Never in his wildest dreams did New York City comedian Jeff Greenspan envision standing outdoors with a woman in Huntsville, Alabama, looking up at the night sky and being lectured on Pluto. But the worldwide pandemic has spun off such bizarre encounters.
Greenspan tells the story of this odd exchange after a recent comedy show performance in the Rocket City:
"She said, 'Oh, you're from New York?' I'm going to show you something you can't see in New York.'
"So she takes me outside and says, 'What do you think that is up there next to the moon?'
"I said, 'That's Mars.'
"And she said, 'Naw, that's Pluto.' She's like, 'Pluto used to be a planet but now it's a star.'
"And I say, 'No, Pluto is hundreds of thousands of light years away. You'll never see it with your naked eye.'
"And she says, 'No, you're wrong. And you're rude.'"
If not for COVID-19, Greenspan would have never had this enlightening encounter. And yet, he otherwise seems charmed by the South.
The 50-year-old native New Yorker says he has found much to like and admire about the South since moving to Chattanooga months ago to escape the COVID-ravaged metropolis where nightclubs shuttered and work dried up.
If you go
What: Carpetbagger’s Comedy Hour
Where: Bode Hotel, 730 Chestnut St.
When: First and third Friday of the month at 9 p.m.
Cost: $8 (cost includes one beer)
Show: Several guest comedians each night
Social Distancing: Yes, only 40 tickets (out of 150+) sold to each performance
He originally located here to be a short-term "Comedian in Residence" at the Humanaut advertising agency. A former advertising creative — he was the first Creative Officer at BuzzFeed — Greenspan worked on such accounts at Humanaut as Liquid Death canned water, where he was part of a team that conceptualized a "Killer Baby Name" generator that spits out horrific monikers for infants such as "Doctor Murderbones" and "Hellface Meathammer."
On the comedy front, Greenspan is producing a twice-monthly comedy show at the Bode Hotel on Chestnut Street, where he lives. The Bode management configures the hotel's lobby to stage the shows two Friday nights a month for an audience of 40. Greenspan recruits comics from around America to appear at the shows, which he has dubbed the Carpetbagger's Comedy Hour.
He still freelances on the advertising front, but for the past four years has focused on his stand-up act. His current plans are to sell his New York apartment and move to the Scenic City. Here, Greenspan talks about his transition.
* Everything was moving along at a pretty good clip in New York. I was starting to get recognition and my (comedy) work was getting better. And then COVID happened.
* Maybe it's because it's the South, maybe because it's COVID, or maybe it's just the way Chattanooga is, but everyone has been really excited to have this kind of creative (comedy show) injection.
* Chattanooga was not on my mental map. I don't even think it was on my physical map.
* Chattanooga seems like a very progressive dot in a red state. I feel very comfortable and at home here. But I've really only explored Chattanooga to the extent that my bicycle allows me to.
* If worse comes to worse and everything gets shut down, I would rather be shut down in an apartment (in Chattanooga) that is twice the size of my apartment in New York, and with a view of the mountains.
* The whole town has been very generous in greeting us. I've even gone to other hotels and promoted (the Bode comedy shows) to the guests there. In New York they would just say, "Get the hell out, we don't want to talk to you."
* Every single day, we (comics) go onstage and try to get to the truth, to make people say "Yeah, I feel that way, too." That's the holy grail for advertising: What is the unspoken truth that makes everyone say 'yes'?
* I'm amazed at how willing people are to listen to you (in Chattanooga). Whether it's with an audience or a conversation, people aren't always interrupting you or looking over your shoulder to see who is coming in the room next.
* (I have this) fish-out-of-the-water feeling. I'm not running into a bunch of Jews down here. I'm a gay, Jewish guy — we are a dime a dozen in New York.
* "Chattanooga" sounds funny. As a comedian I should just be here.
* Even though there are a lot of challenging and negative things happening with this pandemic, there's always the bright side. It is an opportunity for America to get to meet each other.
* I never would have been here if it weren't for this pandemic. I don't know how representative this is of the South, but Chattanooga has exceeded my expectations.