Eddie Geller is a Florida Man who wants your vote [podcast + transcript]

  
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On this week’s podcast, I interview my friend and former co-worker Eddie Geller. Eddie is running for Congress in Florida’s 15th district. If elected, he would have the best taste in music of anyone to ever hold office. Just throwing that out there. Let’s get started!

Parker Molloy: Hey Eddie, how's it going?

Eddie Geller: Hey, thank you for having me. It's going pretty well.

Well, that's good, it's always good to hear. So you're running for Congress?

I am running for Congress in the 15th district of Florida. I don't know, when you say it, it sounds so serious.

I'd like to just add a question mark at the very end. Congress?

Congress? Yes. I mean, I'm a big believer that good people got to run for office. So it's something I've been thinking about for a while and it really is January 6th, it's just was so appalling and just felt like, all right, I've been thinking about doing this and Republicans don't seem to be able to find the bottom and so I wanted to throw my hat in the ring.

All right. Well that, I mean, seems like as good a reason as any.

Thank you.

It would've been a little strange if you were like, well, January 6th settled it because I really want to know what it's like to be under siege.

“That will just look like a lot of fun. And I just-”

“That looks so fun!”

“... thought if I could get in there. No, I wanted to send people endless fundraising emails, that was truly the impetus.”

Yeah. That's one thing I think that you and I have in common, I mean, you ask people for money for your campaign, I ask people for money for my newsletter, it all works out and both of us do not have as much money as we would like to have. So.

Yes, fair enough to say. My campaign account is very different than my bank account.

Yeah. So one thing I'm curious about, how did Chuck E. Cheese prepare you to be a member of Congress?

That sounds like a silly question but to me, it is very real. So when I first started working at Chuck E. Cheese I was a 15-year-old young man looking for guidance, looking for a life, and of course, the big mouse came calling. The thing about Chuck E. Cheese and I talk about this with some folks is, my boss at Chuck E. Cheese, this guy named Jeff I'm still good friends with today, Jeff sort of took me under his wing and he introduced me to punk rock because I was playing a lot of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 and was very into Papa Roach at the time. Don't laugh, it hurts when you laugh.

Right there that disqualifies you.

That's the part you can't use, that is the true oppo. Now, he heard me listening to Papa Roach and he's like, "Eddie, we got to fix this," and he made me a mix CD. I remember Alkaline Trio, Saves the Day, Jawbreaker, Jets to Brazil were on it. And so, I mean, punk rock and music is such a huge part of my life but I think what I really still hold on to, I mean, I still love those bands, but is that there is a world outside the mainstream that you can absorb and take in and there are ideas and thoughts that you won't hear on cable TV. And that blew my mind because this was before the internet, the internet was there and it was there awhile but hadn't really blown up. And then it was like, oh, there's so many cool and interesting perspectives so then it was actually hugely influential. And I also learned how to make a pizza, I mean, that didn't hurt either.

Yeah. Those are life skills.

Life skills. And now there's arguably too many perspectives out there.

Yeah. Now it's like, “Oh no, we went too far. Now literally anyone can just pop up on the internet and claim that their cousins, brothers, friends, uncles, testicles have exploded or something.”

Yeah. Or that there's a conspiracy that so-and-so stole an election or whatever, I mean, did not see that one coming.

Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean, that is I think the most predictable thing ever.

Yes. Well, I mean I guess I just mean back in the days of AOL and, I'm in a chat room, isn't the internet fun? And I'm meeting new people and here's these bands and then a little bit of everything all the time.

So tell me a bit about yourself. I mean, we know each other but for the listeners at home or wherever.

Sure. Let's see. So the funny thing is, I'm trying not to go into candidate pitch which is so front of mind and just give the real stuff. I feel like, Parker, we're friends and you deserve the real deal. Who am I? I did grow up in Florida and went to the University of Florida. And when I was in high school I was the class clown and got in a lot of trouble for it and I was a fat kid, which there's nothing wrong with that, everyone should love their body or if they want to change their body also wonderful. But in any case, I was a fat kid that was very effecting and made me very depressed as a child and so being a class clown was sort of the manifestation of trying to navigate that. And so when I was around 17 or 18, like I said, I'd make jokes in class and my friends would encourage me and be like, oh, you should do stand up. And for whatever crazy reason after enough prodding I was like, okay, this is a good idea, again, question mark.

