Whether or not they know it, millions upon millions of people have experienced the work of Jensen Karp. The epitome of this column’s namesake, Jensen Karp is a true renaissance man within the creative field.
Jensen has written for television (e.g. VH1’s “Candidly Nicole,” ESPN’s “The ESPY’s, WWE’s “Monday Night Raw”). He has written for Rolling Stone. He has a memoir in the works for Random House, which follows the “Just Can’t Get Enough” book he wrote with Matthew Robinson. He was a major label hip-hop artist, signed under the name Hot Karl, and currently manages a major label rapper named Nova Rockafeller. He has appeared in and written content for web-hubs like Funny Or Die and JASH. He has co-hosted almost 200 episodes of the weekly “Get Up On This” podcast. He owns two Los Angeles-based, pop-culture-centric art galleries under the name Gallery 1988. He recently filmed a pilot for CNBC, which comes on the heel of acting in the first season of VH1’s “Barely Famous” series.
And believe it or not, those are not all of Jensen’s credits or businesses, past or present.
Jensen kindly took some time to answer questions about how he not only manages to get everything done, but also maintains such high quality in his output.
D: I believe I first found out about you when you were a guest on Dave Lagana’s podcast. So many projects and careers…When someone asks what do you for a living, what do you say?
Jensen: For a long time, I kind of just took a deep breath and picked one of them, mostly landing on art dealer. But nowadays, I’ve become more confident in saying “writer.” It doesn’t really encapsulate all of the gallery work, which is something I’ve been doing for 11 years, but writing is what I went to USC for and it’s been filling up my days for the past year. It’s also what makes me happiest, which is an easy way to decide how to answer, I’ve figured out. Everything you mentioned I’m proud of though, it’s just a weird thing when you rattle off a bunch of jobs to people like a creep, so you have to sort of have to settle on one and go with it.
D: When was it that you realized that it paid off to have a multi-faceted career, rather than just trying to do one thing?
J: I’m not sure it was a conscious decision. It’s a long story — and soon to be book — about how my rap career was pulled out from under me a little. And I’m sort of just learning that maybe I take on all these jobs, so that if one is taken away from me, then I have others. But also, I have a lot of interests and I’ve never been one to pass on an opportunity that I love, because that will depress me. So I started putting a lot of irons on a lot of fires, and I’ve been really lucky that a few of them paid off. I’ll stick to that theory for doing stuff I like, until I have a heart attack from stress.
D: Much has been said about your parents on your podcast, but not much about how they felt about your career choices. What sort of reaction did you initially get when it wasn’t clear that you were going to be a teacher or a lawyer or striving for an office-based career?
J: I don’t talk about their reactions much because they were always supportive. It’s boring. My mother was a singer and wished she had taken it further, and my dad wanted to manage me at some point. They never really expected me to be a desk job guy, but did always want to make sure I was writing, since they had noticed I enjoyed doing it at a young age. Also, some of my elementary school teachers started contacting them about my writing, and how I should be forced to stick with it. I think that’s what they expected me to do for the rest of my life. Rap was just a pleasant surprise.
D: Is there a field or profession that you haven’t yet worked in that you’ve thought about?
J: I would love to eventually write and direct a movie. I’ve been working on a short doc for the past two years that is near completion, but honestly, it was very hard. I wasn’t able to give it as much time as I’d like, and sort of had to do it in spurts, which is why it took so long, but I would love to just carve out a bunch of time one day and direct something real. Also, I would love to write a novel, which is my hope for after the memoir.
D: Is it your plan to stay so diversified? Or do you one day hope to slow down and focus on one or two things?
J: I REALLY want to slow down and pick something. I do. And I think I’ve done that a little. “Barely Famous” filmed over 4 days, and I have a pilot at CNBC that filmed over 4 [days]. Those seem like long ventures, but they aren’t. Once the book is done, and a few TV shows I’ve been working on wrap up, things should be a little better. But the truth is, I enjoy doing a lot at once, or have convinced myself I have to somehow. But either way, I’ve said I’ll be slowing down for about five years now and haven’t. But for my own sake, I still want the answer to be yes.
D: Are there particular tools or apps that you primarily rely on to keep everything on-track?
