Winning online contests is Joel Moss Levinson’s job.
That fact is printed in bold capital letters on the back of his business card.
The front bears a sharp photo of the Dayton native taken at the Arctic Svalbard, land of the polar bears. He’s in a penguin costume and oversized red bow tie. (There are no penguins in the Arctic.)
Since his first big splash in the online video contest racket in 2007 — with a win that had him travel the nation as Planet Smoothie’s Cupman — Levinson has become a modern, viral video version of the “Prize winner of Defiance, Oh.” That’s the book and film about a woman who raised her family with winnings from jingle, essay and poetry contests.
While in the Arctic, one of the prizes from a Nature Valley Granola Bar’s contest, Levinson shot a sketch called “The Lonely Arctic Penguin” and one of his most profitable wins, a $100,000 Klondike Bar contest.
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“I treat it as a job,” said Levinson, the son of Dayton Daily News reporter Meredith Moss and James Levinson, a retired assistant Montgomery County prosecutor.
“If it is related to the thing that I love, it doesn’t feel like work.”
Moss can’t say she never worries, but she is happy and proud of her son, who has won everything from beef to an electric car. He has a career that allows him to explore his passions — singing, writing comedy, producing videos, performing, etc.
“You want your kids to do something that is fulfilling to them,” she said.
When it comes to winning online video contests, Levinson, who often collaborates with his brother, Stephen, an online developer at Comedy Central, is apparently one of the best in the game.
The Los Angeles resident has traveled the world and been featured in the New York Times and on “CBS News With Katie Couric” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”
Soon the career will land him a wife. The 28-year-old’s fiancee, Randi Hope Pritikin, contacted him after her friend pointed out the front-page Times article. The friend predicted Levinson and Pritikin would make a good match.
The couple will wed in August, Moss said.
Even as a kid, Levinson, whose last “real” job paid minimum wage and was at the front desk of a 24-hour gym, had adventurous plans.
“I wanted to be a cat burglar and run around the world stealing fine art,” said the former Sinclair Community College student.
His videos fuel his drive for something different.
Among Levinson’s favorites is the video for a Best Western contest that asked contestants to dress up their water coolers 1980s-style. Top prize was a million hotel points.
“I thought it was hilarious, so I did it. It was a cool prize,” Levinson said.
For that one, Levinson donned a red, Bruce Springsteen-esque bandana and tie. He dressed the cooler, Corry, in a blue-jean jacket and curly blonde wig and sang about the mall and a dojo.
Levinson found his niche in contests using online social networks, such as Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and MySpace, as well as his site, Happyjoel.com. He’s supported by hundreds of offline friends who will vote for his creations and pass on links, including Brian Rosichan, Levinson’s pal since their school days at Hillel Academy of Greater Dayton.
Rosichan, who recently moved from Dayton to Cleveland, said that he’s not surprised by Levinson’s path.
Levinson currently is a finalist in Quizno’s “Where do you Torpedo?” contest. Top prize is $10,000. See his video at promo.toastytorpedo.com.
Rosichan said Levinson always is good for a laugh. “It’s fun to see him win the contests and make a good name for himself,” he said.
Levinson always has relied on his friends. “The Internet is great, and I love it, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the fact that I try to hang out with people,” Levinson said, adding that he crochets his friends afghans and scarves to say thank you.
He enjoys entering contests but doesn’t plan to do it forever.
There are at least a dozen TV show ideas in his head, and he said he is in active talks with Hollywood-types. Until one of his ideas pan out, he’ll keep his creative juices flowing doing his day job. He’s not one to sit still.
“You can’t be waiting for other people to do it for you,” he said.