When Bad Things Happen to Funny People
L.A. is filled with un-sitcomed standup comics. Many are extremely talented and will make you laugh till you hurt yourself. These are the professionals. As a service to our readers, who could use a break from their worries, we’ve asked a sampling of the best comics (some you’ve heard of, some you will hear of) to share their best Hollywood horror stories — auditions, day jobs, head shots, meetings gone very, very wrong. Go ahead, feel their pain.
By Matt Braunger
I don’t have a problem with how I look. Like most people, I did when I was younger, but not so much anymore. In college I had a goatee, then later a beard. I grew them partly to look less like an adolescent boy but mostly to cover my weak chin. When I was a teenager people said I looked like a thinner John Candy. Lately I’ve been told I look Will Ferrell–ish. In my act I’ve described myself as being “built like a long baby.” Anyway, all things considered, I’m not an ugly man. At least, I don’t think so. I’m a comedian, after all. Not being conventionally stunning helps. No one likes having the wacky foibles of life pointed out by a model.
Years ago, I walked into the casting office of 200 South ready to hit it out of the park. Even if it was an ad for kitty litter, or whatever. Back then all I went out for were commercials, but it was always exciting. Into the room I’d bound full of vigor and enthusiasm pretty much every time. Being a comedian, you get used to rejection and humiliation on a lot of levels. So when I started auditioning for things in L.A., I thought I could take whatever. In this particular instance I had no clue what role I was there for, but I didn’t care. Head shot in hand, with a smile on my face, I walked up to the pretty girl holding the sign-in sheet.
Me: “Hi, how are you? I’m here for the audition.”
Sign-in girl: “Hi. Name?”
Me: “Matt Braunger. Um, my agent didn’t tell me what role I’m auditioning for.”
Sign-in girl: “Matt Bron ... ?”
Me: “Braunger. B as in boy, R, A, U ... ”
Sign-in girl: “Oh, here you are, Matt. Yep. You’re going in for the role of ... UNATTRACTIVE MAN.”
She walked away, leaving me stunned. Honestly? A noise came out of my face, unbidden. It was kind of a sad grunt. It felt like a physical blow. This is why I came in? This came over the breakdowns and someone — who represents me — said, “Unattractive? Let’s send in Braunger! He’s perfect for that!”
You’re here for the role of Unattractive Man. You are. By name.
When I was in sixth grade, I went to my very first school dance. While there, a friend said a girl wanted to meet me. Oh, I felt like a king! I walked over to where she was, but as I got closer she began to frown. “No, never mind,” she said to my friend. Clearly. Loud enough for me to hear. I turned and went back to the part of the wall I had been holding up a minute before.
This felt like that.
Gathering my ego, I walked over and learned that it was just a wide-ranging description. It should have been called “Creepy Man.” He was a guy who kept hitting on a woman who didn’t like him. That’s all. He wasn’t a shirtless Joseph Merrick. Relieved, I sat down and watched the other guys arrive to be told they were hideous, too. It was awesome.
LOOK WHO DRAGGED IN THE CAT
By Doug Stanhope
The problem started with the fact that I lived in L.A. and I had a couch. You can’t own a couch in Los Angeles. When you have a couch in L.A., you have a youth hostel. Your friends from the road who move out to take their shot at the big time want to stay with you until they “get on their feet.” A week turns into a month turns into three months because they can’t find a job!
L.A. is the only place in the world where getting a job is a bad thing. Everywhere else, people go out to dinner and celebrate when they get a job. In L.A. it’s a point of shame. “Ya, I had to get a day job.”
It would get to a point where I would look for jobs for the couch dwellers, and one that was always in the paper was for gay phone sex. Nobody bit. I thought, Hell, if I were looking for a job, I would do it! At least it would keep you laughing. Finally it got to a point where I said, “Fuck it, I’ll do it.” At this point my mother had been living with me for five months, claiming that she couldn’t find work to support herself. Two years later she still hadn’t found a way to pay her bills, even quitting a job two days a week at a thrift shop because it was “too exhausting.”
I applied for the phone-sex job and, of course, got it. They started me on the graveyard shift, which worked perfectly, as I knew I’d be liquored up by then. I also had a bag of mushrooms I’d kept in the freezer for a special occasion. I went to the Coach & Horses, had a few drinks and choked down the mushrooms before Fat Ralphie May drove me down to the job. The first night was a complete anticlimax (’scuuze da pun) stuck on some trainee line where I only got about six calls in eight hours, mostly hang-ups, and the mushrooms never kicked in.
