that happen?
A lot of my friends said that real estate was an easy job that still allowed you to write and have a “day job” because you make up your own hours. I said, “Well, I’ll do that too!” I love New York real estate – I find it fascinating. But, to really make a living at it, I needed to be renting places that people our age couldn’t afford. Someone in their 40s isn’t going to trust a 25-year-old who is telling them “This is what the market is in Chelsea.”
I did it for three or four months – and I rented three places during the entire time. I was actually doing better than a lot of people in the company but it was pretty terrible.
I really lost a lot of money because I ate through my savings so quickly. I started applying for any job I could and a friend of mine, Anna, was working in a hotel. I said, “Can you get me a job?” and she did.
What kind of job did you get?
I got a job as a hotel concierge.
What’s that like?
Good. I do feel like I’m good at it. I’ve lived in New York now for ten years and I really like sharing what I’ve learned about the city with people and I’m very good with tourists, so I like it.
And I also love people watching. I like collecting stories about weird or interesting people.
When I was a real estate agent and also trying to be writing and acting – well it was one of those things where a person only has so much energy during the day. With the real estate thing, just to survive I had to hustle so much to actually rent apartments that I didn’t have a lot of energy to write on the side or go to auditions. At least for me. It works for some people but for me it was too overwhelming and I was too stressed about paying bills.
The real estate job was the first thing I’ve ever quit where I just stopped showing up. I’m not that type of person. But I hated it so much. I was like, “I’m not going in and I’m not going back. They can just think I died.”
The breaking point was just watching my savings account go to zero and realizing I fucking lost money on this “job.” And I desperately needed to pay bills.
What did your parents say about your working a job while still pursuing an acting / writing career?
My parents have always been supportive. My dad was concerned that I needed to get a job and pay bills, but his philosophy was, “Make sure you’re doing what you love, and you don’t have to make a lot of money.”
He was like, “Look at your brother.”
My brother is a cowboy. Officially. Like, when he fills out a tax form, he writes “cowboy” on it. He lives on a ranch, wakes up and shoots coyotes in the morning, competes in rodeos.
I’m really lucky that they’ve always been incredibly supportive.
I told my parents, “I just don’t think I’m going to be happy or content unless I pursue this.”
And they said, “It’s good you know that. We support you. We’re not going to give you money, but we support you.”
Tell me about balancing your hotel job and your writing.
There are a lot of perks to the job – the hours are flexible, so if I need to, I could only work mornings or evenings or weekends. If you have a slow shift, you might only help five people the entire time, so I’d use that time to write.
When people would interrupt you when you are in the writing zone, did you ever get the urge to be like “Hold on. I just figured out the perfect line for this scene.”
Yes! Like, “I know you need a map, but this screenplay isn’t gonna write itself.”
Tell me about the kind of writing you’d been doing while working all these jobs?
I had been a part of another sketch group called Political Subversities. I started with them in 2008 and I got a lot of work through that. I’ve always gotten writing jobs here and there, but nothing where I could quit a day job. I’ve had appearances on MSNBC and the group itself got hired quite a bit and I became one of the general managers of the group.
So with the group, I got work. I got paid as an artist but never quite enough, but as long as I could see forward momentum, I’d feel okay. I’d think about that advice, “you’re probably not going to make a living at this for decades…”
Dianne Weist didn’t quit her day job and didn’t make it big until much later in her life. Almost her 40s. Estelle Getty of the Golden Girls didn’t make a living at it until she was in her 50s.
So as long as I saw forward momentum and saw I was getting closer every year, I could retain my sanity. The hotel was actually one of the best day jobs I could find and when I got it I told myself, “I’m not going to try to get another job besides this one unless the job is a full-time writing or acting job.”
Okay, so let’s talk about “your big break” or at least your “first break” – your Tumblr blog.
My friend Anna and I would write down funny things the hotel guests would say to us would say to us and then hashtag it #hoteljob. We’d post it on Twitter and Facebook because people can be really stupid and can be really mean, so we would vent our feelings on social media.
Out of all the things we wrote – we also had comedy videos and blog posts – the things that actually would get the most likes were our posts about our hotel jobs. Eight months before we started the blog, friends kept telling us, “If you do something with this, we would like it,” or “I hope you’re doing something with hotel thing.”
Why did you wait so long to start the Tumblr?
We were always really scared about losing our jobs because it was pretty good as far as day jobs go. And then finally we reached a breaking point – basically I got really fed up with my manager and I thought, “Why do I care so much about them? The worst thing that could happen is I lose my job and I have to get go get another one and I’d be okay. I’d be okay.”
