Monday, September 19, 2011

Behind the scenes with Simple Pickup

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already read the profile of Simple Pickup I wrote for The article’s meaty – over 3,000 words – and captures the pith of Simple Pickup. But if you want more flavor, here's a look, backstage, at what they’re like in real life.


Part 1: Backstory
(If you want to get straight to the interview, go down 2 line breaks.)

I’m an Economics major-turned-writer from Yale. This summer, I worked at a publishing company in New York. In June, after watching the Simple Pickup videos, a couple buddies and I took to the streets in an attempt to be amateur pickup artists.

The results, of course, were spectacular (by our standards – none of us had ever picked up a number before). Over three weekends in July, I picked up 17 numbers during lazy Saturday and Sunday afternoons, either purposefully in Union Square, when I went to a free day-game session hosted by Aiden West, or serendipitously, hanging out with friends at a concert at MoMA PS1. (The MoMA concert was where the Russian girl anecdote in the piece comes from.) Bolstered by that success, I pushed it a step further: I became a street fundraiser and approached 2,000 people, convincing 5 to donate $2,000 to my causeplayed guitar in Times Square holding a cardboard sign that said, "I slept with Snooki last week -- please help"; took pictures with random strangers just to validate the world's humanity; and ran around with my man JSR in Captain America costumes asking people if they knew the Pledge of Allegiance. All said, a pretty good summer. (Oh, and I'm genuinely glad I picked up the numbers. Made two good friends because of it.)

In August, I emailed the Simple Pickup guys to thank them for their inspiration (corny, I know, but so true). They were genuinely nice in their response, and told me we should meet up in CA sometime. I forgot about them until I got back to CA, when, one night, by some sheer stroke of brilliance/naivete, I decided I wanted to write a profile of them. The thought stewed in my head for days; then, one day, when my mom and I took my sister to her swimming lesson, I brought my laptop and started writing. It took 3 days and 20 hours. 80% of the Salon piece was written on that first go. Call it inspiration.

I emailed the Simple Pickup guys and sent them the profile. They responded within a day and said, “We don’t usually accept requests from freelancers, but we can tell you’re a talented writer and understand what we’re about.” I met them on August 29th. Then I had an epic trip back home.

Part 2: First Impressions

(Present tense): We decide to meet at a Coffee Bean in a generic open-air outlet mall. It’s 8:05? (8:02?) when the guys walk in. First thing Jesse says to me is, “I told Kong that looked like you.” The place is empty, and the chairs are positioned awkwardly, so we take a table outside. Jason shows up 5 minutes later. All three are dressed normally: t-shirt and shorts/jeans. Jason's wearing the same shirt he had on in the wrestling video. I don’t know why this fact is unbelievable, but it is. They look exactly the same in real life.

Before we get started, Jason yanks Kong’s Taco Bell burrito straight out of his hand. He laughs, then starts eating it. I’m really confused, but it’s kind of hilarious. “There’s this little game we play, where if you grab someone else’s food from them, you win it. Cleanly. If you touch them, or there's a spill, the other guy has to walk over and buy it immediately. So I’d have to go over…fuck, where is it?” Jason says. I ask if Jesse plays, and Jesse kind of looks at me and says he’s not good enough. So it’s just Kong and Jason ragging on each other. Kong mentions that he used to be way more jacked. Later on, they also talk about how Jesse's too Indian with his hair -- it's always gelled up, when he should just let it down (it's down tonight).

While we're outside, there's a group of either volleyball or softball girls that walk into the store behind us. They are legitimately gorgeous. Jason gets distracted and looks at them and says, "Damn. They are so hot."

We talk for 2 hours. It's just chill -- they're relaxed, joke around constantly. Real fun to be around. The interview's below, but we definitely went on some major tangents; it was more a conversation than anything. I've paraphrased a bit to help with flow.
Part 3: The Simple Pickup Interview

How did the idea for the YouTube channel come about?

