Tom Ryan and I were booked together at the Laff Stop in Houston and were talking one day about Jerry Springer. Tom tells me he has a stripper friend (every good comic has at least one) who was going to do an episode and needed people to go with her and play different roles. Her motivation for going on the show, he explained, was to push her new literary achievement, How to Be a Successful Stripper, or some such horseshit, that she’d evidently penned between spins on the brass pole. He said that his stripper friend, Suzanne Starr, had spoken with the Springer people, who’d shown interest but said she needed to come up with a storyline around which she could push her book.
Now she needed not only players, but someone to come up with the angle, too. Figuring a storyline for Springer was about as difficult as writing a knock-knock joke, I called Suzanne immediately and started plotting out possible scenarios. She was worried most about being the only blonde girl on the show and, of course, pushing the book. Don’t forget, she has a message.
I tried to recruit as many of my friends as possible and was surprised at how many of them wanted no part of it. I guess the prospect of going on national TV and shouting “I’m a whore!” for all to hear doesn’t hold the same allure for other people as it does for me. In the end it wouldn’t matter.
The producers called Suzanne and told her they’d come up with a storyline of their own. I would be brought to the show so that my “girlfriend” could reveal to me her secret life as a tittie dancer. I would act as though I were kicked in the nuts. Then, a second girl would come out as my girlfriend’s new lesbian lover. Another shot to the nuts. Adding more insult to injury, they’d then perform a striptease for the audience, during which I was to go apeshit. End of segment. Suzanne would now seek out a third girl to play the girlfriend while I worked on getting into character, pretending to hate tittie dancers while my friends took turns kicking me in the nuts. I first spoke with the segment producer, Norm Lubow, about a week before the taping. He briefly went over the storyline, asked a few pertinent questions and told me that I could not, at any time, for any reason, tell anyone that this story was anything other than the truth, including my own friends. I agreed, as my friends on the other extension tried not to laugh. He’d arrange my air fare from L.A. to Chicago, where the show is taped. The taping date was, appropriately enough, April Fool’s Day 1998, although we’d get there two days ahead of time to rehearse.
A limo waited for me at Chicago O’Hare. No matter how many times I get in a limo, I always look around first hoping that someone I hated from high school was nearby panhandling. No such luck. As I waited in line at the hotel I noticed a young trailer-trash couple ahead of me looking completely out of place and had to assume they were here for the show. I listened to their conversation with the front-desk girl as they told her about that day’s taping. These two were for real. They didn’t need any coaching, I’m sure. I’d bet they fucked in the limo, not sure if they’d ever see one again. I bet they fucked in the shower for the same reason.
I checked in and was given $100 in “Jerry Dollars,” which could be turned in immediately for cash. Why they didn’t just give you cash, I don’t know. Maybe just for the fun of saying “Jerry Dollars.” Either way, it was the only money I was going to get.
I met with Suzanne and her friend Danielle, who would be playing my girlfriend. Both seemed pretty war-torn, Danielle from a two-day ecstasy binge and Suzanne from too many years of tittie dancing. It was obvious why she left the lap dance for the lap top.
It was clear from the beginning that we weren’t on the same page. My plan was to be so outrageous that we were shoo-ins for the Too Hot for TV video, even if I had to punch Jerry right in the face. Suzanne, ever the pacifist, wanted absolutely no violence. She was very Ghandi-like, if Ghandi were an aging stripper with a bad tit job. Danielle actually said that she wanted our segment to have “a little class.” I waited for laughter but none came. I was definitely a man alone.
Norm Lubow is quite possibly the seediest man I’ve ever met. He arrived three hours late with his assistant, Erin, or, as I liked to call her, “Word-in-edgewise,” spitting out greetings, directions, flirtations and questions like a telemarketer fresh from the crack pipe. He handed us all outlines of the show we’d be doing. It wasn’t a script, really, as it contained no actual dialogue. Just the basic beats of the segment.
Danielle will tell Doug that she lied about her job as a topless dancer, Doug will become upset, etc. Norm warned us not to let the outlines leave our rooms, as he’d be taking them back before we taped. He also warned us not to talk to anyone who approached us in the hotel, as 20/20 had been snooping around, investigating the show. With that said and done, he went back to hitting on the girls, Suzanne mainly, with lines so cheesy they’d be embarrassing to say jokingly. Not that Norm and Suzanne wouldn’t have made a good couple. They both looked like train wrecks. Norm was of average height with ’70s shoulder-length hair and beard, big nose and deep-set dark eyes like a terrorist. He could have easily been a roadie for Foghat. Suzanne looked like she’d been trying to fight back Father Time with an invisible stick. If she’d earned frequent-flier miles for all the days and money at the makeup counter she could wait out the rest of her years comfortably in first-class. Her How To book, or pamphlet, perhaps, reeked of a last-ditch effort to stay in the world of erotica.
Danielle, however, was young, 20 and many years and rehabs away from writing her memoirs. She was somewhat attractive in a low-grade kind of way, like she could have been voted prettiest girl at Job Corps. But pretty has a lot to do with attitude, and with that in mind, Danielle was as ugly as pigs fucking.
