For years, theme park fans have enjoyed insightful jabs at Disney and Universal from Fake Theme Park, but have never known the true identity behind the parody Twitter account. Now, “Attractions Magazine” can reveal that Jason Ginsburg, a New York-based digital media producer and former Universal Studios Hollywood tour guide, is the comedy writer behind “Murph Gantly” and his cast of off-brand Princesses. Here’s our exclusive interview with Ginsburg, in which he finally abandons anonymity in order to explain the origins and intent behind Fake Theme Park:
What is your background, and how did gain your theme park knowledge?
I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, and went to Los Angeles to attend USC. I studied theater and film. My main goal really was to be an actor, but I’ve turned more into a writer, partly by choice and partly because of my failure as an actor. After graduation, I had an agent. I was going for auditions and in a comedy troupe doing shows in clubs around L.A. If you’re in L.A., one of the jobs that’s actor-friendly is being a Universal Studios tour guide. It’s not as easy to get as being a waiter, but they were very friendly in terms of letting you come in late or leave early [for] auditions. It was very cool, I met people who are still my friends, and met my wife there. I was in the “Christmas class” of 1997 … and I did my super-duper final last tour in the spring of ‘08. As a VIP guide I was a media rep at special events for the press, and worked with celebrities. I gave tours to Phil Collins, Laurence Fishburne, the real Erin Brockovitch. I gave a tour to Pierce Bronsnan and his family, both his parents and his kids. Which was odd, because he obviously knew what the props department was, and the costume department, and I assume his family did too. He was very nice … [Currently] I’m a digital media producer with the Science Channel; I do all the online videos, I write the blogs, social media, everything that’s not TV.
How did the Fake Theme Park twitter account begin?
I was unemployed in 2010; I was at an agency and got laid off. When I first started we were working in MySpace still, Facebook had just been opened up to the non-college audience. I was playing with Twitter as a regular user, and seeing the beginning of anonymous comedy and parody accounts. I think there was a “Fake Disney” account, and “Fake NASA,” and some of them were attracting followers. I thought, I have a comedy background and a love-hate relationship with Universal (mostly love). It was very good to me, but there are certainly plenty of flaws as I saw. I was a Disney fan, but I make no claim to be a Disney employee. Instead of doing a parody of Universal and Disney directly, I thought I could do a lot more if I just make stuff up. Why make fun of exactly what’s happening? Anyone can make fun of the exact things at Universal; I’m a creative person, I can make up things as commentary, have my own version of rides and say whatever I want. If I say ‘Back To The Future ride is on fire,’ but it’s not, that’s verifiable. But if Chaos Coaster is on fire or Ocean Odyssey, that’s just me. I’m just creating this fictional world where you can imagine this happening. Part of the fun of it is the canon (if I may be so presumptuous) of recurring characters, and recurring rides and events. People pick from them and inhabit this world, and pretend to go sometimes. They’ll respond to me they’ve been to the park, they have this problem, they talked to a princess. To me that’s the best, when they are writing the story with me. I write screenplays that never get made. I’ve written a draft that does bring these things to life, and is a dead-on parody of Disney and Universal.
What has changed during the time you’ve been doing Fake Theme Park?
While I was doing this, Disney bought Star Wars, and got Marvel, and the Muppets. I wasn’t able to do those jokes originally, now I can. It’s been fun pulling out all my Star Wars jokes, I was basically limited to Star Tours before but now they’re making movies, so I’m allowed to do that.
Do you have any collaborators on Fake Theme Park?
I tend to run things past my wife. She’s my one audience. She occasionally will see news that I have not seen – something happening in the parks. She was a tour guide like me and grew up even closer to Disney than I did, in Southern California. We are not only park fans, but we take tours when we travel and see what tour guides are like – the art of tour guiding. She’s not so much of a fan of Disney as I am, but certainly Universal, and has fond memories of her time there as well. She moved into management and has different stories than I do, and can help in that way. [Otherwise,] it’s just me. People will write to me and say ‘you guys’ … It’s just me, no one else has access to the account. It was a big deal making the video, bringing in other people. That was my one big collaboration. I’m open to people who might want to work with me in some way, shape or form. I hope people will contact me with their own thoughts on things to make fun of. I don’t want to be the “New York Times”, but if people want to leak things to me, I’m certainly open to them pointing me in the direction of something worth making fun of. I’m happy to have any insider knowledge beyond just Twitter and my own decade of memories.
Why did you use a pseudonym for Fake Theme Park, and why reveal your identity now?
