Would you ever ditch your responsibilities to devote yourself completely to living off the kindness and generosity of the strangers you find on Craigslist?
That’s what Joe Garner did.
Garner, 32, joined forces with funnyman-turned-executive-producer Zach Galifianakis for a documentary called ”Craigslist Joe.” Set to premier Aug. 2, the film follows Garner cross-country as he relies on Craigslist ads for food, a place to sleep and bathe, and more.
Garner is no stranger to the film industry. He was the assistant to director Todd Phillips on what he calls “a little movie at the time,” which turned into the blockbuster hit ”The Hangover.” It was on the set of “The Hangover” that Garner and Galifianakis first started discussing the premise for “Craigslist Joe.” Living in a hotel casino in 2008 while filming the movie, Garner said he felt isolated in Vegas.
“The country was falling apart around me, people losing their homes, people just out on their own. So I got to thinking: If I lost everything, what would happen? I’d probably be OK, because I have great friends and family. But what if I didn’t? Who would I rely on?” So he put social media to the test to see how reliable it was in times of need. Garner said he didn’t have a central goal but wanted to prove that it was possible to get help.
“I’m going to go out and be as open as I can, talk to regular people around the country and see how technology is going to enable me to better communicate with those people to make meaningful face-face-connections,” Garner explained.
He hired a cameraman he found on Craigslist a week before he set out on his journey. Equipped with only a laptop, a new cell phone with a new number he hadn’t shared with anyone, a new email address, a passport, toothbrush and the clothes on his back, Garner was ready to embark on his month-long adventure.
“We started off in L.A. I’ve lived here for over 10 years, and it was just very odd. I’ve never experienced L.A. as much as I did in those first four days,” said Garner. “It was about getting out of my routine and isolation in my own world and just opening up and realizing, ‘Whoa, there’s other things in front of us that’s happening.’ It was a good time to go, since our country was going through such rough times, and I wanted to find those stories and see how people were coping.”
When Garner contacted people on Craigslist he’d say he was just a regular guy looking to meet up, go out of town, go on a hike, whatever he could think of. It wasn’t until after people agreed to meet him person that Garner disclosed there’d be camera documenting their journey.
“It was all about establishing trust. People weren’t just initially helping me because of the camera, because they didn’t even know about it at first,” said Garner.
Garner said he had to figure out the fundamentals of living through Craigslist.
“How am I going to eat today? You get pretty hungry when you’re just walking around, even after a few hours. I allowed myself as much water as I could find,” he said.
His two favorite sections on Craigslist that became his lifelines were “Free” and “Ride Share.” Garner explained “Free” was where “someone would literally be giving away milk,” but he cautioned how careful one must be when using Craigslist, especially the “Ride Share” section.
“Meet up in a public place, write down their cell phone number, check out their ID, you definitely have to be smart about it,” Garner explained.
The 31-day social media experiment taught Garner a few life lessons, especially as he visited the Ninth Ward in New Orleans.
“Everywhere I looked around the country were these pockets of inspiration. It’s one thing to see it on TV, or read it in the news, but I broke down in the Ninth Ward,” said Garner. “After a couple weeks of exhaustion, the amazing kindness that people shared with me I realized, here I am in the middle of this place that was once a totally amazing community that is just totally wiped out now. But these people are taking abandoned houses and creating them into art spaces.”
If given the chance, Garner says he would absolutely embark on another Craigslist adventure, even for a lot longer than a month.
“What I did was no big thing. The biggest thing was making the decision to let go of the things I hold most important and step out of my comfort zone,” Garner said. ”It was the most amazing experience of my life. I’ve never felt so connected with people around me.”