Not the good story I was looking for, although I did gain a sincere respect for those who work for a living, when I got yelled at for taking 13 minutes on a 10-minute smoke break. Evidently there are people out there who want their cocks mock-sucked NOW! This kind of shit for six bucks an hour!
The other surprising thing was that I was not allowed to talk graphic sex on a 900 line. If you want the hardcore phone sex, you have to have a credit card and call in on an 800 number, the theory being this will keep minors from getting through. The 900 operator is supposed to steer them away from sex talk while keeping them on the line as long as possible. Ask questions like: “What do you look like?” and “What are you wearing?” As though you’re about to start talking nasty but you never do. A complete fucking scam. No jacking off without proper credit. I can talk dirty in a nightclub, but if you want to hear it over the phone, bring your bedroom voice and a Visa card. Of course, you couldn’t jack off when I talk dirty in a nightclub (not that you’d want to).
I went back the next day only on the assurance that they’d let me work on the hardcore lines and spent five hours making the most perverse prank calls ever, at a cost to the customer of $4.99 a minute. It’s amazing what a guy will listen to or pretend not to hear when he’s about to come. If I started off goofy, they’d just hang up, but if I played along and waited for them to get into it, I could say anything.
“Oh, baby, yeah. I’d love to have you fuck me up the ass but I just found out that I have colon cancer and it’s spread to my lymph nodes. ... But this probably isn’t the time to talk about it. Go ahead, fuck my ass! Right past the malignant lump all the way to the bottom, baby!”
“I had my first black guy last week. I swear, he had an 11-inch cock and when he pulled outta me, my ass slammed shut like a car door! I couldn’t shit for 10 days! I had to get in there with a butter knife and start myself like a ketchup bottle! What do you look like? I’m a 61-year-old Korean War veteran. I used to drive a tractor-trailer cross-country until diabetes took away my legs.”
“Gerbils got boring after a while, so now I get a big string of rats on a rope, shove them up my kucky-hole one at a time and then yank them out just when I start to come. By the way, do you know anything that will get shit stains out of a Persian cat? My mother is going to kill me!”
I was hoping to get fired, but no one in charge seemed to be paying attention. I just kept getting more vile and abusive until my shift was over and I was in pain from the laughter. Of course, most of it was “had to be there” funny and never made the act, but it was a hell of a good time. And if there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s, “Don’t own a couch in L.A.” Get a love seat. That way, your friends who sleep on it will cramp up after a few days and move on.
LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT
By Merrill Markoe
In 1986, when Ronald Reagan was president, Paramount bought a screenplay from me about a girl who worked at a magazine and was about to turn 30, and her talking dog. It was called Me and My Boy. I had decided to write a talking-dog movie because I was working on Late Night With David Letterman, and noticed that the short movies I shot from the point of view of a dog seemed to have wide appeal. Also I lived with four dogs and in 1986, the talking-dog genre, which I’d always liked, was lying fallow.
Attached as producers were the team of Lynda Obst and Debra Hill.
So I wrote a few drafts, which everyone liked. And the movie almost got made. Then it didn’t.
Instead it went into “turnaround.” For a while it was shepherded by Bernie Brillstein, who was running a studio that year. I was attached as director. I even got a shooting schedule.
The chorus of this particular song is well-known in L.A., but everyone adds their own verse. Almost got made, then it didn’t. Lather, rinse, repeat.
For a while it moved from place to place. I rewrote it over and over. At some point, I threw up my hands in despair. If this movie ever got a green light, I promised, I would rush in and tailor it to the cast. Never happened.
Over the next few years I heard rumors that Lynda and Debra had hired other writers. Some of them contacted me. Lather, rinse and repeat.
George H.W. Bush became president, then Bill Clinton. By now it was hard to find a movie, sitcom, animated show or commercial that didn’t contain at least one talking dog. I lost track of my script.
In 1999, I met Nora Ephron. “Whatever became of that dog script?” she asked. So I jumped back onboard and we exhumed the original. This time it got all the way to a table read with Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry. Unfortunately it took place moments before the tabloids reported that Matthew Perry had entered rehab. Perhaps that’s why he couldn’t read a line of dialogue without having to start over.
I never heard another word from anyone.
A friend read that someone else rewrote it. I imagined it in the catacombs beneath Fox buried under dozens of proposed sequels for Marley and Me.
In 2005, sadly, Debra Hill died an untimely death.
By then, George W. Bush was president and I was writing novels and looking for an idea for my next one. I lived with four other dogs and still had a lot to say about the great, funny relationships I’ve had with my dogs over the years. I had written dozens of short pieces about talking to dogs, and also made a lot of videos. But I had never gotten to the heart of my feelings in print. It was time.