I’ve been completely anonymous for every single interview and podcast. There was an era of anonymous accounts that seemed to be big. The mystique was fun, the rumors. The truth was not that exciting, because I was no longer an employee, and once I moved to New York, it was even more ridiculous, because I had no claim to these things. I’m basing it on my own memories, but also my Fake Theme Park Twitter feed for current events. People ask ‘how do you know this stuff?’ Because I follow Twitter. When a ride opens, every single Disney fan with a Twitter account is covering it, so it’s not hard. So I felt like it was to my advantage to build up my mystique. Who is this person, are they a manager, are they someone at Disney corporate? I thought it was fun to make it a mystery. After a while, it became inertia; why reveal myself now at a random time. I was hoping I could make a big reveal and it would be big big big news; that seemed to never come. I’m working so hard to keep this anonymous. If I don’t plan to end the account and just stop one day and go ‘It’s me, Jason Ginsburg, goodbye!,’ why not now? Everyone’s played along and waited patiently, why not reveal that I’m not an employee currently of any park?
Who did most readers suspect you really were?
It’s been Disney, never Universal, and someone in management. Maybe because I’m using the language of employees, so I must be there because know things like timecards and unions. I certainly lived with it and see it still happening in the parks, based on Twitter. People think I’m in Orlando, not Anaheim, and I’m someone in management venting, maybe because a regular cast member wouldn’t do this.
How much time do you spend on Fake Theme Park?
Maybe an hour or two a week. Basically, it’s four tweets every weekday, and two tweets every weekend day. I always do the Christmas parade on Christmas day every year, live tweet my version of that. With twitter archives, there is some amount of the content that’s re-purposed, so not every single post in 2017 is an original joke. I go back and find the stuff that did well, that is still funny and relevant, and update it where needed. If people remember these things from four years ago and are upset and want to unfollow me, they are free to do so. They’re not paying customers.
How do you approach potentially sensitive topics?
If the hurricane had been not so devastating, there are hurricane jokes that I would drop in. The idea that the founder and CEO of the park Murph Gantly knows Trump, is a friend of Trump, and is Trump-like; there are ways to get Trump jokes out through the lens of Murph Gantly. There’s a way to do it so you can see the commentary from my political point of view.
There are some things I can’t make jokes about, because it’s too complicated to get across in 140 characters, or there’s not a way to do it tastefully. Obviously when any kind of accident happens in a park I back away. There’s been times I’ve just gone silent, for major events when there’s simply no time to be funny. Otherwise, if there’s an accident in the park that’s not fatal, if people are simply trapped on a ride for two hours, I have to do that.
I’ve been walking a thin line on SeaWorld. I’m maybe more pro-SeaWorld than some of my audience. I feel SeaWorld is not as bad as people say. It’s a difficult time for SeaWorld, and I understand the policy of ending their orca program. I don’t think animal trainers get a degree in marine biology and get up in the morning every day to go to work to abuse animals. So that’ something that I’m trying to find a way to make fun of. I’ll joke about the orcas eating people, that hits both sides. Whether you think they are vicious animals who need to be in cages, or striking back at their oppressors, either way you should laugh at that.
As a liberal, I make fun of a liberal point of view. But generally I’m on the side of the cast member and the guest, who is trying to have a good time and is being abused by the policies and restrictions of the parks; I saw plenty of that in my time.
How much of your audience is made up of park employees?
So many of the quote-tweets say ‘this is me.’ I’m glad that I’m connecting with those people that know what it’s like to be there.
Have you been able to make money off of Fake Theme Park?
It’s hard to even sell to anyone because it’s so ridiculous, and makes fun of so many products. The closest I’ve come to that is with the music video and song, which is available on iTunes via CDBaby. Unfortunately we fell short of projections, so there was not much in terms of profits. Quite the opposite, I’ve spent money. It’s been a labor of love.
How often do you visit a real theme park?
The last time I was at Universal in L.A. was 2013. Since then, I’ve been to a state fair and Coney Island. As a kid, my family drove out [to Orlando] on the way to grandparents in Florida; that was my one time.
Now that you’ve revealed your identity, what happens to Fake Theme Park?
I’ve been considering if it’s time to end the account, but I don’t think so. It’s still fun. I think my name will be on it, with my personal Twitter handle. I think I’ll continue for the forseeable future, or certainly at least through Christmas. The average consumer checking in on Fake Theme Park four times a day shouldn’t notice a difference.