TCU alumnus Carl Kozlowski thought he and writing partner Tim Joyce had finally found their big break.
“We were on WGN-AM radio in Chicago on a show that is one of the biggest book-related talk shows in the country,” Kozlowski said.
The book critic who hosted the show had worked with Kozlowski at the Chicago Tribune and decided to devote all two hours of his program to Kozlowski and Joyce’s book, “Life: the Final Frontier,” which offers humorous advice on life after college.
“It was the biggest break we could possibly want,” Kozlowski said. “Most people get 15 minutes on this guy’s show. People were writing and calling in like crazy.”
The next day, the show’s host called Kozlowski at work.
“He was like, ‘Dude, you guys just had the biggest jump I’ve ever seen on Amazon in the 10 years I’ve been dealing with Amazon,'” Kozlowski said. “He said we went from like 970,000 to 3,000 in the ranks in one day.”
The host said he was going to call the authors’ publishing company, Andrews McMeel Publishing, so they could discuss the next step in marketing the book. The book critic thought it could become a best-seller, Kozlowski said.
They scheduled a conference call with Andrews McMeel for 11 a.m. the next day – September 11, 2001.
Needless to say, the discussion never took place.
“Everyone was in mourning nationwide,” Kozlowski said. “Anything having to do with comedy got shut down for three or four months. And by that point the company was like, ‘Hey, we know it’s not your fault, but we just need to move on.'”
Kozlowski moved on, too. He went back to writing humor columns for weekly newspapers, dabbling in stand-up comedy on the side. Last year, however, he had a change of heart.
“I thought, hey, next year is seven years,” Kozlowski said. “Seven years is usually good luck – why don’t we give it another crack?”
Kozlowski said he and Joyce got the rights to their book back from Andrews McMeel. They added 80 pages of new material, including humorous advice for living in a time of terror. This May, they rereleased their book as “Seize the Day Job: the Humor Book Al-Qaeda Almost Kept You from Reading.” “Life: the Final Frontier” had never been their first choice for a title anyway.
“We toured the country promoting it, and we’d show up at bookstores, and they’d put us back in the sci-fi section,” Kozlowski said. “We’d be doing readings for Star Trek geeks thinking we did a book for ‘Star Trek.'”
Rather than boldly going where no man has gone before, “Seize the Day Job” hones in on some real-world problems close to home for recent high school and college graduates. Kozlowski and Joyce offer tongue-in-cheek tips on “how to hide your complete unhireability,” “how to furnish your apartment for $19.95 or less” and “how to eat better than your pet.”
A lot of the material in “Seize the Day Job” was taken from Kozlowski’s own misadventures in the professional world after he graduated as an English major in 1993. Kozlowski moved to Chicago to study comedy at Second City, the improv theater that produced Saturday Night Live greats like Bill Murray and Tina Fey.
He took a “Dilbert job” that required him to wear a tie and sit in a cubicle to support himself because he didn’t think Chicago newspapers would be interested in hiring someone with so little experience.
“I had this faulty assumption that no one would give me a chance at a newspaper if I didn’t work my way up through small towns,” Kozlowski said.
Kozlowski wrote a letter to movie critic Richard Roeper, who also writes humorous pieces for the Chicago Sun-Times, explaining his dilemma.
“He said, ‘Are you crazy? Find an interesting story, take a chance, and write a spec,'” Kozlowski said. “I kind of made it up as I went along. I would find an unusual thing and go out and do it, then write about all the disastrous things that would happen.”
The first story Kozlowski sold centered on the four days he spent as the inflatable dinosaur mascot for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. The company originally promised him $1,000, he said, but the next day they said they could only afford to pay him $600.
“I thought, ‘Oh, well, I’ll just write an article about it and make some money that way,'” Kozlowski said.
It turned out he had plenty of material.
“So many horrible things happened,” Kozlowski said. “Teenagers were punching me to see how inflatable it was; little kids were running up to hug me and whacking me in the crotch by accident.”
All the public humiliation and sore body parts were worth it in the long run, though. The story was so successful that the paper Kozlowski sold it to ended up offering him a job.
All joking aside, Kozlowski said students shouldn’t let convention prevent them from going after their dream job.
“Don’t let yourself have assumptions or let people tell you this career is too unusual or too creative,” he said. “If you set your own standard and believe in yourself, I think you can pursue any field and make a success happen for yourself.”