So I wrote a book called Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, about a woman in her 40s who worked at a doggy daycare center and her ability to talk to all the dogs she tended.
Because I don’t like to repeat myself, I went to a lot of trouble to make sure that I had brand-new characters, with new occupations and a whole different set of dogs.
It was slated for publication in August 2006. I had just gotten good reviews from the publishing trades, when I got a call from the legal department at Fox, where apparently my script was now interred. No, it was not in development. But someone heard I had written a book about a woman who talked to dogs and decided to try to stop publication.
This time, I went into shock. I was being accused of plagiarizing myself? Even though I had written a whole new, original story and it was a novel, not a screenplay or a movie? If Rupert Murdoch was so covetous of my unique voice, why had people been hired to rewrite me? And why, in 20 years, had the movie never been made?
So I had to pay a lawyer a lot of money to explain that writing dog voices was something I’d been doing for decades. And incidentally, I wasn’t the only one who wrote talking dogs. And that William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth AND RichardIII, but everyone agreed they were two different plays even though both were full of blood and talking kings.
By 2008, to my surprise and delight, my book was selling well enough to get on the bestseller list.
In 2009 Barack Obama became president. But don’t expect to see a talking-dog movie by me during this or any future administration.
ARE YOU OKAY?
By Laura Kightlinger
The fact that we had a sky box at the Staples Center didn’t sweeten the deal for me, even though fellow Will & Grace writers would be in attendance and I genuinely enjoyed their company. Apparently, the news of this small get-together spread and became swollen with network execs and corporate sponsors, and gradually the original group crapped out. I didn’t concern myself with the logistics, because I figured I’d weasel out of it — right up until my friend called:
“You ready for tonight?”
Oh, it’s tonight?
“Don’t be a dick. You need to go make connections.”
Yeah. I’m kind of looking forward to it. Who is it again?
“John Mayer and Counting Crows. You won’t like them.”
I hung up and thought: “I’ve lost my touch. I used to get out of engagements the day of. I could get sick during a phone call; I’ve become slow on the draw. I’m like the ashes of The Rifleman.
As we walked into the rented sky box, I was still thinking of ways to get out of it.
My friend left me within minutes to claim his spot alongside the VIPs suckling at TV’s teats. I spotted some bottles I recognized and as I approached them, an old friend tapped me on the shoulder to offer a small dish of cookies. I hugged him, then took a cookie.
“Careful, they’re pot cookies.”
I hugged him again.
We sat down in the private-viewing section, probably considered nosebleed seats, until someone had the wherewithal to wrap them in a hotel room. From our vantage point, the roadies working onstage looked like plastic army men unspooling thread. After we had one cookie each, my friend left to get drinks. It seemed like he’d been gone a while, though it could have been five minutes. I was feeling warm, almost giddy, when the box became quiet. Then, in a low, slathered-on, sexy voice: “This is one of my last performances in L.A.,” John Mayer prompted. The crowd pleaded, “Nooo.”
“I’m moving back to New York City.”
I found this off-putting and yelled: “Get the fuck out then — go!” A few heads turned toward mine to show their disapproval. I went back to the sky-box kitchen, opened the refrigerator door and leaned inside, not registering anything, just standing there like I was in a huddle with tonic water. “Okay, Big D.! No E.! Let’s go!” I moved an empty fruit basket, and found my friend’s dish hidden behind it, with half a cookie left. Having just read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I took a bite of the cookie and pocketed the rest for the dismal journey ahead. This bite began a wave of giggles as unrelenting as hiccups. And they stayed with me as I entered the ladies room, closed the stall door and lurched out again, straight into view of one of NBC’s top-ranking officials. She was watching me in the mirror:
“Hi, Laura. Are you okay?” (Meaning: Why are you laughing like a nut by yourself and making me uncomfortable?)
“Um, I’m a bit tipsy.”
It seemed like the wrong thing to say coming directly from a toilet stall, so I made light of it by asking: “Ever tried drinking straight from the bowl?”
She squinted at me with pity.
“I’m kidding.” I washed my hands and ran, fearing I’d laugh again in front of the person who might have something to do with my livelihood.
I squatted outside the sky-box door. I was able to control the marijuana-induced mirth for a few minutes by grinning at the floor. At which point, my boss/the show runner stepped out of the room and asked: “Are you okay?”
Hearing the question a second time put me on the defensive.
“Yes! I’m just — having — fun.”
Then the exec from the bathroom, talking over me, added: “That’s what I just asked her. Is she okay?”