“We did this stuff before all the time, just not formatted or recorded. We would challenge each other to do stupid shit. Like, I’d say to Jesse, 'Go up to those girls and ask them if they want to come home with you.' Stuff like that. Sometime it would work. We started doing more and more of it, and realized it was high risk, high reward. We’re also really big fans of YouTube, and liked the stuff that pushed the limits. We wanted to be more risky than what was already out there.

We made our first videos on an iPhone, but the first one to go on YouTube, the "Penis Pickup" video, was filmed with a regular camcorder. It was only going to be for our entertainment, but we got 100k views in 2 weeks. We posted it on forums and it blew up – Pickup artist New York, Chicago, the miscellaneous section of the bodybuilding forums were surprisingly great. We did maybe one, two hours of promoting max and it just took off. We never promoted our Twitter other than the link; and the Rock found us and tweeted our video, but he tweeted the wrong video first – something that someone else had stolen from us and put on their own site – and we had to tweet him back to put up our legit one. And it was on his birthday too, so everyone was looking at his Twitter! We must have gotten at least 100k from that.

The one "moment" of inspiration, though there really wasn't just one, was when we were at this bar and we challenged Kong to go into the woman's bathroom to pick up a number. So Kong walks in there and says, "Excuse me, do you know where the nearest Starbucks is?" Meanwhile, Jesse has his hand stuck around the corner and is recording the entire thing. (It was only the sink area, of course I couldn't see anything.) We realized then we could/should be doing this.

How did you guys meet? [Kong and Jesse] actually met on a forum there; we were really antisocial people at first. When we met each other we were as weird as fuck. He wore 4 watches, it was just bizarre. We started to do crazy shit together. Last year at Comic-Con we got into an event for free by making up someone’s name and saying, “Plus one, please.” We saw Danny de Vito standing in front of us. It was cool. We have a history of sneaking into places. People don’t usually stop us. Think about it – if you’re a person volunteering there, you wouldn’t think anyone would be stupid enough to pose as someone else.

How would you guys describe yourselves?

Jason: I knew nothing when I started. I knew absolutely nothing about pickup artist community. Basically, I had the balls but not the knowledge, whereas Kong and Jesse have the knowledge and not the balls.

Jesse: Hey, that’s not true! We have balls too.

Kong: I’m the more clever one – I’m the go in smooth kind of suave operator, stereotypical romantic, charming guy.

Jesse: I’m more of the nice guy.

Jason: I’m the asshole.

Which one works more?

Actually, the asshole works the most with girls – Jason likes to let girls know that he wants to be friends with benefits – it’s very obvious at the beginning. Kong likes to make it a good experience for them too, so that years down the road the girl will think back and think, damn, Kong was the sweetest guy ever, whereas for the same girl Jason would be like, ‘Wait, I had sex with him but I don’t even remember what he looks like now.’”

What was the breakthrough for your game?

Well, for night game, it was when we realized we needed to touch girls more. We realized we were being too friendly with girls. They weren’t horny enough. So we did what we thought was over the top touching, shameless, I’m-horny-I-want-you-right-now-touching. At first it was weird, and then we realized this was actually the best way to do it. We realized that’s what girls want: People who honest with them, who are aggressive with their intentions. In the videos we’re actually less aggressive than we should be, because we’re catering to a mainstream audience that isn’t comfortable with that; you saw the comments about “rape” on the touching video.

Jason: Remember, I was new to the game. So the first time I did a video, I thought it wasn’t going to be funny, it wasn’t going to work, and I was complaining to the guys the entire time about it. Then after I did it for half an hour, I turned to the camera and said, “How the fuck is this actually working?” When you first try it, you realize you can get away with a lot more than you think.

What advice you have for people who aren’t confident – (because of physical appearance, looks, too skinny, overweight)?

Jason: Try being an asshole – just try it once and see what happens. It works.

