Prostitutes, drugs, HBO, and the best job ever at 3 in the morning

The best job I ever had was interviewing prostitutes, junkies, homeless kids, and other random creatures at three in the morning. I did it for about two and a half years. People who knew me then ask me now, “how did you go from interviewing drug dealers to doing stuff with stocks?”  Isn’t it the same thing?  The job started because HBO didn’t have a website or an intranet. I was constantly on the verge of getting fired because I wasn’t interested in the random database stuff they wanted from me. So one weekend I put the HBO cafeteria menu on an intranet I set up, using a server I set up on my computer. Then I put their employee database on there, then their movie database, and so on. Until they had an intranet  and everyone started using it.  I forgot to ask for permission.  Comedy Central called me and asked me if I could help do the same thing for them

(Episode 1)

So I went up there and they said they were willing to pay me as a consultant. Maybe I had a small crush on the IT woman there who asked me. But I might’ve had a crush on everyone back then. I told her I would only do it they gave me the time slot on Comedy Central from 3 to 4 in the morning to do whatever I wanted. I wanted to have my own talk show. A few days later she called me and said she asked her boss or her boss’s boss and he said no. They sell that time slot for informercials. So I then approached HBO and said, “you guys are great at doing original TV shows, how about let me do an original web show.” So that’s how I did “III:am” for 2.5 years. Every Tuesday night I would go out at three in the morning and interview whoever I could find.

(Episode 2)

Why a Tuesday night? Because anyone could be out on a Saturday night at 3 in the morning. Saturday nights at three in the morning are boring. But if YOU were out and about at 3 in the morning on a Tuesday night, then there’s a reason.  You probably don’t work a regular nine to five job. You probably don’t do a regular anything. You’re out at three in the morning on a Tuesday night either causing trouble or avoiding it.

(Episode 34)

I turned over every rock in the city for two years. For instance, there’s a bus that goes back and forth from Queens to Rikers Island. It runs all night long because if someone can get bailed out, they get out of jail right then.  The bus stop had the constant buzz of misfortune. There were construction workers who would secretly whisper to me that they were cops. There were the teenage prostitutes who were waiting for boyfriends or clients to get out of jail. There were the drug dealers and pimps ready to sell whatever to whoever.  And in the middle of it all were the nervous moms and sisters getting ready to get on the bus to go bail out their kids and brothers. Once someone got on that bus I never saw them again.

(Episode 38)

Other Tuesdays I’d go over to the east side of Manhattan. Everything was happening there. How many times did I fall in love? I can’t even begin to say.  Homeless girls in dreadlocks living in the shanty town on the other side of FDR across from the housing projects on Avenue D.  A girl with a stutter carrying a monkey in a cage. Everyone trying to belt out their story and be heard in the middle of the night because the shackles that shut them up during the day were sound asleep.  For two years I interviewed hundreds of people, taking their pictures, transcribing the tapes, and putting four interviews a week up on the HBO website (with the help of a great crew of people at HBO. I still miss Trish). Everyone had to sign a release form and put their phone numbers, which for awhile was the only way I would get a date or two when someone caught my eye and I’d call them the day after, trying to read their number off of the crumpled release form.

(Episode 45)

It was a different world at three in the morning. The same locations, but different rules, different customs, different cultures. There was the working world (people working in clubs, all night diners, even the NY times workers putting the final touches on all the news that was fit to print), and then there were the forgotten outcasts from that world: homeless, jobless, addicted, disabled.  Couples arguing in the middle of the street, johns, pimps, prostitutes, lonely people looking to add excitement to their lives. The sadder and more twisted a story was, the more beautiful to me. I would get home at five in the morning (after treating my crew to breakfast at the all-night Empire Diner) and I would lie awake, buzzed for hours until falling asleep for a half hour here and there.

The things I learned:

– All the rules we think of as normal society are all manufactured. There’s no such thing as normal.

– There’s a 3am religion: there are too many sides of life to count. Each with its own special despair and story. Each with its own way of escaping the chains that bind us to the day. The sadness was unbearable but only then do you see God in their eyes looking back.

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  • Steven Goff

    Does the creation and success of the show Tosh.0 (ie…a web based content yet TV show per se)….make ya feel like ya got scooped or your idea stolen in anyway by HBO or Viacom/Comedy Central? Was that show along what you had in mind at the time?…….That was the first thing that entered my mind when reading this.