Now I’m being talked about in the third person. I felt like Billy Babbitt in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I looked up at their concerned faces and, half-smiling, begged: “P-p-please don’t tell my mother! She doesn’t need to know about this!”
“I wasn’t planning on saying anything,” the exec solemnly replied. “It’s probably best — ”
“Jesus, Jill!” I barked, suddenly recalling her name (incorrectly). “I was doing a bit!” Obviously, I’m not concerned about my mother finding out about this ... whatever this is.
I started hurling my back against the wall until I was standing up.
“I’m sorry. I need to get some air.”
I left and walked for blocks until I found a mini-everything mart. I surveyed their offerings: magazines, brake fluid, flashlights and bread sticks framing a glass case of donuts and toys. It was a lot to take in. I noticed two young guys at the counter, possibly thinking the same thing. The owner asked: “Can I help you?”
“Gee, it all looks so good. I’ll take a cup of the brake fluid.”
One of the guys laughed with a spurt and his friend joined. I looked at them, pleased to have finally made a connection.
HEAD SHOTS GONE WRONG
By Howard Kremer
Some years back, I moved to Hollywood from Texas. I arrived with high hopes, as I’d gotten some attention from starring in the MTV series Austin Stories, which landed me a manager at one of the biggest management companies in town. My co-star and writing partner, Chip Pope, moved out on the same day and was signed by the same guy.
The guy — we’ll call him Manager — was extremely excited to have us onboard, and he was adamant that the rest of the town would be banging on his door to get a piece of us. We’d often get phone messages from him in which his high-pitched voice would squeal proclamations like, “I just sent Michael Eisner a cup of your urine and a note that says, ‘Taste the future!’ ”
He’d often end sentences with an incredibly enthusiastic, “Yay!” as in, “You guys are gonna be rich and famous. Yay!” or, “All the girls at the networks are dying to sleep with you. Yay!”
His first order of business was to get us new head shots. He made us an appointment with a photographer, sent us to get haircuts and told us to show up at the shoot with a few solid-colored shirts. It was nice to have so many of the details handled by a real show-biz pro.
We followed his instructions, and met one afternoon in an upscale alley on Melrose, near Robertson. I went first, posing for my head shots — about two rolls. It was pretty painless. I then waited while Chip did the same. As he was finishing and I began collecting my things to leave, suddenly an SUV pulls up and Manager jumps out and starts to, well, manage.
“What’s up, guys? Wasn’t it great?”
“Yeah, it went well,” I replied.
“Before you go, why don’t you take one together?”
“Yeah, take a head shot together. You guys are comedy partners. Take one together. I think it’ll be great!”
It seemed like a strange suggestion, but we figured, “What the hell, what’s one more picture? It’s not like we were ever gonna use this.” So we stood together and faced the camera. He told us to get closer to each other; it felt awkward. He kept urging us to move closer until our solid-colored shirts were touching shoulder to shoulder. The photographer snapped a few shots, and that was it.
Six months later I got a call from a friend. “Hey, Howard, I was working with a casting agent today, and she was going through a pile of head shots and was, like, ‘What the hell is this?’ And I’m, like, ‘What?’ and then she shows me this head shot, and I’m, like, ‘I know that guy! That’s Howard Kremer.’ The casting agent was, like, ‘Who’s the other guy, his husband?’ ”
The whole office cracked up at us.
So apparently, Manager had that double head shot printed up and sent it out without our consent.
“Can you destroy it for me?” I asked my friend.
“No way, dude. It’s too good. You look like conjoined twins. We tacked it up on the wall — it’s never coming down.”
SITUATION, NO COMEDY
By Chip Pope
In the summer of ’92, I was 23, right out of college, and had just fallen fresh off the proverbial turnip truck right into Hollywood — well, Glendale, but 20 minutes to Hollywood (traffic dependent) is close enough. I was looking for production work, and had amassed quite a collection of rejection letters in my quest to find a job as a production assistant on anything. I still have the letters, and their names are a time capsule of early-’90s fluff: Evening Shade; The Edge; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; Blossom; Eerie, Indiana ... the list goes on.
Potential employers seemed to be giving me the same basic messages: “You have no experience.” “You have no discernible talent.” “If it were up to me, I’d be all for it, but [insert name here] wasn’t really crazy about you.” Had there been an Internet and had I weighed 20 pounds less, I would’ve turned to the exciting world of male prostitution. But thankfully, salvation came in the form of WKRP in Cincinnati’s Tim Reid.