Kong: Turn everything that you’re scared of into something fun. Go up to her and say, “Hey I know I’m a fat-ass but I want to meet you, I’m Kong. They’ll like it.”

Jason: Also, think that you’ll get rejected, so there are no expectations. When you don’t give a shit, they read that vibe off you.

Kong: And don’t waste your time not trying. Even if you have a 1% chance of succeeding, there’s a 0% percent chance of you succeeding if you don’t try.

What’s been your worst rejection?

[They take a while to think] Actually, we haven’t had any bad rejections seriously. One time Jesse got slapped, but that was when he saw a girl crying and tried to go up to her. You know, because sometimes it works, you can really cheer a girl up if you go up, but it didn’t happen this time. Jesse went up to her and said the whole, “You are too adorable I wanted to talk to you” line; she pushes him away, but Jesse thinks it’s a playful push and so he laughs. Big mistake. She takes it the wrong way and slaps him.

Jason: Once at a club, I was flirting back and forth, and tried to go into it for a kiss, and she slaps me. But then like 5 minutes later I try to make out with her again and it worked.

We’ve had girls flip us off, say fuck you after we said to them, “I had to stop you, you’re really cute,” but we just laugh about it later. It happens maybe 1% of the time.

We get like 50% of the numbers of everyone we approach on college campuses; Venice beach it’s like 30-40%; but that’s because the girls there are drunk. Huntington beach is 50%. If we dressed normally the ratio would be higher; it’s not a drastic difference. [editorial: and here, I thought the success ratio was like 10-15%.]

In the filming sessions, most of the numbers we get are boring; we don’t put in all the numbers; maybe like 30% of them?

Our goal really is to try to stay in a conversation for as long as we can.

Who are you guys, when you’re not Simple Pickup?

Jason in college was a Psychology major – but he’s decided that Simple Pickup is going to be his life; he’s saving up enough to live and make this a business.

Jesse’s parents own a 7-11 that they turned into Quik-E-Marts for the Simpsons movie.

Kong is an entrepreneur – he and two partners tried to found a restaurant chain, but didn’t have the capital to get it going.

What’s the craziest story you’ve ever had?

Jason: So I meet this girl from San Fran, start texting her, etc, and she comes down for New Years to hang out with me. Problem is, she doesn’t stop smoking when she gets here. She stays with me, but I end up kicking her out because of (some shit) and I send her to a hotel to sleep. The next day when I wake up, I have 78 calls and 138 text messages from her, complaining about how she came down all the way to see me; so I end up ordering her a pizza and sending it to her door.

Jesse: I met this girl who was married – open relationship though – and started hooking up with her. That’s great – until I start getting calls from her husband, who managed to find out my first and last name, and starts threatening to come over to my parents’ house unless I meet him at a Motel 6. At this point, I realize that him coming to my house and my parents finding out would be worse than death, so I actually tell him I’ll meet him at a Motel 6. Keep in mind this guy is apparently an ex-Marine. I get there, he’s holding a Jack Daniels and cigarettes; and the girl is sitting on the bed! They invite me into the room and they start having a good conversation. There’s another friend there too. The guy leaves and gets some beers, then they get serious – the couple starts to fight, he goes to my car to look for long hairs – and I bounce the fuck out of there as soon as I can.

Kong: [This story is actually too much for public consumption. Sorry, guys.]

What actually happened at Comic Con when Kong almost got arrested?

Actually, what happened was that Jason and Jesse got bored and pulled a prank on Kong. Jason went to the security officer and said, “Sir, I have a friend who’s 16 that just got really creeped out by this guy over there. He was hitting on her and making her feel very, very uncomfortable.” The officer didn’t respond, so Jason went to Comic Con security to tell them.

Jesse: You should have seen Jason’s face – he was actually really angry when he talked to the officer, like it actually happened.

