This episode is dedicated to Fred Stroppel, the Oscar Wilde of a bunch of wildly funny High School friends called The Fellas, and to the bar named Stroppels, where everybody knew my name.
Week Three just about did me in, for a number of reasons. The main reason was having to watch my audition. I didn’t mind so much that I was not the Funniest Tree in The Forest in Week Two, that’s what class is for, to learn to be better. What was throwing me was how I looked on camera.
Terrible. I looked terrible.
Not to be vain, I’m not bad-looking, even with the gap in my front teeth, made by the removal of multiple wisdom teeth by a dubious dentist who failed to inform me of the consequence of having the rest of my teeth dance around my mouth in joy at the increase of space in my jaw.
I always knew I was a character Actor, so the space really didn’t bother me so much.
What bothered me was the rest of my face on camera.
That just couldn’t be me. I know my face, I have been looking at it a long, long time.
But watching my auditions in class was agonizing. Even with my new, and now signature, red cardigan.
I just couldn’t figure it out, until I actually started watching the other actors on camera and to be honest, they didn’t look that good, either.
They looked better than I did, but that was because most of them were about 25, an age where it really doesn’t take much to look that good.
Believe me, I’ve been there and at 25 I looked a little something like this:
So just to test out my theory, before I quit class and perhaps show business forever, and before I drove back to Scott Sedita’s Studio to abscond with roughly $345 worth of contraband and that chair he is so fond of, to make up for the money I spent on his misguided advice, I found a little $5 on-camera class in my neighborhood in Burbank and signed up.
It was a simple room. No fancy soft lights like at Killion’s. No dark sound-proofing held to the wall by metal hardware cloth, the kind I use extensively to shore up any egress from which my doggies could escape. No dark blue swirly backdrops, no dark carpeted floor.
This room had fluorescent overhead lights and a pale grey cloth tacked up to the back wall.
And the ubiquitous little camera with a cord connected to the monitor – and I now knew what that meant.
This was a On-Camera Drama Class, but I wasn’t there for the drama. I just wanted to be able to confirm or deny my sneaking suspicion that something egregious had happened to my face in the 35 years since I had been 25.
Life just hadn’t been that bad. As a matter of fact, all things considered, it had been jolly good.
The sides we were given were from Erin Brockovich, a picture that won Julia Roberts an Oscar. I knew I wasn’t Julia Roberts, but neither was Erin Brockovich, so I wasn’t much worried about pulling off the role visually, and a stellar performance was not what I was after.
Although it turned out, I was pretty good because I elicited an emotional response from the audience of my fellow actors. Just part of the job.
What thrilled me more than anything, was my face. There it was on the big monitor looking exactly how it looked to me every morning when I brushed my teeth.
No more, no less.
So having dodged that bullet, I knew I would return to Killion’s the following week, which saved me the 75 bucks I would have lost had I quit. Not to mention gas money, which had been quickly adding up.
Actually I started to have a sneaking suspicion that Killion had set up that room specifically to cull any actors who weren’t the most beautiful, if not the brightest.
I think he can be sneaky that way.
The other thing that just about sent me over the edge, was once again, the copy.
It was for Lay’s Potato Chips, a product that will forever (at least in my mind) have the memorable tag line (and you all can say it along with me) “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One”.
Five words spoken by one actor that can only be compared to “Where’s The Beef?” when it comes to brevity and memorability.
That’s good writing.
So when I was handed copy that took 30 seconds with 4 actors driving in a car that was so convoluted & tortuous that my brain went into shock and flat-out refused to send any signals to my mouth, I was torn about what to do.
I had to admit I agreed with my brain, but I was into week 3 in this class and was determined to get more out of it than how to be a tree.
Now here’s the sum total of what I know about acting in anything.
It is always about the relationship. Because acting is quite a bit like real life and in real life everything is also about the relationship. To be even more precise, it’s always about the love.
Find the love and you will find your audience.
Even if your character is unlovable. Even if the copy is unlovable.
Like this copy was.
But it was more than unlovable copy, not only was it just plain bad writing, it was an affront to comedy, comedians, comedy writers and lovers of comedy, because this copy was supposed to be funny.
I know this, because it had a punch line, right at the bottom, where punch lines go.
Some copy ends with a simple tag line, which is different, because a tag line does not have to be funny, even if it is.
But a punch line always has to be funny. Always.
So the set up, the business, the lines before the punch line are extremely important.
This copy was making me crazier than the tree copy, which was marginally funny, because of the tree costume, but had an extremely weak punch line, after which all the trees were supposed to laugh just so everyone else knew it was funny.
But here’s what really bothered me…
I was fortunate enough to be born in 1956, a year where television was just barely out of diapers and when I was just barely out of diapers, I was placed in front of that TV.
There wasn’t a whole lot of programming back then, and stations actually stopped broadcasting at around midnight, complete with a flag waving over the music of the Star Spangled Banner.
And although all of that was a very long time ago, I remember the comics on the variety shows.
These were men and women who had honed their craft in Vaudeville and on Variety stages (a name adopted by a show business newspaper on newsstands to this day) coast to coast. Stages, where if you weren’t funny, they threw things at you, (a behavior adopted as a name by a well-known show business website).
These comics had survived vaudeville, variety and radio, so by the time they got on TV, they knew what they were doing.
When we weren’t watching them, we listened to them on vinyl records, over and over and over, and the jokes and bits, committed to memory, still made our family laugh.
After the Golden Age of TV, I was also exposed to TV shows like All In The Family and MASH and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
I was 18 when Saturday Night Live first aired.
So even if I wasn’t funny, which sometimes I am and sometimes I am not, I still knew what funny was supposed to be.
Two Broke Girls, is not funny.
And neither was this copy.
This copy could only be considered painful.
But my job was to find the relationship and to find the love, so I did.
But my heart wasn’t in it.
It’s a hard call, being an actor just starting out. You want to take everything that comes your way, if not in the hope that you will actually book the job, but in a far away promise that your audition will at least get you the next audition.
But I am not 25 any more and I can not make those far away promises to myself.
If it had been a real audition and not a class that I had already paid good money to attend, I would have turned in the copy and walked out the door.
I stand on the shoulders of those men and women I watched and listened to and laughed with all my life.
Even though I have never met any of them, I still feel like I owe them, for everything they went through just to make me laugh.
And that’s where my love lies.
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