I received a phone call one morning from a stoner guy whose name I can’t remember. “Hey, it’s so-and-so from the American Film Institute. Are you willing to work on a project for 50 bucks a day?” Even if said project was bludgeoning my own grandmother with a flat rock, I’d have answered yes at that point. “It’s an interview show hosted by Tim Reid; it shoots in Van Nuys. Oh, we need you to haul the pieces of the set. Can you drive a 30-foot flatbed?” Sure! (I had never driven a 30-foot flatbed. Oh, my stupid mouth.) I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. I figured that a 30-foot truck is the length of about three cars, and that didn’t seem so big — how hard could it be?
It was very, very, very hard. It was like trying to drive Optimus Prime. Making it even harder was the guy who hired me, sitting shotgun, yapping about Faith No More. “They’re a band for the ages, brah. They ain’t goin’ anywhere!” Normally I wouldn’t mind this, but when I’m trying to command a 30-foot vessel in rush-hour traffic on the 405, it’s a little distracting. Oh, and did I mention it was the first time I’d ever driven on the 405? I normally avoided freeways, because my ’72 Nova wasn’t the most dependable car when it came to major thoroughfares; however, I preferred the highway when it came to that giant truck.
Van Nuys Boulevard seems to have a stoplight every 10 feet, which is especially hard to deal with when your truck is longer than the distance between lights. After a white-knuckled eternity, I arrived at the studio, located in a busy strip mall next to a grocery store. I wish I could have waited all night for the parking lot to clear before I plowed through there, but unfortunately, that wasn’t an option. As I rounded a corner — very carefully, I might add — I heard a deafening scraping sound followed by the blare of a car alarm. Hoo, boy. I slammed on the brakes. Faith No More and I looked at each other in silent shock. A glance out the window revealed that I’d basically obliterated the front bumper of a shiny new red Miata, and the license-plate holder lay shattered on the ground. This was not going to be something I could talk my way out of — there’s no way to hit-and-run in a 30-foot flatbed.
As we surveyed the wreckage, an Armenian guy reminiscent of Danny DeVito ran over to the scene and cried out something I’d previously only heard in movies: “My new car!” I stood dumbfounded as he picked up the license-plate holder, which read, sadly enough, “Daddy’s Toy.” He began to sob uncontrollably and, in my head, I did too — for myself. An image of the staff of the American Film Institute and the Armenian store manager escorting me to the city limits popped into my head. My stoner “boss” and I attempted to placate him, to no avail. I saw how much he loved that car in his sorrow-filled eyes, and it made me feel like a world-class fool. That car could’ve been the only thing he ever really wanted — and in a weird way I shared his pain, because all I ever wanted was a paying job in show business.
I sat in the studio, awaiting my fate for what seemed like forever — but after a few calls, FNM guy smoothed out the situation. The production would cover the damages, and the Armenian guy’s car would be repaired. Before I could even explain myself to Tim Reid, Faithy blurted, “Jackass here destroyed a Miata.” It takes a lot to make a stoner turn on you. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be hired again by these folks anytime soon.
So what did I learn? For starters, don’t lie about your skills, no matter how desperately you need 50 bucks. Although I still do lie from time to time in Hollywood (“I’d love to write a show about real estate agents”), it always comes back to bite you in the ass. Also, always get insurance. For everything. And lastly, Faith No More are pretty good, but I haven’t heard them since ’93. What have they been up to?
TIMING ISN’T EVERYTHING
By Elayne Boosler
If you were an aspiring comic in 1977, there was only one road to success: You worked absolutely free seven nights a week at the local clubs for years, and then if you could pull the sword out of the stone, you got The Tonight Show. If you scored, the next day you were either: making five thousand a week as an opening act; or fast-tracked to a TV show based on your act; or drawing in Vegas. There were few TV channels and the business watched The Tonight Show like cardinals watched for white smoke at the Vatican. Cable, specials, comedy clubs and the Internet hadn’t boomed yet. There was only The Tonight Show, and that door was guarded by a white male fire-breathing hydra-headed hunchbacked soul-crushing cartel.
Comics worked on clean, five-minute sets for years, placed somewhere nightly in their acts. Then they worked on six five-minute, backup sets. After five years of free work, a car so unreliable my nickname was “Lucky,” and sleeping under one stolen American Airlines blanket (sorry, AA), my dream came true. I got an audition.
Optimum Audition Conditions: Straight, preferably Midwestern, white guy. Squeaky clean, nonthreatening, boyish. (We used to call them the “blonds and blands.”) Get an early Comedy Store audition spot, between 8 and 10:15, before all fuck breaks loose. Follow a clean act.
