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'Someone with a lot of free time and a lot of drive'

Jason Eaton: First Freedonian

iconJason Eaton is the chief bard of his own Freedonia, a writer among several writers whose prose is gassed into cyberspace four times per week. Click here for samples of the Eatonian canon.  

February 12, 2001
Web posted at: 11:16 a.m. EST (1616 GMT)

In this story:

'The most self-indulgent thing'

'I wake up about noon'

The Rant

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(CNN) -- Jason Eaton is one of those guys who didn't particularly enjoy his high school experience. He went to Clarkstown High School North in New City, New York, and for one thing, there was this bully.

"I don't know if he was the school bully, but he was certainly my bully," says Eaton.

graphic Granted, he doesn't look a lot like Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx in "Duck Soup") but Jason Eaton is, nevertheless, president of all he surveys in his own little Freedonia. Our question for you is this: Can a site like this last for more than a few years of hobbyist enthusiasm?

Ye CNN-ers of little faith: Yes, despite those glasses he wears, Eaton's is here to stay.
Maybe yes, maybe no. Is there generous prize money involved in a correct answer to this question?
The Hawaiian shirts will doom him. Jason will be Eaton his words within a couple of years. Gonna have to get a real job, might even end up pumping gas at Scott Rudin's nearest Exxon. Press here for a discount car wash.
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The bully, according to Eaton, once hit him in the head with a baseball. It caused no permanent damage, but it was indicative of the misery inflicted on Eaton during that time.

Fast-forward 10 years, and a Clarkstown High reunion is scheduled. But now, Eaton is a successful writer and the founder of a humor site called The Freedonian.

The bully, meanwhile, is still around, and he made a crucial mistake leading up to the reunion.

"He was dumb enough to send around on the high school Web site a poem he'd written called 'Tears and Beers' which was like reading something composed by a four-year-old," says Eaton. "Every word quasi-rhymed at the end of the fourth line, something you compose after you'd just learned to form words. And I was happy enough to give him a critique of it, essentially saying that he if he ever tried to wield the English language again, would someone please take it away from him.

"By the time I got to the reunion, 10 people ran up to me and said, 'He's looking for you!'" Eaton, 28, had brought his new girlfriend to the shindig. "I was like, 'Oh please, let him ask me to step outside! Let it go to its lowest common denominator instantly!' I ran into him, but he didn't know what to make of it. He was too drunk and stupid by the time I saw him."


'The most self-indulgent thing'

In other words, life is good for Eaton these days. On top of his moments of redemption, he's one of those stay-at-home workers who gets to exercise his creative muscle, and, for the most part, he gets paid for it.

He and three other guys wrote a political humor book on Chelsea Clinton's freshman year in college; it was published by Hyperion in 1997. He has a children's book deal with Dutton, with one book already being published, titled "The Day My Runny Nose Ran Away."

We just want to make nice people laugh.

But much of his time is spent on The Freedonian, which is like a mix between now-defunct humor zine National Lampoon and satirical newspaper The Onion. It's part of a new breed of humor sites popping up, like Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency, started by Dave Eggers, author of "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius."

The Freedonian is "the most self-indulgent thing I can do," Eaton says. The site is updated four times a week, featuring a piece of writing that's meant to bring a smile, or laugh, to the reader's lips.

One recent offering: "Shaft in the Suburbs" by Mike Sacks. It includes a middle-aged Shaft chasing down Honky to borrow his sit-down lawn mower. Another, by Eaton, is titled "It Is Hard for a Ten-Year-Old to Get a Good Job."

We turned down ads.

Much of the site is penned by Eaton, Sacks, and Ian Lendler, who's one of the founders. Started just five months ago, it's already getting a few thousand page views a day. Publications like US Weekly and Entertainment Weekly (and this one) have been calling.

And companies have asked to advertise on the site. But Eaton has refused them.

