Almost Famous

06.09.12

‘Zooey Asks Siri’ Creator Revealed as Curtis Dickerson

The gently mocked iPhone commercial featuring Zooey Deschanel quizzing Siri spawned a wildly popular Twitter spoof. Jenna Marotta talks inspiration with its creator, Curtis Dickerson.

Curtis Dickerson, a 22-year-old about to graduate from Miami University of Ohio, was watching television in late April with one of his best friends, José, when Dickerson found himself scrutinizing one of his least favorite commercials. “He hadn’t seen it before, so I didn’t say anything,” Dickerson said, referring to a 30-second ad for the iPhone 4S starring New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel in pink pajamas. In the spot, Deschanel converses with Siri, the phone’s fembot voice, which Apple describes as “the intelligent personal assistant that helps you get things done just by asking.” Although Deschanel has just five lines, only the first is a question: “Is that rain?” she wonders while looking at the precipitation outside her window. Those three words wrecked it for Dickerson. “It’s too cute to me, and it feels icky,” he said. “When it ended, José, said, ‘That was stupid,’ and I said, ‘I know, right?’ and a few days later he mentioned it would make a funny fake Twitter feed.”

Dickerson launched Zooey Asks Siri (@zooeysiri) on May 2 (the profile’s tagline reads “Sometimes I get confused, so I ask Siri…”). Since then, he has averaged about seven tweets per day, all portraying the singer and indie-film love interest as someone gullible enough to entrust both playful and profound life questions to an uncertain automated recording. Some of pseudo-Zooey’s best appeals to Siri:

- “Siri, do you think chairs are sitting or standing?”

- “Siri, do they make naan with sprinkles?”

- “Siri, how do you spell the sound toes make when they rub together?”

- “Siri, can you ship a ship?”

- “Siri, do ghosts believe in aliens?”

- “Siri, make a note: ‘A whole playground made entirely of pots and pans.’”

- “Siri, why does nobody talk about how eggs are chicken periods?”

The feed quickly acquired more than 23,000 followers after Glamour, The Huffington Post, and New York linked to "Zooey Asks Siri." “It didn’t hit me until my friend texted that Questlove retweeted me. I’ve been a huge fan of the Roots since high school, so that was a pretty big deal,” said Dickerson (Questlove, a cannabis enthusiast who follows @zooeysiri, retweeted: “Siri, are there health risks to smoking moss?”). 

As for how he channels Deschanel, Dickerson admits, “Basically, I get drunk and write like 30 at a time, then I just keep 10 of the better ones.” (He has a summer job bartending at Pike Street Lounge in Covington, Ky.) Deschanel couldn’t be reached for comment on whether she’s seen "Zooey Asks Siri." Her publicist said the actress was “out of town taking a short break.”

Various iterations of Deschanel’s original Apple commercial have generated nearly 1.5 million hits on YouTube. It has inspired Funny or Die parodies, posts on the websites for CBS News and Vanity Fair, and even a taped reenactment from Huffington Post tech writer Jason Gilbert, who tests Siri’s real-world effectiveness.

As for how he channels Deschanel,Dickerson admits, “Basically, I get drunk and write like 30 at a time, then I just keep 10 of the better ones.”

But beyond any boosts to Apple, the ad and resulting Twitter feed are most effective in cementing Deschanel’s innocent, curious, and silly public persona, recently exacerbated by her pratfalls on New Girl, and expected to evolve when she makes her upcoming Broadway debut as Loretta Lynn in The Coal Miner’s Daughter. What’s more, Dickerson’s parodic Twitter tribute can appear almost interchangeable with Deschanel’s own verified account. “Her tweets are eerily similar to the ones I came up with from watching her movies,” Dickerson said, citing two examples from @ZooeyDeschanel: “We are three years away from 2015, where do we stand on hoverboard development?” and “Is anyone out there still burying treasures? Is that still a thing?” He said, “I guess until I read those, I didn’t really realize how spot on I was.”

Although Samuel L. Jackson and John Malkovich are taking up the mantle for Siri and the iPhone, their respective ads haven’t stirred as much notice. In Jackson’s commercial, he cooks dinner for a romantic evening—not exactly combating snakes on a plane, but it’s a scene viewers could imagine lifted from Jackson’s real life. Meanwhile, Malkovich interacts with Siri while listening to opera in his study, choosing his words carefully like a man who’s given a thousand theatrical monologues. Deschanel’s perceived loopiness is part of her charm, but with such a short take, loopy can come across as “dumb”—and “dumb” will be mocked.

Before seeing the commercial, Dickerson was no Deschanel admirer. “I feel like she’s a mediocre character actress who found her niche and got incredibly, jaw-droppingly lucky,” he said. As for his own career aspirations, Dickerson and a friend are venturing to Southern California for six months. “I kind of really just want to get a feel for L.A., see what’s out there,” he said. In the meantime, he has bartending as a fallback. And, of course, there’s the bottomless barrel of fake Zooey tweets.