My Audition Conditions: GIRL. Brooklyn. Jewish. GIRL. Sexual, smart, outspoken. Apparently extremely, unbelievably, incredibly, threatening. (Peep!) My audition spot, 11:20. Following Robin Williams. My managers (Lehman Brothers) should have postponed the evening. Ennyway .
As usual, Robin went way over the 20-minute time allowance. By midnight, the word fuck had lost its meaning. Dick and balls echoed like a ronde. Pussy was merely a substitute for “um.” He was stellar. The audience was shredded, spent, splayed. I was hoping the guys from the show would leave. They didn’t. Well, I thought, if they’re staying, I hope they understand the spot I’m in.
From ’73 to ’75, I was the hostess at a comedy club in New York. I was the one who always followed Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin or Rodney Dangerfield when they dropped in. After the stars left the audience limp, the other comics would exit fast. I couldn’t because I was the paid hostess. I was left, and then I was on.
It’s me, Elayne.
So here’s how you do it: You turn into the skid. Turn into the skid, slowly get control of the vehicle, and then gently guide it to where you need to go (and try not to poop while doing this). Everyone who drives knows this. My upcoming spot was now nothing if not a potential traffic accident. If those Tonight Show protectors of America’s delicate sensibilities who had just gut-laughed their way through an hour of Williams’ cock-cuck-suck-pussy-balls didn’t know that, then they had no business working for the Department of Motor Vehicles. What I needed was someone to say, “C’mon folks, move along, show’s over, nothing to see here.” But there’s never a cop around when you need one. To avoid ending up in the center of a chalk outline, I turned into the skid.
“A very fine good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” I huffed tightly in my best Margaret Dumont. All that were missing were my ball gown and lorgnettes. “I must say I don’t approve. You look entirely spent, and I must apologize to you for what you were just subjected to in the name of quote unquote levity. If that is humor, then I am a herring.” Uncomfortable silence. Heading straight for the center divider. “Is that what passes for entertainment now?” I sputtered in umbrage, drawing myself up stiff. “Is this it, then? The coarsening of our dear republic? Ohhh, for the good old days, the days of lavender and lace, of gentlemen and ladies.”
People were now looking around, not sure what to make of the melodrama. The wheels are starting to align. “Let me tell you how it used to be, when gentility prevailed. Why, not a week ago I had an ethereal evening of true delight. My gentleman friend arrived for me promptly, bearing lilies, sporting a cravat. He took my arm, escorted me to dine, to sip, to dance.” The audience had its energy back. People sat up to listen, exchanged looks, wondered if someone was going to throw a net over me. Gently turning the wheel. ... “We chatted, tittered, arrived home at a civil hour, whereupon I invited him in for a cup of herb tea, and then voraciously sucked his cock.”
Traction! Explosive laughter. I accelerated with all four wheels under me and cruised into my five minutes, windows down, hair blowing. Unfortunately, the Tonight Show CHP stood as one, and single-filed out of the club, missing my roof-rattling, perfectly clean set. Afterward, I cried outside as my managers called me self-destructive. It would be a full year of tow trucks and chilly nights before I got to audition again.
PARIS HILTON IS A BAD FRIEND
By Natasha Leggero
I was told once at a commercial audition, “Can you do that again but 75 percent less?” I thought, exactly 75 percent? After all that rigorous conservatory training in New York, I figured it was time to take an acting class, L.A. style. When I walked into Lesly Kahn’s “Comedy Intensive” in 2002 I was hoping she’d just hand me a stack of US Weeklys and a bloody mary and we’d be done with it. But on the first day, as we sat in the teacher’s living room, this familiar-looking girl raised her hand and asked if she might pass around a portfolio of pictures of herself. The girl proceeded to pass around the book, explaining: “Here’s one from my birthday party in Tokyo!” “Oh, this one is when I was Madonna for Halloween!” “Look, that’s the lingerie my boyfriend bought me on Valentine’s Day; I’m modeling it in the limo we rented that night.”
A girl next to me whispered, “Who the hell is this chick?” She wasn’t that famous yet, but I recognized her from the society pages I read so religiously. “Her name’s Paris Hilton,” I said. “Her dad owns all the Hilton hotels.”
After Paris finally put her “portfolio” away, the teacher explained we would all take turns describing our first impressions of each other to help us learn to cast ourselves. A girl named Sandy got up in front of the class. We all started yelling out our impressions of Sandy. “I bet Sandy drives fast cars!” “Sandy looks like a rebel!” “I bet Sandy drinks regular Coke instead of diet!” “Sandy seems more like a dog person than a cat person.”
Paris raised her hand but then blurted out, “Sandy likes to sell seashells by the seashore.”
At this point one thing was clear — this chick was gonna be huge!