So 9 cops and security came over to Kong and started talking to him, and it took like 45 minutes, there was an entire crowd of people, Kong making up stuff and not treating it seriously didn’t help, and the giant sword he was carrying also definitely did not help. When he got off, Kong started skipping down the block [Jason shows me a video of Kong skipping away on his phone] and everyone around him starts cheering. It was great. Kong had no idea Jason had done it to him.

How do you guys film it / describe a day on the set?

Costco camera that we return every 90 days. (hahaha) Now we have 2 cameras shooting at the same time; so two of us go to one area, and we have another friend helping the third guy. We have a voice recorder and wind the mic under our shirt and sync the feed separately later. When girls discover it we just change the subject really quickly; they always ignore it; we tell them that it’s our headphones. Or our pacemaker. I wore my shirt backwards once and it didn’t really matter; it’s not a big deal at all.

We film for an hour each. Huntington, Venice, Irvine, Cal Poly Long Beach; schools are easier to film – the girls are more receptive and open. We literally have someone with a camera 15 feet away filming the interaction. [Kong points to a lamppost] It’s like that distance away. And 90% of the time the girl doesn’t see because they’re so absorbed in the interaction. Also, we try to angle it so the girl’s back is to the camera.

There are some challenges with filming. So many technical difficulties – the memory is full, battery runs out, there was this one time, when we did the gay episode where the Jason, in tight, skimpy shorts somehow managed to make out with one girl. It was amazing: she was into him, but he had to deal with the cockblock of her friend, who was right there, then these other guys came up and Jason had to fend them off; the whole thing took 30 minutes and it was really epic. And then afterwards, Jesse goes up to Jason and says, “Dude, the audio wasn’t on.” And Jason’s like, Haha, funny joke, before he realizes that he’s serious and it’s like fuckkkkkkk. Jason always gets screwed with the technical difficulties. 

Why don’t you show a full-length pickup?

Because there’s a lot of really boring conversation. It honestly would not be interesting; it just wouldn’t appeal to the masses. I know a niche group probably really wants to see it, though, and we have a couple we might release to the public

What about user feedback?

We really focus on the first 10 days; that’s when our most loyal people are reading it all. It takes a good hour to go through all the comments. We get like 6-7 emails a day, and like 10-15 messages on the YouTube messaging channel. Jesse tries to respond to them all, but they’re literally like page long diary entries about these guys lives and asking for advice on what to do with women. Jesse wants to, but just can’t respond to them all.

Where do you go from here?

The videos are just the start of what we’re doing; YouTube is just for the brand recognition.

Whatever happens, we just want to give inspiration to guys who were like me; all the nerds out there; because like we said, we weren’t very social people before. We felt like it was hard to go out and make new friends, and we want to give the message that it’s not hard to do.

Pickup isn’t just about the women; it’s about learning how to do things for you and not other people. We’ve learned so much from the experience.

Future videos?

We’re going past the numbers now, doing a more comprehensive pickup, from start to finish. Keep watching.

Are you guys collaborating with the other guys in the pickup artist industry?

No, we want to keep our distance with them; we know people who have experienced lots of snake oil dealers – it’s too easy to get into the industry, and people don’t know what being good really means. You have a guy who goes to a $3,000 bootcamp and gets a number and thinks it's worth it, but you can’t compare it to anything else. People think getting a number is the biggest thing, that you’re getting laid – but phone numbers are actually a double edged sword. It’s actually bad, because sometimes a girl will give you her number just to get rid of you.

That's it. Coffee Bean closed right then; we parted into the night. Cool story, bro.

Related note for those who have read this far: I'm looking for wings around the world. Email me at Gmail: peterjlu.


  1. Cool! I like this Q&A a lot better than the article you posted on

    It is kind of crazy watching your total page views shoot up almost exponentially

  2. Great article on the guys. Was curious to how they got started.

  3. Top interview, they seem awesome!

  4. Just saw this - it's awesome :)

  5. Your work has always been a great source of inspiration for me. I refer you blog to many of my friends as well.
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