Class of ’93 | Gideon Evans C’93 might be the only Penn alumnus who can say he was kicked out of Disney World while dressed as an eight-foot-tall chicken.
It was 1998, and Evans was a producer and writer for Michael Moore’s The Awful Truth, where his responsibilities included everything from supervising edits to rustling up a Yugo for a segment about Bosnia. The day he was ejected from Disney World, however, Evans was in his on-screen role as Crackers the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken.
Crackers set out to confront Mickey Mouse because Disney-owned ABC had locked out thousands of workers in the wake of a one-day strike. Crackers also planned to ask the Mouse about costumed characters who claimed to be poorly paid and subjected to subpar working conditions.
In the segment, “Crackers is essentially doing what Michael does, but instead of talking to the CEO, he’s talking to Mickey,” explains Evans, who changed into the chicken suit in a tiny Disney bathroom stall. “The whole place was videotaped everywhere you go except for the bathrooms. We knew once we got outside the bathroom I might have five minutes, maybe seven minutes.”
As Disney security clustered around, “I was creating this huge scene,” he adds. “I was saying, ‘Why isn’t Mickey treating his workers the right way?’ There were kids who came up to me to get autographs,” and one child who snagged a quick hug from this unknown character before security could shoo the children away. Moments later, Crackers was apprehended, and Evans was taken behind the scenes at Disney, where he was told he could never return to Disney World.
“They have a picture of me as me, and then they had me put the chicken head on and they took a picture of the chicken,” Evans explains. “So we’re both banned from Disney.”
Evans, who points out that Disney has changed many of its practices and is in many ways a progressive company, takes comfort in the fact that there are other places he can take his two children. “It won’t be Disney, but we’ll go to some petting zoos.”
After more than five years with Moore, Evans went on to become a producer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where he produced field segments to be rolled during the show.
“We only had one day to shoot with one camera,” he says. “I’d travel to a location with the talent, where we’d interview the subjects during a long day and return to New York the following morning. Then we’d have about four days to edit a segment before it aired. Then I’d be on the road the following week to do it all over again.”
The hectic pace wasn’t the only exhilarating aspect of The Daily Show.
“Jon was really hands-on,” says Evans. “He vetted everything, and that could create a big bottleneck. His expectations are really high, and that makes being a producer there fantastic and exhausting. It’s an amazing place. Jon is an incredible comic and the people are so smart.”
After The Daily Show, Evans went on to do freelance producing work, including a stint with comedian D.L. Hughley at CNN. When Major League Baseball approached him with a novel idea for a digital media project, Evans—an avid baseball fan—jumped at the chance.
He was brought on as co-executive producer for the MLB Fan Cave, a Web series that began with a cryptic teaser: “Send in an application to win your dream baseball job.” More than 10,000 people applied, notes Evans, “and the dream job turned out to be that two fans get to watch every game for the entire season.”
The two chosen fans, Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner, spent the entire 2011 baseball season in the Fan Cave, “a sports fan’s dream location” on the ground floor of the old Tower Records building in the East Village. Now that space features a huge wall of 15 TVs, enough to watch all 30 teams play simultaneously. That added up to 2,430 regular-season games, plus the postseason, for O’Hara and Wagner, whose “immersive fan experience” included tweeting their thoughts and impressions, meeting with players, and being interviewed by MLB broadcasters. The Cave also featured “interactive fan activities” and hosted “regular visits from MLB players, baseball personalities, and celebrities,” according to its website.
“One of the things MLB wanted to do with this project was to dimensionalize the players,” Evans explains. “People see the players on the field, but for a long time they didn’t know what was behind the player unless it was a celebrity player; they just didn’t know the details. We would humanize these players and give the fans a chance to see who the players are, not just on their own teams, but on the opposing teams, as well.” To do this, they brought in a broad swath of players.
“The players were really great,” says Evans, noting that many of them would “seek out MLB’s public-relations department so they could visit the Fan Cave when they came to New York. I was blown away by how cool these ballplayers are. They were all good sports despite the rigors of their job. A lot of these guys were open about their lives and revealed things about themselves that were surprising.” Such as the fact that John Axford, the Milwaukee Brewers’ closer, is an independent-film aficionado; that Phillies slugger Ryan Howard was a trombone-playing “band geek” in high school; and that Mets’ knuckleballer R.A. Dickey owns his own Darth Vader costume.
Evans wasn’t just hanging out with ballplayers, of course. “My domain was the creative [side] of the show,” he says. “I would come up with ideas for segments and field ideas from other staff people, then make the final call about which concepts to go with. I wrote and edited and also produced and directed a lot of the segments. I made recommendations about strategies to get more followers on Facebook and Twitter.”
Before the 2011 baseball season even ended, he was at work executive-producing another show, this one for the Cooking Channel. My Grandmother’s Ravioli features former Daily Show colleague Mo Rocca as he learns to cook.
“He had a grandmother who was an amazing cook, but he never learned from her,” says Evans, “so he decided to learn from everybody else’s grandmother.”
These grandparents have welcomed Rocca and his crew into their homes, a nice change of pace for Evans. But given his Disney World experience, he is always prepared to get the boot.
“I feel comfortable when someone kicks me out of his house,” he says.
—Emily Rosenbaum C’95 GEd’96