We had two years worth of material saved up – so even if I did lose job, we could still do the blog.
What was the immediate reaction to the blog?
It was literally like watching it go from “you have five followers” and you leave your computer for a few hours and come back and it’s like “you have 5,000 followers.”
I’d been making so many things for years – online comedy videos and blog posts that I’d just been hoping would go viral – I’d email newspapers and blogs and email lots of people and say, “please share my video” so it’s so interesting to watch something actually go viral when we hardly did anything.
After you went viral, what happened?
We immediately started being contacted by media outlets. The Daily Mail, AM New York, AM Boston, AM Philadelphia, Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
The Daily Mail article has hundreds of hundreds of comments. Some people were like “How dare they?” and then others were like “Have you ever worked in the service industry? They’re just venting.” It caused this huge debate between commenters. A lot of them really hated us.
Weren’t you scared about being fired from your hotel job after it went viral?
Before we started the blog, Anna and I had a meeting where we asked each other, “Are you okay about the employers finding out?”
We both agreed, “Yes.”
So did they find out?
Well, initially the blog was anonymous. But then someone who knew us wrote a public blog post that attracted a lot of attention. He revealed our names.
Did you panic?
For a second. But I’m also an attention whore. Like, “Oh, my name’s out there! That’s okay!”
How did your employers let you know that they knew? Did you dread going into work?
So, we each got a phone call from our manager, who started both conversations like this:
“Hey – I have a shift open Friday? Are you able to work it?”
“No, I can’t – sorry.”
“Okay. So….I saw the blog. I think it’s funny, but um, just make sure you don’t name any names or name the hotel or anything like that.”
So they kind of are letting us do it. I think they reviewed our contracts, and reviewed our work history. They know that we are responsible, show up on time and get good customer feedback.
Despite the snarkiness of the blog, I am good at this job.
What happened next with the blog?
It was incredibly lucky –one of the first, big press things we got was BusinessWeek. The guy who did our interview said, “My wife is an editor at a major publishing company in Manhattan. Let me get you guys a meeting with her.”
What was your reaction?
Writing a book is not something that had crossed either of our minds. We got a meeting with her and she gave us advice and contacted agents for us. When you have a big editor saying, “Hi, I’m interested in these people” – it gets people’s attention.
During our conversation, she said, “Let’s talk about what it would be if it was a book.” My background is TV writing and Anna’s a stand-up, so the book thing wasn’t our first thought. She took us under her wing and gave her free advice and I’m so grateful.
She told us that she came to the city to be an actor and went a different route, so she really identified with our story and was so generous with her time. We flirted with agencies and agents and we finally signed with one full service company, so we have access to literary and TV agents.
You said you never thought about writing a book, so what was your wildest dream when you decided to start this blog?
Our wildest dream could still happen. Our wildest dream is a TV show off the blog. We’re going to develop a pilot for it after we finish trying to sell a book proposal.
Are you happy with all the attention and success?
Honestly, I’m just happy to have an agent. The really frustrating thing about being a professional writer is that you need an agent to get through the door – and getting that first thing can take a decade.
And I feel really great because something that’s been told to us when we were talking with agents and possible producers is they said, “We can Google your names and see things you’ve written and see that you’ve been working.” So all these years writing things that didn’t go viral or didn’t take off, well, they paid off because people can see we’ve been working and see things we’ve written before they met us.
It was nice to know all the work I’ve been putting in did help when I reached this point.
How’s the blog doing now?
We get a story out every shift. I work in one of the largest hotels in the city so there are thousands and thousands of people who come through there everyday – so we’re bound to get a good story out of each shift.
What advice would you give recent grads or anyone who feel lost in their current career path?
Another piece of advice that was given to me and that I keep with me and often share is “Make sure that you’re always moving forward even if you’re not moving forward as fast as you want to be. You’ll feel better if everyday you do something that helps further your dream.”
And also, “Luck is the residue of hard work.” We got lucky in getting an agent from the blog, but part of the reason people agreed to sign us and take us seriously was because they could see that we had been working and writing consistently.
I tried really hard. I took Edward Albee’s advice. I tried really really hard to do something else.
I also applied for Teach for America because I think I would be a good teacher. That was always another route I could have gone done.
With the theater marketing job – theater doesn’t make any money. The people who had marketing jobs or press jobs in theater were making much less than people in doing the same jobs in other industries, so I saw so many people who work in theater jobs that were former actors, directors and writers who are not doing what they want to be doing. There was a lot of sadness and bitterness.
Not everyone, but too many people that were bitter that they weren’t acting, writing or directing and I realized I didn’t want that to be me.