Some Penn students arrive on campus with an image of what they’d like their future to be and a plan for how to get there; others hope that the college experience will give them some direction. For alumnus Zach Fox (C ’17) it was at the tender age of 12 that he knew he wanted to be a comedian—an aspiration that took him from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and back before finishing his sophomore year. Now he has a feature film making its Penn debut this month, his own production company (Fat Camp Films) and an upcoming project in collaboration with Instagram’s @fuckjerry.
Fox’s exposure to comedy began at an early age, and was an important part of his upbringing. “My mom did a lot with comedy,” he recalls fondly. “When I was younger she ended up doing these funny SAT vocabulary prep programs that incorporated sex comedy. I was always in the recording studio with her.” Fox also notes the important role of comedy in tackling the challenges he was faced with growing up. “It was messy, it’s still messy. And for me, as a kid, being able to turn something that should be sad or fucked up into a laugh or a joke, it gives you some control.”
It was after a illuminating experience watching Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat that Fox decided how he wanted to make his living. This was around the same time that YouTube was gaining momentum in the world of social media. Not unlike many popular acts we see today, Fox began his journey making YouTube videos alongside his work in standup. He was discovered by Disney at a talent competition and at age 17, he began juggling his senior year of high school in Philadelphia’s Main Line and a new life in Los Angeles. After working with Disney, the plan was to stay out west, take classes at UCLA, and move up in the world of comedy. The screenplay for How to Get Girls, Fox’s feature film, was also written at this time, in collaboration with Fox’s childhood friend and cofounder of Fat Camp Films, Omri Dorani.
So how did Fox find his way back to Philadelphia? Life in L.A. began to pose some challenges. “It’s a very superficial place,” Fox notes, recalling the chances at a big break that narrowly escaped his grasp while living there. In an effort to “switch coasts” Fox applied to and was accepted at Penn, which he hadn’t expected but decided to run with. Upon returning to Philadelphia, though, finishing his degree was far from the only goal Fox had in mind.
“The best part of this whole story is that I made this movie while I was at Penn!” Fox exclaims when explaining how creating a feature film fit into his collegiate life. Between working on his communications degree and performing with Mask and Wig, Fox ran his production company as a way of supporting himself and got How to Get Girls through production over the course of his education. Funding the project was yet another feat of perseverance that required convincing reality–show producer Nancy Glass, who Fox pitched to at a Wharton event, to take on a feature length comedy.
Now a recent college grad, Fox continues to build his company, particularly with branded content, which has become very profitable in the social media driven world. Though Penn may seem like a mere stepping stone in Fox’s years long journey through the media landscape, he notes the importance of the connections he has made here. Zach mentions that he frequently works with former members of Mask and Wig, among other Penn affiliates. “The thing is, they’re so smart,” he says with a chuckle.
"How to Get Girls" will be available on Hulu October 1st. A Penn SPEC and Cinema Studies co-sponsored premiere event is scheduled for September 21st.