"We turned down ads," he says. "It's sort of like golden handcuffs for us. Once you start relying on the money and paying the writers, then you have to constantly worry about the money going away, and then you have to worry about offending the people who give you the money."

I'm sure it will be swift and violent.

Eaton sees The Freedonian as a personal outlet -- for him, and for people like him.

"We did it to create a forum for other writers to be seen," he says. "We just want to make nice people laugh."


'I wake up about noon'

Eaton was raised by hippy parents in the West Village, New York City. High school was spent in misery in New City, and he says that helped provide a foundation that led to his unique sense of humor. In college, Eaton went to Emory University in Atlanta double-majoring in English and Film.

Although he wanted to be a writer, he took a job after graduation with infamous Hollywood producer Scott Rudin ("South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," 1999, "Angela's Ashes," 1999). Eaton rose to director of development. But he says Rudin was not fun to work with. In a recent article on the producer in the New York Observer, Eaton is quoted several times. Like at that high school reunion, he gets his redemption.

graphic Wondering what's it all about, Alfie? Well just give us a little click and we'll give you two free samples of the literature from the, one excerpt penned by Jason Eaton himself.
graphic What do you think of running a site like The Freedonian, as Jason Eaton is doing? Can the career market support it, plus Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency and other sites? Or is this a kind of market niche already getting crowded? And what do you do when your career goal is on a collision course with a tight specialty market like humorous literary sites?

"I'm very curious to see what Rudin's reaction is going to be," Eaton says. "I'm sure it will be swift and violent."

After three years with Rudin, Eaton decided to devote all his time to writing. He high-tailed it to Ireland, wrote a play, came back to America and landed the book deal on President Bill Clinton's daughter.

Now, Eaton, who lives in the East Village, is his own boss, working on both his children's book ideas and The Freedonian, which is named for the small nation in the Marx Brothers movie "Duck Soup."

"I wake up about noon," Eaton says, "get some sunlight until around 3 p.m., at which point I'm fully caffeinated, figure out an idea (to write) by 5, then write on Freedonian or a children's book project," he says.

Although he rises late, he works hard.

"I'm usually up until five or six in the morning," he says. "It's a pretty dismal lifestyle. It's much better in the summertime. In the winter it's just like, 'Oh God, I ... must ... see ... natural ... sunlight!' But it's not like I was getting more sunlight when I was getting up at 9 a.m. and spending the whole day in the office."


The Rant

Some of his time is taken up with reading submissions from wannabe Freedonians. He receives up to a dozen queries a day from writers who think they have something funny to say. Most, says Eaton, do not.

"About 80 percent of the submissions are The Rant," he says. "Like, 'You know what I hate? I hate coffee-flavored ice cream. Don't you hate coffee-flavored ice cream?' And it just goes on like that for 3,000 words. And you're like, 'Oh my God. I never really thought about it. I guess I don't really like coffee-flavored ice cream.'"

What kind of person does it take to run a Web site that makes no money?

"Someone with a lot of free time and a lot of drive," he says. "You have to be able to take satisfaction in the material itself."

People can get mediocre comedy for free on TV.

Eaton dreams of one day putting out a Freedonian comic book. He also says he believes some of the stories on the site are movie material. But he harbors no illusions about the financial potential for the site.

"It's completely impossible to have a humor magazine on the Web, unless you realize you're not going to make money off it," he says. "People can get mediocre comedy for free at pretty much any given hour on TV."

He has no plans to scrap The Freedonian, despite its financial shortcomings. He'll just do other things to pay the bills, and continue to build his site.

"I'd be writing these things even if there wasn't The Freedonian," he says. "They'd just be sitting on my computer and read by me, and a few of my friends."


'My job is so weird' -- Luis Barajas: Founder, Flaunt magazine
February 6, 2001
Bonnie Hammer: Head humanoid at Sci Fi
February 5, 2001
Nobel winners meet to end war
February 2, 2001
But enough about me: Does writing a memoir give people carte blanche to analyze your life?
June 20, 2000

The Freedonian
Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency

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