As the days passed and Paris sat there with her bedazzled cell phone, drawing pictures of kittens and hearts on her audition pages, I tried desperately to become her friend. When it was her turn to act, she spoke every line like it was right out of a porno (did I mention this was a “Comedy Intensive”?). It also appeared that the only work she put into the scenes was applying bronzer under the table while she waited for her turn. One time she arrived to class an hour and a half late, explaining that she had been pulled over for speeding and now had a date with the police officer for that weekend, but she was going to Berlin so she wasn’t sure what she was going to do.
Another time we had to write how we want people to see us. Paris wrote: “A stunning Cameron Diaz sprinkled with the infamous beauty of Heather Locklear.” I guess she underestimated herself.
One day I got a call from someone announcing themself as Paris Hilton’s secretary. “Paris has invited you to her birthday party in Las Vegas.”
I knew we were bound to be friends! During the five-hour drive, I just kept imagining myself finally posing with her, and appearing on Page Six. When I arrived at the overcrowded Vegas nightclub, I was forced to wait in the back of a very long line. “I got a personal call from Paris’ secretary!” I announced to the doorman, who rolled his eyes and told me to get to the back of the line.
When I finally made it in, I looked for Paris’ private party, but to no avail. I was finally directed to a corner of the club, where a blockade of bodyguards wearing Sean John jump suits held firm. Through the human blockade people were screaming and waving their arms. “Paris, over here!” “Look over here — you invited me!” “PARIS, over here!”
Paris, with a pink bow in her hair, sat with her sister, sipping a drink and waving at her “fans.” Dejected, I unwrapped the beret I’d brought her as a gift, put it on and drove back to L.A.
By Andrew Daly
Like most people, I got into show business for the parties. My plan was to quickly amass enough fame and wealth to join the glitterati and turn my life into one big orgy of booze, drugs and orgies. But this goal proved strangely elusive. After years of entertaining small groups of comedy nerds in tiny theaters, I found myself approaching 30, living in the home of an elderly couple in Brooklyn and using a cardboard box for a coffee table. And no one ever had coke.
But all that changed when I was hired to join the cast of MADtv. The moment the offer came in, visions of young Hollywood self-destruction were dancing in my head again. I packed my belongings into my coffee table and moved to Silver Lake, which I chose for its hipness. This was it! I was (marginally) rich! I was (minimally) famous! It was time to take my rightful place as ringleader to the most epic bacchanals of our time!
In my first week of mad television, I got the ball rolling by putting a sign where everyone at the show’s offices could see it. “Party at my place! Bring anyone! 8:30 to question mark. Exclamation point!”
It would prove to be a poorly worded sign.
On the big night, my first guest was a demure-looking stranger in her 60s. She arrived at 8:30 on the dot and introduced herself as June. She said, “I’m a friend of Jackie’s.”
“Jackie ... ”
“She works with you at MAD,” said June.
Oops. I’m not great with names. I knew Jackie could have been someone I spoke to every day, so I pretended to know who she was and I got June her Sprite.
Then two of my friends showed up. We chatted with June for a while and learned that she was an aspiring screenwriter. And then two more strangers arrived. They were in their late 40s and they were odd. They looked like bow-and-arrow hunters or people who made their own soap. I greeted them and was told, “We’re friends of Jackie’s.”
“Ooo,” I thought. “Jackie invited three people to join her here, and they all showed up before she did. That’s awkward.”
Next some old friends were followed through the door by a short, fat guy with silly-looking curly hair. I didn’t know him. When I introduced myself, he said his name was Howard. Without being asked, he offered up that he was a game-show writer between jobs and then, as if in a horror movie, he said, “I’m a friend of Jackie’s.”
Now I was concerned. Who was Jackie, and how many people had she invited?
I was right to be worried, because, by 10 p.m., there were 25 of my friends, 50 friends of Jackie’s and no Jackie. And Jackie’s friends were poorly cast for a young-Hollywood blowout. They ranged in age from their early 40s to their middle 60s. They were men with ponytails and women with fanny packs. Their clothes were unfashionable, their haircuts unfortunate. This was not the party I’d had in mind. Eventually, the mystery began to unravel.
I learned that Jackie and all of her friends were enrolled in something called the Flashforward Institute, which is one of the many organizations in L.A. that exists to help aspiring artists spend some of the money they’ve made in their unsatisfying day jobs. They had taken classes in goal-setting, confidence-building and self-promotion, and now they were learning how to network. For homework, each had been required to throw a party and attend a party. Apparently Jackie, who held an administrative position at MADtv, had seen the sign for my party and figured she could help her classmates satisfy half of their homework in one swoop. So she passed along my invitation — to all 100 of them.
