A now-bearded Jimmy DiResta showing us a sign that he made. “Lord of the Fleas” is the original title for his show “Dirty Money.”
At it’s worst, reality television can be considered the lowest form of entertainment. Thankfully, Jimmy DiResta, an inventor, designer, builder and trailblazer in do-it-yourself reality TV, has never been interested in joining the D-list crowd. He is an educator, creator and third-generation trash picker, and it is these characteristics that shine in his TV projects. His latest show, “Dirty Money” features Jimmy and his brother John DiResta. Shown on the Discovery Channel, “Dirty Money” had a one-season run in the states and is now in syndication in countries including Vietnam, England, Switzerland and Germany.
We met with Jimmy DiResta recently in his lower East Side studio (and yes it is the same location where “Dirty Money” was shot). He gave us the skinny on how he broke into the world of do-it-yourself reality TV.
DeDe Sullivan: On the show “Dirty Money,” you repurpose found stuff, a.k.a. “junk.” How were you introduced to the world of junk?
Jimmy DiResta: My grandfather was a trash picker and so was my dad. My dad has been going to flea markets since I can remember. He always took my brothers and me. Everything we ever owned was from the flea market.
DeDe: When did you start developing your skills as a builder?
Jimmy: Ever since I can remember, dad was always giving me things to make stuff with, starting with LEGOs and blocks, and later with tools.
DeDe: What were you doing prior to television?
Jimmy: I went to art school and in 1990 I began designing toys for a manufacture at the same time. I designed toys up until my second TV show, “Hammered.” After that I was heavily into building furniture and custom woodwork. Now I can I build anything for anyone in pretty much any material.
DeDe: Did you design any toys that we might remember?
Jimmy: I was a part of the team that created a toy called Sky Dancer that was pretty popular in the ’90s. I am also one of the inventors of a squeezable toy called, Gurglin’ Guts. I share the patent with two other people, one being my brother Joseph. There is a chance the toy will be re-issued.
DeDe: You are highly motivated when it comes to putting yourself and your work out in the world and on the small screen. Can you tell us how you landed on TV?
Jimmy: The very first show we did was called “Trash to Cash.” John was in-between gigs as a comedian/actor so he had an idea. He was always finding junk and making it into tables. He still does this and sells them. So in 2000 he said let’s shoot a video of me making a table with found wood and during the process I will make jokes. So that is exactly what we did, we made a seven-minute video and called it “Trash to Cash.” At the time, Barry Katz was John’s manager. So Barry took our video to Fox FX to see if they were interested, which they were, so we had a meeting.
This is the area in his studio that often appeared in the show Dirty Money. You can learn how to make that giant vintage rope ball on Jimmy's YouTube page
It was my first TV meeting ever, so I showed up overly prepared. Originally, only John was going to be on camera and I was going to make the stuff behind the scenes. So, I came to the meeting with 12 episodes mapped out and I was telling the folks at Fox all the things I can do behind the scenes. The producer we met with asked if I had problem being on camera and I said no. The producer then decided that we would both be on camera. I would make stuff and my brother would crack jokes. So they ordered a pilot and we ended up shooting seven episodes of “Trash to Cash.”
When “Trash to Cash” ended, John and I decided to shoot another pilot on our own. This show idea later became “Dirty Money,” but at the time we were calling it “Lord of the Fleas.” This was nine years ago. We showed our video around and it received a lot of interest but no buyers. So we created another pilot called, “Making It.” I have the video on my YouTube page if you want to see it.
DeDe: Why did you always shoot your own pilots?
Jimmy: To me it seemed like a better idea than just going to networks and pitching a concept. Plus, I don’t like pitching. I would rather just show TV executives what we can do.
DeDe: What happened with “Making It”?
Jimmy: “Making It” became our second show, but the name changed to, “Hammered.” Home and Garden TV picked up the show. The introduction to the channel came from friend who is a hairdresser. One of her clients is an executive for the network so our friend mentioned us. We shot 28 episodes. Afterwards, there were a few more projects with Home & Garden and DIY Network through 2007 and 2008
DeDe: Tell us about your most recent project, “Dirty Money.”
Jimmy: In 2010, a production company called Vidiots was looking for a project. I shared a YouTube link to the “Lord of The Fleas” pilot John and I made nine years ago. Vidiots liked it. They re-edited the pilot we shot and showed it around and Discovery Channel picked the show up.
DeDe: OK, so you have a TV career. You are also a brand ambassador for 3M and a teacher at The School for Visual Arts in addition to being a builder and designer. What best represents who you are?
Jimmy showing us an antique machine part he found.
Jimmy: The core of my business is making stuff for homes, restaurants and stores. I am good at solving problems and I work quickly. I will make anything. This sometimes gets me into trouble. But I always come out wiser. Right now, it appears that “Dirty Money” is over. So I am trying to post a video each week on YouTube for the curious fans of the show and new comers to my work. Each video features me making something new in a new way. This keeps me thinking.
DeDe: Alright. If you had to pick another career, what would it be?
Jimmy: Abstract artist. All sculpture. I am part-way there.
DeDe: Before we wrap this interview, drop a few words of wisdom on us.
Jimmy: This is what I tell my students:
“It is only hard because you have not truly learned how yet” (about anything).
“Never build anything you can’t move alone.”
“Always learn from the mistakes and remember the good one will be the fifth one you make, never the first.”
And finally, “Your brain needs exercise too; challenge it for a workout”
Interested in seeing Dirty Money come back? Click here to submit a letter to revive the show.
You can also follow Jimmy DiResta online on YouTube, Facebook & Twitter.
DeDe Sullivan is a retrophile with a particular fondness for junktiques; discarded vintage treasures whose aesthetic worth far exceeds its monetary value. Her blog, VintageandFlea.com, documents her junking and antiquing adventures. This includes sharing her favorite places to score unique items, the history behind unusually finds, along with display and upcycling ideas. Have a question or story to tell? Shoot her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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