  • Thomas

    Pretty amazing that on the internet, where I can find 10,000 videos of someone’s cat playing the piano, I can’t find an old episode of III:AM.

  • James Altucher

    I had to go to and search on from 1997 and 1998 to dig up those pictures. I guess HBO decided they didn’t like doing original web shows and wiped the slate clean. There also was an article in Newsweek but no pictures.

    • Dom

      maybe time to bring it back? if you post a few new episodes to youtube i would definitely watch it

      • Do it brudda

        Do it james plz!

  • Sooz

    Once again..
    Way ahead of your time!!
    You have such a ‘Brilliant Mind’!
    Now every channel has reality programs.
    Newest viewed episode of the’Butt Sisters’..Kim,Chloe..etc.
    Ithink Chloe had her sister do a little waxing and burned the ‘H#LL’ out of her

  • Sooz

    excuse me..I refer to them as the ‘Butt Sister’s’.
    How can you ‘Not’ look forward to next weeks show?..:)

  • James Altucher

    @Sooz, damn, I missed that one. I figured I’d catch up via Star and US first to see if Khloe (or Kourtney, I forget) is still with Scott. These things are important.

    I’m glad you liked the post. It was a fun period for me.

  • Sooz

    Poor Bruce..for ‘GOD’ sake..all the man wants is to buy parts for his remote planes hobby. Give him the da@med credit card,

  • Sooz

    preferrably Visa..and not one of those Kardashian card(WTH)

  • Sooz

    While they’re out buying newest model’Bentley’s’ Bruce tinkers in his garage dreaming..of the newest little handhel control device!!
    He should consider a new backbone instead..:)
    Just Funny!!

  • Paul

    I think i was the British guy in ‘The Kiss’ – i was very, very drunk

  • pjc saves the day! My brother-in-law founded that site.

  • Lucky break you scored James!!!

  • Sooz

    The poor ‘fist flinging’…’Pink Polo wearing’
    I think he fathered a child with Kourtney?

    In regards to post entries beyond my flow of random Kardashian humor(a page full..but I could not resist and am slightly apologizing)

    J.A.,..Posts claiming a connection to your past and honored to be a part of!

    So many of your ideas..investable..:)

  • genomik

    The guy who did that later was James Atell, Insomniac on comedy central a couple years ago. Twas epic show, if u have not watched it u should check out a few episodes. I have been and occasionally still am, a denizen of 3am. Its great fun. I live in downtown San Francisco so there is a lot do at that time. Mostly I would go to afterhour parties and friends houses. There is a whole subcategoty of youthfulish partyers. Like there was a club called Rehab on Monday mornngs in the local tranny club, that was classic. The people who still party on Monday are hardcore. I rarely wanted to do such a thing, if I was there it made me feel like a loser. But if u r still partying Tues u IIIam got a problem mostly.
    All the homeless and street people I try to avoid them, cos sometimes u meet one and they seem sane so you take them along to the next destination for cookies and milk, then you find out they are a mess. Like a cure girl who is in art school and all seems ok till u find out she stays up 5 days straight doing meth and think the agents are following her. Time to go!

    I used to like staying up late so much that it was difficult for me to be employed early, so I created my own career doing consulting. I did that for many years, stayed up late. Now I am older, dont party much anymore and get up earlier. I still consult tho, thats a legacy of that lifestyle.

    Here is an interesting observation, when I fly into Manila airport, at around 3 or 4AM, the street are PACKED with throngs of humanity. Thousands of people all over the big streets> Never did figure out who they all are or what they are doing.

    • Guest

      a year later and no one has bothered to tell you that his name is Dave Atell? I guess I’ll just be that asshole.

    • Brian Tan

      when I fly into Manila airport, at around 3 or 4AM, the street are PACKED with throngs of humanity – Might be call center employees having lunch

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  • I would so love to see all of it. Not working on Anyway you can get it from hbo or have them sell it as a compilation?

    • Found it. Much easier using rather than/ Interesting stuff.

  • CD

    children of the night….what music they make…..

    guess it’s already been said…but why isn’t this on youtube.  would be good fun to see it.

  • Great stories. It’s too bad that you felt like the outsider looking in.

  • jojo

    This seriously was ahead of it’s time.
    Love it!!! La vie boheme..  

    Makes me miss going to gamble at 4 am on a Sunday night.  That’s when there are only two people in the casino…. 90% gambling degenerates and complete addicts.  and 10% people who are there to win like it’s a job not a game.  Usually the best dealers aren’t working then also. 

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