Being ridiculously crazy-busy is exhausting. We all know this, it’s why vacations exist. But apparently, there’s a mythic level of high-functionality that only a select few tend to reach–one so intense, it’s exhausting to even witness. Take Jensen Karp, for instance. (Or try taking him, anyway; Jensen has so much going on right now, he’s not likely budging.)
Just this past year, Jensen has authored a memoir, maintained regular columns in Rolling Stone and The Hundreds, acted on a TV show, worked on a different TV show, wrote for ESPN’s ESPY Awards, managed a recording artist, put out a weekly podcast, quietly architected marketing campaigns, completed his first documentary, and staged live shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, all while overseeing Gallery1988, the nerdy-cool pop culture art hub. Just glancing over a laundry list of accomplishments this robust feels almost like an accomplishment in itself, and it’s difficult to do without assessing any prestige-gaps in one’s own year. But for Jensen Karp, keeping crazy-busy is the only way to stay sane.
“I have obsessive thoughts disorder,” he says, “which is terrible for 99% of your life, and then the 1% that it works with is basically obsessing over things you need to do until they’re done. It’s a slight nightmare, but I have been really lucky with my disorder helping my productivity.”
Before he became the impossibly multi-hyphenated quasi-mogul he is today, Jensen had only one major outlet for his creativity: He was a rapper with a million-dollar deal on Interscope Records. Ultimately, it didn’t work out, the story of which is recounted in Karp’s forthcoming memoir. After losing the deal, though, he was left in his early twenties without any plan B for what he’d do professionally for the rest of his life. Cut to nearly 15 years later and Jensen still doesn’t have a Plan B, but his Plan A is a hydra-headed beast with so many subsections it’s difficult to say which is chief among them all. The secret to his success is taking on too many things and inventing ways to see them through.
Jensen’s latest project is Baby Talk, a web series he created with kindred spirit/doppelgänger Dan Levy and backed by comedy YouTube channel JASH, in which three funny people interview a kid in front of an audience. The idea originated when Levy sought to interview the extremely wealthy on stage, in order to help figure out how to better manage his life. Unable to book the likes of Marc Cuban, though, Jensen pitched the Baby Talk concept as a way to help Levy prepare for then-impending fatherhood. It’s a largely off-the-cuff show where the laughs arise organically from three comedians interfacing with a small child.
As the new show continues its rollout online, Jensen talked with Co.Create about figuring out how to juggle it among the myriad other items in his wildly overstuffed to-do list.
I feel like I tend to overbook myself. I mean, I usually make sure the things I’m working on don’t overlap, but there is definitely sometimes too much stuff at once. The podcast happens on Sundays, no matter what. There are certain things that just are always going to happen at certain times and so I can’t change those. Even if Sunday is my birthday and I have a ton of things to do, which was the case this past Sunday, we’re still doing the podcast. So I guess that’s called overbooking, but it’s also a routine and I’m never freaking out about it. All the things I’m doing are things I love doing and I’m lucky to be doing them, so that’s how I look at it, like, “Oh my God, what if I didn’t have all these creative outlets!”
There isn’t usually one moment when an idea goes from “Oh, it would be cool if I did that” to “I’m definitely doing that.” For example, I’m opening this boutique called Patti Lapel in two weeks, and it’s focusing on a lot of weird shit, one of them being the soft enamel lapel pin craze that’s going on right now. It’s not a huge investment for me and it basically comes from me just wanting to wear them. So, I have the idea, I start researching how to get these things made, researching vendors by asking a few friends through email, asking my girlfriend to build out the website. Those kinds of things, I have to depend on other people, but I do say “Okay, I’m making this decision. I’m doing this right now.” And that’s important. I don’t think there is anything magical behind that other than your motivation.
I have no assistant. I depend very, very much on Fantastical, which is just an app calendar for iPhone. If that fell apart, I don’t know what I would do any day of the week, I would have no clue. Because of the gallery and because of scheduling shows, I really plan everything out month by month. I know going into each month when the art gallery is having an opening, I know what I’m supposed to do for that. I know, comedy-wise, if I have one or two shows. I know, writing-wise, how many articles or chapters I need to write. I really categorize it per month and that helps me a lot.
I think that my creativity and my output has probably tripled since I started getting up early. Paul Scheer has always been a big mentor to me, and he was one of the first people to really start talking about how much more productive he was when he woke up early. So I never saw myself as an early person, but I started to train myself to do that. When I wake up, between the first two hours of 6 a.m. or 5:30 a.m. or whatever, I do every email I needed to do at least in the last day. So I get all the stuff out of the way in the morning and that way, creatively, I can be more free during the day.
I really don’t procrastinate on anything. If I have an email to do, like something as small as who I want on Baby Talk this next month, I’m not gonna wait. If I think of it immediately, right now, I’m just going to make sure I send the email right now. It’s the easiest thing to just put it off and email the person later. But that shit stacks up and at the end of the day you’re like, “Oh I don’t remember what I was supposed to do.” Just getting things off your plate is such a large part of it. I like to get this shit done right now so I don’t think about it anymore.
It’s difficult sometimes where, for instance, I was writing the book at the same time I was writing the ESPY’s. One day I’m writing about my weird experiences in rap and then the next day I’m trying to figure out how this award show is going to work. I also wrote on Nicole Richie’s show this season and it’s difficult to write for a woman who has a certain perspective and then go home and write as a man-boy who’s talking about his rap career when he was 19 or 20. So what I do is just set a time-block, like, “Okay, now I’m gonna write about my rap experience for two hours,” and just let my brain sit there for a while, rather than be nervous about the jokes I have to write later for the ESPY’s. I think it’s just about mind framing each thing so you’re not just floating in the air between them.
I should probably turn Twitter off to focus more, but I think it also inspires me. I know that sounds so dumb, but there’s so many people writing funny things on Twitter and it keeps my joke-brain going. So those things are probably connected in some way. And so many things in my life have come together because of Twitter. So I guess I’m good at not letting it completely take over my day. Sometimes, I’ll just pick up my phone, write a joke, and put it back down. So I guess there’s probably a moderation that I’ve internalized but I think I can keep it open. I’m not that obsessive.