But I actually think that when I decided to do that, again, I don't remember if it was 17 or 18, I think that was a defining moment of my life to step on that stage and tell some jokes just because it was like, oh, you can face your fears and you can overcome them. And then I think everything since then it's just been like, well, I'm not stepping on stage to do stand up for the first time in my life, so sure I can run for Congress. But anyway, so yeah. So I started doing comedy in high school and I think I found this identity and then I went to the University of Florida and I did improv with this group theater strike force, changed my life because I really found my people.

But I remember sort of my friends would give me shit because I was the person who was always like, I care about politics and I care about this thing, and folks were like, I just want to do improv, and I'm like, but we should pay attention to the war in Iraq and all that stuff. And so I feel like I had these dual sides of me, it saw like, oh, I'm a performer and I love doing that but also I really care about what's happening in Washington or whatever, and feeling so frustrated, I mean, I feel the Iraq war was the defining political event of my life. I remember in 2003 just seeing us go to war and just feeling this can't be happening, how can we be doing something so terrible and there's so much energy behind stopping it and yet we can't stop it and it still just happened. And I think that took a toll on me in the sense that, we have to be able to do something.

So anyway, so I'm still doing my comedy thing, I go to Los Angeles, I started doing improv and comedy out there. I do not hit it big but I enjoyed performing on a regular basis, I was in a few commercials, I had a line in a movie and it was really fun. And I think anyone who has the opportunity to get paid to act or paid to do their art form is really gratifying and I loved it, but still, I felt that I wanted to do more or wanted to do something with my creativity that wasn't selling Dr. Pepper. Not that there's anything wrong with Dr. Pepper, I just feel like that's a problem we've solved in our society is how to get people to drink Dr. Pepper. So I fell into the world of-

You're going to lose the coveted Dr. Pepper drinker vote which is a large lobby.

I don't know, they're going to come after me, the Dr. Pepper folks. I mean, I haven't had a Dr. Pepper in a long time, third grade.

I had one yesterday.

Oh, really?

And they are great.

They are great.

There are two things I drink all day, Diet Coke and Diet Dr. Pepper.

I was just going to ask if you were a regular Dr. Pepper or Diet Dr. Pepper.

Diet.

Yeah. No, I've rocked a number of Diet Dr. Peppers in my life. Okay. So, okay, I've realized I'm monologuing a bit and you're so gracious to let me do it. But in any case, I found this merger of creativity and politics and activism and so I've been running with that ever since. And you and I were together when we were at Upworthy but also I spent time at the Democratic National Committee, I worked with MoveOn. And so anyway, so then we get to me now who's like, I'm going to run for office because I think ultimately again, I've been on the outside doing my best to make a difference and this is me saying, I want to take a shot of being on the inside and represent folks and do some good from Washington.

All right. And your announcement video took the form of a jingle?

Yes.

Yeah. How did that happen?

I launched with a jingle video. Well, once I decided to run I knew being a former comedian and being a video producer I had to do something interesting. And so I had been thinking about it and then I was watching this show, I don't know if you've ever seen it, Somebody Feed Phil, and if you haven't seen, it doesn't matter, but it's this traveling eating show hosted by the guy who started Everybody Loves Raymond, his name is Phil. And anyway, the intro to the show is, a happy hungry man, and it's kind of a vibe, it's like a Full House type vibe, and it just dawned on me like, oh, that would be a fun way to introduce myself.

[Clip of Eddie Geller’s announcement jingle plays]

And then as soon as I thought of that, I was like, well, it should be a full-on pair, let's just go there, let's just do the pair.

Go full Full House.