My friends and I were surrounded by a rapidly growing crowd of the kinds of oddballs who need to take a class to find out that if you meet more people, more people will know you. The air was heavy with social ineptitude. And the only thing I could think to do was to get blind-drunk.
Around 11, I was mixing up a vodka and vodka when a woman thrust her big, smiling face in front of me and yelled, “Hi, I’m Jackie! I’m the one who invited a hundred people to your party!”
She then handed me a wooden end table and told me, “Everyone brings something with them to a party, but nobody ever brings anything to put those things on!”
Jackie was what psychologists call a “crazy person.” With a lot of friends.
As they filed out at the end of the night, I gave Jackie and each of her friends a drunken class evaluation. For one reason or another, everyone got an F in networking, except for June, who got credit for being punctual.
“WHAT’S THIS LIFE FOR?”
By Melinda Hill
June 5, 1968: On the heels of his Democratic primary victory in California, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Thirty-five years later, the band Creed shot their music video in the same Ambassador Hotel and cast me as the girl in it. Coincidence? You tell me.
I was in the Creed video for the song “What’s This Life For?” It’s a compelling piece that sort of asks the question, “Hey, what’s this life for?” In the video I play “Crying Motel Girl,” so I’m in a motel room, crying, when I feel a presence. It’s the singer from Creed. I don’t see him, but I feel him, and he gives me the courage to run to the Creed concert in slow motion. Once I make it there, I’m overcome by salvation. The director actually said that.
“Do you think you can be overcome by salvation here?”
I said, “I’m going to dip into my emotional reservoir and make that happen for you.”
All day the director kept saying “yo.”
“That’s a beautiful shot, yo!”
“It’s almost time for lunch, yo!”
I was wondering if she fancied herself some sort of a rapper, but it turns out that the DP was actually named Yo.
At this point, as I rejoice-dance under a rain machine with 100 extras in the night desert, you really get the sense in my character’s face that she’s figured out what this life is for: It’s for Creed.
Now, some of you may be wondering, “What did you do with all the money from the video?” Well, I’ll tell you, I took that $250 and spent it on veterinary bills in an attempt to save my beloved cat, Razzle Dazzle, who incidentally didn’t make it. While I don’t blame the band Creed for this senseless tragedy, I also don’t think that they did anything to stop it.
While on set, I was in an elevator with the band and I attempted to banter with them. “So-o-o ... they’ve been playing your song all day. Are you guys sick of it yet?” They said no.
This uncomfortable exchange was followed by silence. “Well, no news is good news, I always say!” And that was the extent of my conversation with Creed.
I hadn’t so offended anyone with a question since the time I’d asked the garage-rocker I was dating if he ever planned to write and/or dedicate a song to me. His response was: “You are joking, aren’t you?”
He reacted much the same way when I told him that I wanted to one day travel the world doing standup. He thought dedicating a song was a cheesy, embarrassing gesture that really only existed in movies-of-the-week. My audacious inquiry was apparently the most preposterous faux pas I could’ve made, second only to professing my personal aspirations. I was so young that I often misinterpreted his cynicism as wisdom and had a tendency to overlook the fact that he was wearing bright-white man-clogs.
Years later, I finally had the chance to tour the world doing standup. I’d been gone a month, performing for troops in Hawaii, Guam, Japan and Singapore, when we had a near-death experience. On a flight from Singapore to a military island called Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, our windowless plane malfunctioned and plummeted 30,000 feet. We gasped for air in our oxygen masks. We didn’t know what was happening and could only see eyes bulging out over the top of the masks as the crew ran around yelling things, such as, but not limited to, “We’re going down!”
They somehow fixed it and landed the plane safely back in Singapore. Once in L.A., I was sharing this story with a group of people, and a girl said, “Yeah, 30,000 feet’s really not that far.” I hadn’t realized that a near-death experience could be inadequate.
People always want to know: What goes through your mind when you think you’re dying?
Well, of course I was thinking: Who’s going to take care of the kids? Andadditionally, I was wondering: Who’s going to have the kids?
Also, I realized that I wasn’t ready to die and that I still had stories to tell. See, I always thought I’d leave some sort of an artistic mark on the world and if it all ended right then, I might only be remembered for the last thing I’d written, which was a blog about going to a strip club. That kind of bummed me out.
Then I had an epiphany that calmed me. It occurred to me actually that I have left my mark on the world — I was in a Creed video! So if I can leave you with anything here today, I’d like it to be that which I will be remembered by when I die:
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