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Why this NYC comic is using his time in isolation to take calls from strangers

Quarantime is a free hotline designed to help you out of your creative rut.

Why this NYC comic is using his time in isolation to take calls from strangers
[Photo: supertramp/iStock]

Layoffs have been happening across all industries as COVID-19 forces business to close and people to isolate at home. Work for freelance creatives, which is inherently tenuous, has dried up, too. So with all the new hours to fill in a day, some people are using the time to fight the woes of isolation in unconventional ways.

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Artists Max Hawkins and Danielle Baskin, for instance, developed an app called QuarantineChat, designed to randomly connect strangers for conversation. Meanwhile, Jeff Greenspan, a New York City-based freelance creative director and stand-up comic, is offering guidance to fellow creatives who need help with their projects. His hotline Quarantime invites people from all over the world to schedule brief calls with him, completely free of charge.

“I’m helping people with what I’m particularly good at, which is creative direction and writing,” says Greenspan, who has spent 25 years in the advertising world but whose work has now largely dried up. “I would argue that this is what creative directors get paid for . . . to keep teams focused and keep the idea pure.”

Initially, he set up around 25 15- and 30-minute time slots over three days. That quickly expanded, and now he’s spending up to seven hours a day doing video calls with strangers. So far, he’s taken over 30 calls, including one last week with two collaborators from Belgium who run a small advertising firm and design academy. They wanted insight about how to bring storytelling into the digital realm in a way that more closely mimics a traditional story with character development and plot. “We were brainstorming ways to bring that into a curriculum. Stories help us maintain connection to each other, especially in a crisis,” Greenspan explains.

A caller from Ireland asked Greenspan his thoughts on going to advertising school and what to look for in a syllabus and professors. “There’s a lot of people who don’t know it, but they’re seeking permission for some reason. Our lives are led by authority figures and a lot of people have ideas, [but are being told they shouldn’t pursue them]. It’s a little bit of therapy,” Greenspan says.

Most of the people who’ve asked Greenspan for advice are complete strangers, although one was an acquaintance he lost touch with years ago. On the call, they talked about purpose, passion, and how to translate those things through creative work.

“This has allowed me to get focus groups on what anxieties and fears are [plaguing] the whole creative community. A lot of people want to reinvent themselves and are using this time to reflect,” Greenspan says. He likes problem-solving with callers and finds he’s able to offer useful advice, even if the person is in a different industry.

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“A video game guy was trying to game-ify healthy habits, like washing your hands and keeping your distance, during COVID-19,” Greenspan says. “I’m not a video game maker or a UX guy, but talking about the idea from my perspective helped him start riffing on ideas for UX.”

Greenspan, who’s also a comic used to performing several nights a week, says Quarantime isn’t just for the callers—it’s for him as well. “I personally need an audience,” he says. “This project has given me an opportunity to get in front of a camera and clean myself up. I make it very clear to people I’m losing my mind, too.”

There’s no set end date for the project, as Greenspan is simply waiting to see if spots keep filling up. Quarantime could end this week, or it could continue forever. So much is up in the air, there’s no way to predict the future of most creative pursuits. “For me, as long as I’m in this apartment, I think I’m doing Quarantime,” says Greenspan. “I told myself if I can do something positive everyday, then I haven’t just drifted in the abyss. Quarantime is like a lighthouse that keeps me away from the rocks.”

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