Go full Full House. And I listened to all those, the Family Matters, Full House, Step By Step, you name it, I was listening to it and trying to figure this thing out. But in any case, so then I had this idea and I reached out to a mutual friend of ours, Eric March, who also worked at Upworthy, just a brilliant writer and comedian and he helped me write the jingle because I'm not a musician. And so yeah, so we worked on it, came up with the music and the lyrics and then we reached out to a producer named Alison, she did a great job taking it from a piano piece with lyrics into the full-blown jingle and then filmed all these funny bits around Brandon where I live, Brandon, Florida and I was so nervous.

I mean, this is not how you're supposed to launch a political campaign, you're supposed to launch a campaign with, my father when I was four years old took me out to the pond and we went fishing and I knew when I caught that salmon that that salmon was America, and I couldn't do that. I mean, more power to folks who do but it wasn't me and so yeah, so the jingle happened. And also, even if I had done something that's like, I'm Eddie Geller and here's all the very earnest reasons why I'm running, which I have a number of earnest reasons why I'm running but it would get six views, right? I mean, so it's finding the balance.

Yeah. Well, I mean, there have definitely been some people who've tried the creative video, hey, let me introduce myself kind of thing, and sometimes they just kind of stick around. I mean, there's one that I was thinking of, oh, there was a candidate that recreated the scene in Top Gun-

Yes. I know exactly the video you're talking about.

... yeah, except that it was an attack ad against Barbara Comstock I think, and they had someone who kind of looked like her sitting there. It was so weird but for the life of me I cannot remember the name of the candidate, which is probably bad.

I don't want to take shots at any other Democrats and especially someone who's trying to do something different. So I remember who he is but I wish him all the best because he's fighting the good fight. But yeah, it's hard to do and that was definitely my fear, once I decided there were so many moments where I was like, oh my God, am I really doing this? And there were demos I listened to of it and I was like, is this good? And eventually folks I trusted told me, hey, this is fun, this is good, and so yes, I put it out there. And fortunately folks are pretty kind about it and enjoyed it and I appreciated your sending it out there into your world.

And I also use the jingle as, I'm going to do more fun stuff like that, I think that is going to be my campaign as like, we can make this fun and then also talk about the real things. But it's an opportunity and a challenge, right? It's like, I think being able to do fun things and get attention is really helpful because that's a very hard thing in this world, but then people are like, hey, are you for real? And I've had those conversations, I've been in local democratic meetings and they're like, we want to meet you because are you just the guy who does the jingle or are you actually going to talk about the desalination plants that are being built in our county and what are we going to do about that? And so it's, you got to do both, but yeah, I'm happy to jingle and maybe there's another one down the road.

Putting the “fun” into “funding our social safety net.”

I love it.

Another thing I wanted to ask you about was, back in 2015 you made a video for ClickHole explaining Bitcoin, it's you mumbling for a minute and 15 seconds and I love it because I still don't understand crypto stuff at all. But I did want to point out that if on the day that that video got posted on YouTube, if you had invested just $100 you would have $18,000 now, so it's just something out there.

But also cryptocurrency is now a huge contributor to our climate crisis. So hopefully I didn't do any damage by doing that ClickHole video, but no, that was fun. And there was a good friend of mine, Leo Garcia, he worked at The Onion, I was visiting Chicago and he was just like, hey, do you want to do this video? I had no idea what it was going to be. And I came to the studio and they just put a teleprompter in front of me with the actual script and they were like, do your best to mumble this and so I did a few mumbly takes. And that might've been my peak, I mean, I think the work I'm doing now is more important but let's be honest, I mean, the Bitcoin mumble video.

I just love it, it's great. But yeah-

Oh, thank you.

... I did want to point out how much richer we both would have been if instead of making that video we invested in Bitcoin. But alas, we did not so here you are trying to raise money for Congress and I'm trying to fund a newsletter, so that's our lives.

That is our lives.

So you're running in Florida's 15th district, right?

Correct.

Are you at all worried about redistricting?

