The scribbled notes in Adam Carr’s 6-by-4 inch blue moleskin journal read like a string of nonsense ramblings. His entries span from jokes about prank voicemails to memories of making calls while sipping wine from his coffee mug.
Carr, a UCLA film, television and digital media alumnus, took time before bed a few times a week to jot down the antics of his workday as a telemarketer at the Geffen Playhouse. Creating jokes and gimmicks with his co-workers helped get them through the monotony of making calls for six hours each day.
Carr used his journal as the inspiration behind his comedy web series, “The Call Room,” which began airing new episodes each Wednesday on YouTube, Facebook and Vidme this month. The show’s first season, funded entirely through a Kickstarter campaign, centers on four telemarketers navigating their workday escapades as they work for a twisted, overbearing boss. A majority of the show’s characters and storylines are based on Carr’s telemarketing experience at the Geffen.
The actor and comedian, who writes and produces his own material, said he finds that his funniest work is based on his misadventures. “The Call Room” – an offbeat blend of “Seinfeld,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Arrested Development” – follows his objective of creating comedy that is universally relatable, he said.
“Everyone’s either gotten a call by telemarketers or after college you get that crappy job that you hate, which most of the time is telemarketing,” Carr said.
In fall 2013, Carr was asked to join the Geffen Playhouse’s newly implemented, in-house telemarketing office after working at the playhouse since his second year at UCLA. Carr took the new job to help pay his bills but was uncertain of what to expect of the new position.
Carr and five other co-workers shared a desk meant for one, sitting arms-length apart from each other as they called potential donors in the cramped old office of late Geffen Playhouse founder Gilbert Cates. Carr said the close quarters and mix of workers – all actors – bred absurd situations, like doing impersonations of Kramer from “Seinfeld” with one another as they slacked off from making calls.
During his first few months in the office, Carr already had budding ideas of creating a show with a telemarketing premise, which he shared with Jamie Mikelich, the supervisor of the Geffen’s call room at the time. Carr and Mikelich joked back and forth about the Geffen call room’s drama and awkward office romances, laughing at how it played out like a thrilling season of a comedy television show.
Carr and his co-worker Jonathan Schwartz, a cast member on “The Call Room,” often bickered about stealing each other’s one-liners. When Schwartz made a joke about changing the title of the play “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” to “Love, Loss, and Who Gives a Shit,” Carr copied the joke and said it to the rest of the office, passing it off as his own to get under Schwartz’s skin.
“It’s kind of a dorm room college-style setup when you have six people in a room in their mid-20s all day long together,” Mikelich said. “The different personalities clash.”
For Carr, the workplace drama seemed most television-worthy when he quickly fell for another caller in the office. He said he confided in Schwartz about his strong feelings for the woman, only to be told that she was a sex addict who was already dating another worker in the call room – one who sat directly across from Carr at the shared desk.
Carr decided to turn his awkward heartbreak into comedic material, using it as the plot for a 24-page script that he wrote for the pilot episode of “The Call Room.”
“Usually your best stuff that makes people laugh is your most absurd, cringe-worthy, painful, ironic moments.” Carr said. “That’s definitely what I went for.”
Carr enlisted the help of friends to direct, produce and act in the pilot episode which they shot on an out-of-pocket budget of $1,200. Determined to make a full season, Carr and his team launched a Kickstarter campaign in September 2014 to fund their project. By the end of the month, they raised $26,000 from a network of friends, family and contacts in the industry.
Nathaniel Meek, a UCLA alumnus and cast member, felt fundraising was at times a challenging and an uncomfortable approach to creating their show, but it ultimately helped build their audience even before the show was completed.
“It builds a fan base because people are invested in it financially and emotionally,” Meek said. “They’re more likely to watch it and tell their friends.”
Carr and eight writers, including cast members on the show, spent November and December of 2014 budget planning and throwing episode storyline ideas on a whiteboard for season one of “The Call Room.” On Monday nights, they snuck into the empty Geffen Playhouse to write scripts in a large orientation room.
The writers’ room was full of outrageous banter and plot ideas that brought the writers’ room a friendly, collaborative energy said Sean Jones, a UCLA alumnus and cast member.
“The writing process was like having conversations with your close friends where you go so out there just to make each other laugh, but somehow you’re able to spin it into an idea that makes sense in the context of the story,” Jones said.
Schwartz, one of Carr’s original co-workers from the Geffen Playhouse call room, feels “The Call Room” has taken the jokes that he and Carr used to tell to pass the time to a heightened level of silliness. A joke that he and Carr often laughed at, which was about how they wish they could speak for each other in front of their boss and make absurd demands, was written into the episode “Loophole.”
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“It’s fun to see all of our goofing around come to something special,” Schwartz said.
By reaching out to existing contacts he had in the industry, Carr booked meetings with network executives from TV networks like IFC and truTV to pitch the show but was left with unpromising answers and told to come back months later for more meetings.
Carr said he was tired of letting his finished show sit idle, so he decided to launch “The Call Room” himself as a web series, which he believes will give him more creative control over his show’s comedic style and direction.
Though Carr would have preferred a more glamorous job, he said he is grateful for his telemarketing days at The Geffen Playhouse, especially for the breadth of comedic inspiration it has given him. No matter the level of success the show may reach, Carr said he feels satisfied with what he has accomplished by turning his journal of workplace memories into a show.
“We’re not YouTube stars, we’re not people with 100,000 followers on Instagram, so how far the show will go, I have no idea,” Carr said. “But I feel good at the end of the day that I set out to do something and I made it and it’ll be out there. That’s the greatest thing to take away.”