From America’s Got Talent to YA Novelist: Doogie Horner Has a New Book Out

The comedian explains how being bullied in high school (no, it wasn't because of his silly name) turned him into a great telemarketer and comedian.

Doogie Horner

Doogie Horner (photo by Mindy Tucker)

Almost a decade ago, Doogie Horner was a Quirk Books illustrator and Philly standup comedian who became Internet-famous thanks to a series of appearances on America’s Got Talent that went viral. These days, he’s got a brand new YA novel out from Simon & Schuster (the release party for This Might Hurt a Bit is June 12th at Fergie’s), so we got him on the phone to learn more.

My full name is… Doogie Ryland Horner. It’s just the name my parents picked. I was teased a lot growing up, but not about my name. I was the only kid in junior high who had sideburns, and so the other kids teased me and called me Elvis. And I was like, Oh, I like Elvis, and then they were just teasing me more because I was the only 14-year-old kid who liked Elvis.

I grew up in… Bethlehem, but when I was ten we moved way out into the country to Klecknersville at the base of Blue Mountain. My sister passed away from leukemia, and my parents couldn’t handle being in that house, and so we moved to the middle of nowhere. And my new book is really about that transition.

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be… a cartoonist. I was always drawing pictures. And my parents say that when I was really young, I used to walk around and tell adults jokes, too.

I went to college for… graphic design. I went to Tyler School of Art and was really glad I went. Some people talk about art school like it’s a waste of time, but I found it really enriching. I got a job right out of Tyler at Mattel doing package design for toys — mostly for a toy line that never made it to stores. And I always wanted to work in publishing, so I went on to work for the only two publishing companies in Philly that published fiction: Running Press and then Quirk Books.

My rejection level count is… hard to estimate. Every time you pitch a book — and I’ve pitched twelve — you get rejections. You send it to ten publications and they all say no except one, hopefully. And then when you’re a comedian, you’re always trying to get into clubs or on late night shows or sending in scripts. There’s a lot of rejection, but I don’t really feel rejected, I guess. You just float stuff out there.

The secret to getting a book deal is… to write a good book. Having connections makes it quicker, but if it’s good, you can get a deal. It also helps if you understand the market. What genres are currently selling? It’s easier to get a deal for a book where you can say there are other books out there like this that are selling well.

The time of day when I get my most creative ideas is… right before I fall asleep. It’s unfortunate. I’m constantly popping up to write stuff down.

Being on America’s Got Talent was… fun, but it was also challenging in its aftermath. I was actually kinda famous there for a while, and people are telling you to quit your job and move to L.A. and get a sitcom and it’s like, no, everybody is famous these days.

My last vacation was to… Disney World. We just got back. It was great. People have been saying, Oh, I saw photos of you at Disney World. Why in the world would you go there? Uh, because it’s fun.

One TV show I would love to write for is… the new Twilight Zone. There’s a connection between horror and humor. Both are subversions of reality. Both are about surprise. I might pitch something for the next season.

My very first job in life was… as a telemarketer. I liked it. It’s a crazy job, just calling people out of the blue. They scream at you and you have to take it and then talk them into buying your thing. Well, I didn’t care what the kids in high school said to me when they teased me, so I was able to take it when I was calling people to sell them vinyl siding or psychic readings or trips to Las Vegas or long-distance service. And then that made it easier for me to do comedy. Most people who are good at standup don’t mind people shitting on us.

Bosses are… good things. I always really liked having a boss. I’ve always liked hierarchy, knowing that there’s this person above me and that I have to do what this person says. That’s just how it works.

If I’m having trouble being creative… I do a quick meditation to clear my head. You’re always on the phone, constantly getting information from your phone. My brain gets fatigued. So I reboot my hard drive and then I am able to remember my own thoughts instead of thoughts put into my brain from my telephone.

This gig economy is… bad for giggers, great for companies. Otherwise, that wouldn’t be the setup.