Yeah, redistricting is absolutely something that is top of mind. But it's going to either get a little bit harder, get a little bit easier, stay the same, I know that is super obvious to say. But in any case I still have to work really hard and I still have to convince people to vote for me no matter how the lines are drawn. Sort of who you're talking to and how you're getting to them changes a bit and donors and the media will perceive the election differently based on that cooked rating. But that all being said, I knew this was going to be really hard regardless so I don't want it to get much harder, I think that would be silly if I did.

But I'm really excited because currently it's an R plus six district so it favors Republicans by six points. But I really like talking to Republicans, I mean, that's not to say people who have extreme conspiracy theories about elections, I entertain those, I don't, I think that's terrible for democracy. But I play on a hockey team that is almost all Republicans, a rec hockey league, and they know I'm running and we sit at the bar after games when we drink beer and we shoot the shit and we talk a little bit of politics. But I think it is good to remember that, yes, there is a world out there where things are getting so tense and so heated but there is a place, at least I hope, that there's a place that we can maybe slowly but surely bring it back down.

And I think to be someone who runs for office you have to be an optimist and you have to have hope and I think that describes me. And I think doing comedy is kind of part of that because I think to do comedy you have to be aware of where people's emotions are going to go and where they're at. So that's all just to say that I like the challenge of being in a place where there are a lot of Republicans because I think there's winning my race, which I'm in it to win it and there's also, how do we just untangle the knot that has been created, and it's really intimidating and really despairing and you worked in Media Matters, I mean, you know this stuff.

Oh, absolutely. Just thinking about it, one of the challenges I think that you face that obviously I kind of witnessed when I was at Media Matters, especially is just the right wing media machine which is just pumping out a lot of either false info or conspiracy theories or just getting the right wing base really, really riled up which presents a challenge. Because the thing is that when policies are polled, the ones that the Democrats run on are way more popular, just generally. But you have to overcome the ads and the Fox News and the OAN and Newsmax and all of that stuff, which is its own challenge because I've watched as great pieces of legislation have just been shut down because of that.

I mean, in Illinois here we had, I think it was, was it 2018? One of those, 2018 or in 2020 there was a referendum on the ballot that was, should we essentially adopt a more progressive tax system? Because right now Illinois has a flat tax for state taxes which is 5% which is kind of steep if you're not making a lot of money and not anywhere near steep enough if you are making a lot of money. So there was a really well-funded opposition to this bill which would have changed the entire state's tax structure.

And the whole thing was based on this idea that, well, what if you one day become super successful? You may benefit now but what about 10 years from now? It's like, that's a great problem to have, oh, no, I moved up into a higher tax bracket, it's like, that's fine. But it failed because it just was blown out of the water with the ads that were everywhere and that I think is kind of a unique challenge. I mean, I don't know, you say that to run for office you have to be an optimist and that's one reason that I will never in my life run for office. It's my nature to be extremely pessimistic about everything because personally I would rather be pleasantly surprised than let down. When was it that you left Upworthy? Was that before the 2016 election?

That was 2015 I think.

2015. Okay. So throughout 2016 Adam Mordecai had a little room in a slack channel that was like, “I will reassure you about the state of the election.” And you go in there-

Just hearing it makes me feel sad.

... Yeah. You go in there and you would be like, “I don't know, man, I saw the story, the polling or the polling dropped,” and he would go, “Well, here's why you don't need to worry — because it's all going to be fine.” And so everyone kind of went into election day 2016 feeling optimistic, not me, I was like, “I'm 90% sure Trump is going to win this thing.” And when it happened I was devastated but not because I was surprised but because it was Trump, he was not the person I voted for, let's put it that way.

That is so sad to hear.

Oh, it's so sad. That is really bad.

One thing I think a lot about is I feel like Republicans are better storytellers than we are and they don't think we give them enough credit for that because I think you can be a millionaire someday is a version of a story and I think they understand their audience really well of what is going to connect with the amygdala, is that the lizard brain? I don't know. We don't need to Google it. But in any case, I think they understand that storytelling really well and they bang that drum. And I think I am persuaded by be a better person, get in for your community, we're all in this together, we got to make a sacrifice for the fight, that resonates to me but there's a lot of people that it doesn't resonate with them.

