Q&A: Carl Zealer gets himself into an episode of "The Simpsons"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

When Carl Zealer was 12, he wanted to be drawn into an episode of “The Simpsons” like his favorite celebrities; 21 years later, he’s getting his wish. The 33-year-old carnie-turned-toy aficionado won the chance to be part of “The Simpsons’” upcoming season when he bought a skateboard signed by Simpson’s creator Matt Groening and the 50,000 raffle entries that came with it from the A Night of Too Many Stars autism fundraiser. This fall, Zealer will finally get to see his dream realized when his episode airs — he hopes he’s a carnie in the episode.

I used to be a carnie! The first product I ever sold was like a ShamWow. I started selling Squirmles at Trader’s World in Cincinnati. I used to have a kiosk at Tuttle Crossing, and I had a program on QVC. I bought the rights to the toy, so I decided to buy up the rights of other old toys. I wanted to recreate the demonstrations I did at fairs in the store, so I gave the companies a TV display of me doing the demo. It really gave me leverage in retail. That’s how I came up with the idea for Nowstalgic toys. We now own the rights to 17 old toys. Squirmles is still my favorite though. We now have an office in China we call the “Wow Factory.” I miss the carnival so much. It was an awesome community of people. Every day you’re demoing for 12 or 13 hours. It’s a rush to demo in front of a big crowd.

At first, I thought I was getting punked. It’s been a weird dream of mine to be in “The Simpsons” since I was a kid. Growing up I thought it would be so cool to be drawn into an episode of “The Simpsons” like celebrities. I freaked out when I found out I won; my girlfriend recorded me saying some colorful words. They called me while I was in Madrid shooting a commercial and said I was one of 10 finalists. They wanted to do a Skype interview with me the next day, but I wanted to do [the interview] right away to get a one-up on the other 10 finalists. They asked me tons of trivia type questions about the show, and who my favorite character was; it’s Sideshow Bob. After the interview I thought, “Wait a minute, maybe I’m getting pranked.”

It better be me who voices the character. I don’t know yet if I’ll get to do it. I actually called the people who held the contest and tried to finagle a deal so I could voice the character. I told them I’d “Simpsonize” the Squirmles and donate a portion of the proceeds back to autism, since [the charity] didn’t quite meet its goal. They asked me the ideal situation I’d like to see my character in the show; I told them I’d love to be doing demos.

My friend told me I was wasting my money. I bought a $5,000 skateboard signed by Matt Groening from A Night Of Too Many Stars because it came with 50,000 raffle entries. But I thought, even if I lost, the money goes to autism programs, so it wouldn’t be a waste. I want to tell my 12-year-old self, “We did it, man!”

Once I get something stuck in my head, I make it happen. I really believe in the power of positive thinking. I know it sounds weird to people who don’t use it, but I see it play out in my life all the time. It’s weird. Every morning I listen to motivational stuff while I’m showering. I listen to a lot of Tony Robbins and Les Brown. It gets me pumped up.

Photo by Meghan Ralston

Age: 33 and 3/4

Hometown: Reynoldsburg

Current neighborhood: Downtown

Day job: Toy pitchman

Currently listening to: "U2 and Tony Robbins ... at the same time"

Playing favorites:

Favorite movie: "Coming to America"

Favorite TV Show: "Beyond The Wormhole" and "The Simpsons"

Favorite restaurant: "Little Palace - the little chicken sandwich is seriously amazing."

Favorite beverage: Grape drink

Best way to spend $10 in Columbus: "Hands down, 16-Bit"