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Slouching toward success

Greg Harrell-Edge has been called the laziest person in America, and with that honor comes his dream job: watching TV all day.

August 14, 2005|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

IN a generation of hyper-achieving corporate drones, Greg Harrell-Edge is a bracing port in a Type-A storm.

While his contemporaries scurried from internship to 401(k) plan, Harrell-Edge hit San Diego's Pacific Beach every day and played online poker for his milk money. While a certain reporter hunched over her computer for hours on end, this friend from high school would call to settle a bet about the definitions of words.

Meet the laziest person in America.

So skilled is Harrell-Edge at artful loafing that the grinning 6-foot-8-inch former college basketball player has achieved the ultimate slacker dream: He has parlayed his love of leisure into a bona fide, real-life, paying job.

Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel bestowed the title -- and accompanying position -- upon him this summer, plucking him out of 10,000 contestants nationwide on late-night network TV in front of more than a million viewers.

And what demands will his new boss put on Harrell-Edge? What will his new job entail?

"It's watching television. Everybody knows how to do it," Kimmel says by phone, but "only a few can do it professionally -- only the finest." Harrell-Edge's, well, edge over the competition, says Kimmel, was that "he just seems like a character."

Floating through life buoyed by the dumb luck and boundless enthusiasm befitting Cosmo Kramer, the 24-year-old Vienna, Va., native is living the lazy man's dream.

"Every step that he makes is in the direction of being happy for the moment," says friend Derek Moore, 24, who is toiling -- a little ruefully -- in law school at the University of Virginia. "He is admirably carefree."

That's what inspired another friend to urge Harrell-Edge to enter the "Jimmy Kimmel Live" competition in April. The ABC chat show had a vacancy in one of its three television-watcher jobs and cast its net across the country to fill it. Harrell-Edge absent-mindedly pecked out the brief application form online (pitch line: "You can earn big bucks in the high-growth, fast-paced world of watching TV") and didn't think much of it.

Turns out there's a little more to the job than meets the eye. It involves scanning an endless parade of Tivo-ed morning shows, celebrity gossip programs and reality TV to find choice morsels of ridiculousness that comedian Kimmel can riff on during his opening monologue.

The watchers work with editors to splice the clips to maximize punch lines, and they pitch their ideas -- occasionally with sample jokes or funny bits -- to Kimmel and the writers before each show.

Still, one guy works from a beanbag chair, and Harrell-Edge often slurps down cereal as he catches up on the exploits of those beautifully bored teenagers of MTV's "Laguna Beach" -- not exactly manual labor.

"It's an important service to America," Kimmel says, before adding that the TV watchers "seem pretty lazy, to be honest with you."

In May, freshly back from a jaunt to Thailand (where he wrote an as-yet unpublished gambling adventure novel), Harrell-Edge returned to the dismal prospect of finding a job. The man has strongly held principles when it comes to work: Waking up to an alarm is a hardship people "shouldn't have to needlessly subject themselves to." And heading to work in the rain? Forget it.

Sharon Harrell, Harrell-Edge's mother, says her son "felt that people bought too much of that Puritan Protestant work ethic -- hook, line and sinker."

Amid fruitless nights searching, the situation looked bleak.

"Within a week I might be a paralegal who's spending 60 hours a week making copies for some tool," Harrell-Edge, who earned a degree in politics from the University of Virginia, recalls thinking a couple of months ago. "This might be the end of the road ... where real life kicks in. I need something to come out of nowhere, pop up and save me from this."

Sure enough, that's when the folks at "Kimmel" called.

"His sense of humor, it absolutely stood out from the very beginning," says supervising producer Erin Irwin, who headed the show's search. "I was rooting for Greg the whole time."

The right resume

HE certainly had the lazy credentials: For an entire year at school, Harrell-Edge slept on a mat on the floor, with a bare lightbulb overhead and an old towel draped across the window -- because he didn't feel like decorating. His friends termed it the "Trainspotting" room. Plus, Lebowski-like, he was the only finalist who showed up to audition in a T-shirt and khakis rather than a suit.

And he had the off-kilter sensibility: Harrell-Edge and his buddies established a made-up holiday, National High Five Day (the third Thursday in April), and promote it to anyone who will listen. (Kimmel even mentioned it once on the show.)

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