And I think we need to be more creative to find different ways to tell these stories about how we make a better America that have a broader appeal and understand that not everyone is persuaded by let's all pitch in together, which is a really important message. We do actually all need to pitch in together but that can't be the only way we're talking about taxing the rich or climate change or health care, we can just be more creative. And, I mean, that is certainly what I'm hoping to do, again, in my small corner of Florida 15, is thinking about messaging in that way and trying to get through to people in a way that is different than has previously been done.

So one of the last things I wanted to ask about was policies. What issues are you passionate about? What issues do you think your district is passionate about?

Well, I mean, I like many folks, I mean, it's not just necessarily our age group but definitely folks in our age group are just so distraught about is climate change. And we have passed the point of getting out of this thing without doing any damage and now it's like, we still have so much to do to mitigate and to avoid the worst of the worst, so that is absolutely top of mind for me. Another one is, finding a way to get to universal healthcare. My mom was a doctor and I remember when I was young and we talked about this issue, I was maybe 15 or 16, and there were other problems about I think reimbursements rates or something. I was talking to her about some specific thing and she's like, the way to fix this is just to get everyone covered, we just need a system that covers everyone.

And so I'm not dictatorial about what that needs to look like, I think there's a number of ways of getting there but we have to do something about it, whether it is Medicare expansion, whether it is a public option. I think Medicare for all is great but if it's Medicare for all or nothing then we might be waiting a long fucking time to get everyone covered. So yeah, so those are two. And I'm a member of a union and so good jobs is something I do think about and seeing stories about the gig economy and, I keep thinking about the DoorDash story about taking tips out of, I forget exactly what it was, but it's a way of screwing the workers out of their tips. And the bar just continues to lower in our economy of what a job looks like and what it should look like and so I want to be able to help push that back in the other direction.

Yeah. I mean, that makes total sense. And the gig economy creates all sorts of issues when it comes to who's an employee, who's whatnot. Speaking of DoorDash I was thinking about when New York flooded recently and there was an image of someone trying to ride their bicycle through two and a half feet of sewage water-

Yes. I saw that.

... with the DoorDash thing. And someone reported out a story on that and it was afterward, they were like, “This was the worst night of my life and I made a $100” or something that, something ridiculous. And it's just, I don't know, there's always been this idea that the higher paying job, the more work you're doing, but I've found the exact opposite to be true. I mean, the hardest jobs I've ever had have been minimum wage jobs, the easiest jobs I've had are the ones that pay better. A lot of people like to feel like they're earning their living which is great and fine, but they look down upon people who do DoorDash and people who work at McDonald's or whatever, and it's just wrong. What we should do in my opinion, is to make sure that we're taking care of everyone no matter what their job is and make sure they have safe conditions. And here I am talking like a candidate, whoops.

Well, anyway, we have this-

Now just watch, I'm going to move down to Florida 15 and take you on.

... we have this moment during the pandemic in which, I mean, we are obviously still in, but at the beginning of the pandemic where we were like, oh my God, essential workers, thank goodness for these folks who are out there whether it's delivering groceries or whatever, just realize like, oh, these folks are so important and then we just kind of forgot it. And then we're like, oh, we're going to take away your hazard pay and all these extra protections and bonuses we gave you we're going to start to roll them back, and it's so maddening.

Yeah. I mean, it absolutely is. Just the same thing where we had all those commercials for a while that were, “In these unprecedented times, blah, blah,” basically this “we're all in it together” kind of messaging but then that sort of faded by last summer, yeah, summer 2020 and then after that it was just sort of like, “Screw you! buy a Lexus!”

Actually, I tested that messaging and it failed but I was thinking about “Screw you, Geller! Buy a Lexus!”

“Screw you, vote Geller,” I think it works. And on that note, thank you, Eddie Geller.

Oh my gosh. Thank you for having me Parker, this was a delight.