Former Egotastic staffer Jason Ginsburg, better known during that time as Ross Merrill, got his start in the entertainment industry working for Universal Studios Hollywood. He parlayed that experience into the Twitter account @FakeThemePark, and his 10,000-plus followers have come to expect a sardonic and irreverent look at theme park culture.
Brian McGee: Starting at the beginning, where did the idea for FakeThemePark first come from?
Jason Ginsburg: After almost 10 years at Universal, I left for a digital agency job, working in social media and online video. That job succumbed to the Great Recession, so suddenly I had lots of time on my hands and a newfound love of Twitter and Facebook, which were still pretty new back then. This was the era of "fake" accounts, like @BPGlobalPR, which made fun of BP during the oil spill of 2010. I realized no one was making fun of theme parks, which were a big target. As a fan and an ex-employee, I thought I was as qualified as anyone to handle the task.
BMG: I would imagine it grew quickly beyond what you had originally thought it would, but when did you first get the sense that it had grown beyond maybe even what you had reasonably expected it might become?
JG: When I started doing Q-and-A's, like #AskAPrincess, and found people were actually asking questions instead of just clicking "like." That was encouraging. I think the big breakout was when I live-tweeted the Park Christmas Parade, which just so happened to closely mirror the Disney Christmas Parade airing on TV. It was a nice moment of community. I guess you could call it "live satire."
BMG: Whom do you envision as sort of the perfect audience for this book? What aspects will appeal to what audiences?
JG: Certainly anyone who works or has worked at a theme park can relate. I hear from people at smaller parks, like Cedar Point and Knott's, so I guess the park experience is small-U universal. But any fan of theme parks should see things they love and hate about parks in the book, whether they're Disney geeks, movie buffs, coaster fanatics, etc.
BMG: Who is Murph Gantly, where did he come from, and what sort of character do you picture when you write in that voice?
JG: Murph is in many ways the antithesis of Walt Disney (his name comes both from Walt and Universal's Carl Laemmle). He's cruel to his employees, sees guests as suckers, and cares nothing about tradition. He will put any corporation's name on any attraction, allows high-risk fracking in the park, and charges guests to sit in the shade. To me, he sounds like a combination of P.T. Barnum and Groucho Marx. Here's what he looks like on Facebook.
BMG: How was your experience with creating the music video, and what are some of your favorite takeaways from that experience?
JG: It was quite a thrill to bring a small part of the park to life. Making jokes with live actors and rhyming lyrics is very different from a one-sentence tweet, so it was a fun challenge. I'm grateful to Brandon Sturiale for writing a perfect parody of Disney music, and to Diana Sharber for so aptly portraying the cynical diva Princess Peppercorn.
BMG: What was the genesis for combining and condensing all of this into book form?
JG: There's no good way to search for content on Twitter or Facebook -- and I don't want to make people have to search. So I took some of the most popular categories and combined the top-performing posts with my own favorites into a sort of guided tour of the park.
BMG: Even though it's available exclusively as a digital book, what do you feel differentiates it from just going to the Twitter and Facebook pages and clicking on Top Posts?
JG: Well, not all the best jokes became Top Posts! Aside from that, I added value to the book by creating some original content. That includes a foreword by Murph Gantly, a timeline of park history, and the first-ever interview with the Park Princesses. I don't know how much my audience overlaps, so it's possible the Facebook content will be new to my Twitter followers, and the tweets will be new to Facebook fans.
BMG: What does your wife, a writer and former Universal tour guide herself, think about all of this? Did she contribute anything to the world or is she reticent to revisit that time in her life?
JG: I still bounce ideas off her. If a draft of a tweet makes her laugh, it gets posted. She occasionally runs across news stories that I don't know about it and forwards them to me as inspiration. She's working on a book about Universal Studios tour guides, so she's happy to revisit that world.
BMG: Are you okay with having never really and truly left the theme park life behind? It seems like one of those things where you might feel like you'll never escape the theme park no matter what else you do, and is that ultimately something you wrestle with?
JG: Most of my memories of Universal are happy ones. I think of the experience like college -- most of us were young, trying to be artists, and generally goofing around. The Studio Tour has meant a lot to people for over 50 years, and I'm honestly proud to have been part of that, and to have entertained families from all over the world. Though I now live in New York, away from the big parks, plenty of museums and tourist attractions here operate the same way, and I can't help but evaluate them as both a tour guide and a guest.
BMG: What's next for you? Where can we check out your latest stuff?
BMG: Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know or perhaps anyone discovering you for the first time?
JG: I'd encourage Twitter users to follow @FakeThemePark on Facebook, and vice-versa. Different jokes every day. And I love when people talk to the park, ask questions, register complaints -- it's all fuel for more comedy.