J: Yes. FantastiCAL. It’s a great iPhone app. When the new iOS systems started dropping consistently, I think the iCal took the biggest hit. It genuinely started messing up meetings and calls for me. So I downloaded FantastiCAL on a suggestion of [producer] Just Blaze and I have never looked back. If it were to crash, I would just move to Wyoming and take up fishing. It reminds me of everything that is going to happen or has happened. Without it, I’m lost.
D: When it comes to managing finances, are you a planner?
J: Sort of? I have a money manager for things like that, and I am always putting money away for my IRA, but I’m also not a very hands-on guy about it. I feel like I selected him, and my investment specialist, because I’ve known them for years. I can trust them to do their jobs, and if they don’t, only I’m to blame for placing that trust. But they’ve been great so far. I am not a big spender though at all. I fall on the modest side.
D: Your record deal and publishing deal came about when the music industry was still thriving, and the legend goes that you invested some of that into starting Gallery 1988. Do you have any overall strategy when it comes to saving or investing?
J: Yes, I used some of the last money I had from the advance to open G1988, which was a nice feeling actually. It felt better than just throwing it away on comic books. My strategy has always been to invest in things that seem fun. A bunch of friends and I all threw money into a bar a few years ago and it tanked. Two years later it closed its doors and we all laughed. It was a dumb move, but it taught me something: I only put my money into something that, if it fails, I will still be happy about. That bar made me feel dumb from the start. I put a bunch of money into this short documentary without ANY plan of what to do with it when I’m done. But I knew I HAD to do it. And that’s it. Same with Nova. When she flew out to stay with me years ago, it was to make cool rap music, not get a record deal at Island [Records]. I just invest in what I would like to do, and then again, you can only blame yourself when it fails.
D: When it comes to your career, how much of what you have accomplished is rooted in hustle versus having an agent or manager seek new opportunities?
J: Up until last year, EVERYTHING was through me hustling. I had agents and reps for years, but they never really did anything, except get me more money during negotiations; which I won’t pretend isn’t a big deal, it is. But over the last year. I signed to CAA and 3 Arts [Entertainment] and both of them have gotten me opportunities that wouldn’t have been in my realm without them. That’s been a nice feeling. But also, I still am hustling. If I see a job I would want, I can contact my reps or just contact direct still. It’s a nice thing to have, but I don’t ever see myself depending on it.
D: You’re known to be a prolific joke-writer on social media. Is that simply for fun? Or is it that more rooted in “wanting to create” and keeping your name out there?
J: 100% for fun. I started writing jokes on Twitter when I was focused completely on the gallery and its marketing division. Really trying to get that off the ground back then. But I knew I needed an outlet for joke-writing. It was something I had been doing since high school and usually would just write the bits down in a little notebook, so Twitter was ideal for me. I feel like I used to have an unhealthy relationship with Twitter, overusing and caring too much about it, but over the past two years I have really been able to find its place in my everyday life, especially as I’ve gotten busier. It’s just a hobby that is fun for me, and at the same time helped me get writing gigs, which is a nice bonus.
D: If you were talking to your teenage self, is there any career advice you have passed along?
J: Don’t invest in that bar.
D: On your podcast, you’ve mentioned relying on jogging as a cure for overthinking and worrying. How did you first get into jogging?
J: I had no other option. I suffer from Obsessive Thoughts Disorder and need to do something to stop it. I had tried intensive therapy and medication, and nothing had given me full clarity. It’s not a secret that exercise can do the same exact job as meds, and so I finally listened to the advice and tried it and I haven’t been the same since. I try to run everyday, but my schedule recently has been rough — I also broke my arm in January and am just getting better. It saved my life. Not sure I could live without it. Not sure it will work for everyone, but I can’t praise it enough.
D: When you’re not working, what do you like to do with yourself?
J: I fell back in love with TV over the past few years. I wasn’t watching for a bit, but now I try and watch a dozen shows at a time on DVR. And I am a die-hard NBA fan. I am specifically a Clippers guy and have been my whole life, but the NBA makes me very happy, unlike really anything else.
D: Finally, Jensen, any last words for the kids?
J: If you’re creative, do what you love. If not, don’t be hard on yourself. I know a lot of people who have a desk job because they feel most comfortable with that. And sometimes they make it seem like they don’t have exciting lives. I sort of hate that “exciting” is based on creativity, because it isn’t. Doing what you like and what makes you happiest, no matter what is, defines exciting for me.
by Darren Paltrowitz