What's that donkey-and-Steve billboard on Highland? We've got the answer.

Jeff Miller
Jeff Miller

Crazy-ass billboards are nothing new in LA; Angelyne's famous from 'em, you've seen The Room because of them, and Bijan must be, like, one Bugati less-rich because of them.

But the one that popped up on Highland that reads, "Steve, we're sorry about the donkey. Please come back to work," meme-style, on a photo of a dude looking hopeless in the middle of the desert, is fascinating like no other, and begs so many questions. Mainly, who is Steve? What donkey? How much did his co-workers shell out for this billboard? Is it all just a weird hoax? We tracked down the dude responsible for the billboard, John Long, for answers:

Jeff Miller: So, uh, we have a lot of questions...

John Long: "Let me give you a little backstory: my company is Buddha Jones, and we do advertising for films and video games -- trailers, ads, that sort of thing. We got a second building recently, on Highland. One of the perks of this building is that they have a billboard, which we have the opportunity to use X number of weeks a year. We thought, "Wow, we can do anything we want with this billboard. We can advertise ourselves in a conventional way, or we can do something that makes people's drive in the morning more interesting. We opted for the second option."

JM: So, does Steve actually work with you?

JL: "Steve does work with us. We had this very interesting still-frame from a video we did, and we sort of made up a story around it. I said to someone, "You know, it could be about a drunken night in Belize with some shady Cuban cigar smuggler... but maybe that's just one story. Maybe there's a more interesting story?" That's kind of the way we left it -- so people driving by may make up a more interesting story than we have."

JM: So where did the donkey come from?

JL: "It just seemed to match the still-frame of this video we had. He's got a black eye, and his tie's askew -- we're trying to leave a little mystery to it, which may be more interesting than the actual story. I literally say to people, "What do you think the story is?" And that's the point. If you tell people what the story is, maybe it's not as interesting as the story itself. That's how we envisioned it. "

JM: Did Steve know it was going up?

JL: "Basically, here's where I guess I can get into the secret sauce. We put it up to the company: what do we want to do, how do we want to promote ourselves, or not promote ourselves. People submitted photos and ideas, and that particular photo was the most provocative -- and then we came up with a provocative tagline that made it an interesting story. Some of those other ideas may be on the billboard in the future."

JM: So it's going to become a "watch this space for a crazy billboard" billboard?

JL: "We have four four-week chunks throughout the year where we can use it -- so yeah, maybe people will watch the billboard for another oddball story."

JM: Is Steve more famous than he already was?

JL: "Yes. Steve is more famous than he already was. Steve is this awesome Buddah Jones employee. He's been with us for at least seven years, maybe eight now. He's just this fabulous presence. If there's anyone who can make fun of himself or let people in on a joke, he's the guy. His Mom was visiting, and he didn't tell her about the billboard, and they were driving down Highland, and he just said, 'What is that??' It made for a fun head-scratcher for the family."

JM: Was part of the inspiration Angelyne, or The Room, and the billboard culture of LA?

JL: "The Angelyne thing is very LA and very awesome, but it's so self-indulgent in a way. I guess this is, in a whole different way. It's not self-indulgent, it's self-promotional, and we wanted to do the opposite thing. We could have put up a billboard that said "Buddah Jones. We do advertising. Call us at this number!" But instead, we did the opposite: "What the hell is this? And who are these people?"