Norm started coaching our dialogue, taking breaks only to tell us how great he was at coaching dialogue. He went over the story repeatedly until we had it down and then he’d change it again. The only part he didn’t try to fine-tune was the part where they stripped together, though he did make them do it over and over while he lay back on the hotel bed like a syphilitic Hugh Hefner. I mentioned this to the girls after he left but they defended him, saying it was his job to make sure it looked perfect. If it looked perfect the first four times, why the fifth and sixth times? More blank stares. My fault for trying to point out blatant sexual harassment to tittie dancers.
I was still a man alone and now the numbers were mounting. I went back to my room, set a wake-up call, and in the morning I had my agent put in a call to 20/20. My agent’s assistant left word with someone there, and shortly afterward my phone rang. A woman name Penelope Fleming was on the line from New York. She was vague and would not commit to the fact that they were, indeed, doing a story on Jerry Springer. She listened to my story with a distant interest and said she’d call back. Soon my phone was ringing off the hook. The next call, she remained vague but happened to have someone in Chicago now and would have them call. Next a guy named Glenn Ruppell called and I reiterated my story. He asked for a copy of the outline. I told him I’d leave it partially sticking out under my door so he could come pick it up and copy it while I was at rehearsal. I told him to do it quickly, in case Norm asked for it back. Fortunately Norm was hours late again so I waited in the bar. Glenn and his assistant wasted no time getting in and out. I was still in the lounge when they came down from returning the outline to my room. I pegged them immediately, as they looked around, walking like they had rods shoved up their asses. They were either the 20/20 people or rookie narcotics officers destined to have memorial highways named after them. I made eye contact, gave them the high nod, did everything but scream “I’m from Springer” through a bullhorn before they sidled up to me at the bar. They positioned themselves to look like they were only talking to each other and told me to call them as soon as I was out of rehearsal. I felt like I was Deep Throat in All the President’s Men and I liked it.
Eventually Norm showed up and we went to Suzanne’s room to rehearse. We did a few quick run-throughs and Norm made a few more pathetic attempts at banging Suzanne. She’d been promised another spot on an upcoming show to push her book since there was no way to do it in this episode, so she was forced to play along with Norm’s coke-fueled advances to a point.
As soon as we were done, I called Glenn and arranged to meet him up the street at another hotel lounge. From there we hopped in a cab and I was secreted off to an office building where a camera crew was waiting to do an interview. Had I known I was going to be on camera I might have showered or maybe combed my hair. Nonetheless, we taped the interview and, before I knew it, I was back in a cab and on my way back to the hotel without a kiss goodbye or a Handi Wipe to clean off with.
The next day, as I got ready for the show, Glenn’s assistant called and asked if I could take some pictures. I had a camera with me and agreed. We were picked up with the casts of all the other segments for that day’s episode in three vans waiting in front of the hotel. Once in the studio we were separated into groups, segregated from any other person in our own segments. I was sharing a dressing room with three other guys from different segments, all of which they readily admitted were contrived. We were outfitted by the wardrobe people and given contracts to sign. I asked for a copy of mine but was denied.
Shortly after, Norm came crashing in like a drill sergeant, shrieking at the top of his crack-soaked lungs. “ALL RIGHT! I WILL NOT HAVE ANY PUSSIES ON MY FUCKING SHOW! I DON’T WANT ANY BULLSHIT! I WANT FUCKING ENERGY OUT THERE!” It was hard not to laugh but I’m sure with some of the dunce caps they get on this show it’s sometimes necessary to focus them.
He went through each person’s dialogue again and then brought them out one at a time as each new segment began taping, mine being the last. Once onstage, everything went as planned. The horrible secret revealed, me spouting my disdain for the field of tittie dancer–dom, the lesbian lover, the nudity, and my going apeshit. “How would you like it if I came on national TV and said I was gay and took off my clothes?,” I said, jumping up and dropping my pants. “Hey, Jerry, I’m half a fag! Ya, c’mon, dance with me, Jerry, I’m a homo!” I walked off the stage and they went to commercial. We all went back out for the final segment, answering questions from the audience. No one had any questions for me so I just sat there until it was over.
At that point a half-dozen of us (neither of my girls) were taken directly to the airport, where we were all on the same flight back to L.A. I ran ahead of everyone to the gate, where I’d arranged to meet Glenn’s assistant to hand over the film. I’d managed to get a picture of me and Jerry, some of the people in the limo, and me with Suzanne and Danielle back in the hotel room. I gave up the film to the assistant just before the rest of the cast got there. I would have preferred to leave it in a rolled-up newspaper next to her on a park bench, saying, “The monkey flies at dawn,” but this would have to do.
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I talked with a few of the other guests on the plane and we went out for sushi and drinks with them back in Los Angeles. Most of them had done it for the “exposure,” as though Tarantino would be sitting on his couch with his hand down his shorts watching Springer for the next Johnny Depp. We exchanged numbers and called it a night.
The next morning, I woke to the sound of shit hitting the fan. It was Norm Lubow on the phone. “What the fuck is going on, Doug?” I was caught completely off guard. “Whaddya talking about?” “Why did you tell 20/20 that your story wasn’t true?” he asked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I can’t lie for shit straight outta bed. “So you’re saying 20/20 is full of shit?” I paused for a second, then said, “I can neither confirm nor deny and have no further comment,” and hung up the phone.
The next call was from Penelope at 20/20 wanting to know the names of the people in the limo pictures and how to get in touch with them. She needed someone to corroborate my story. I gave her the little information that I had. Meanwhile, Norm was busy calling everybody from the show, reminding them of their contracts and threatening lawsuits should they talk. Suzanne retained an attorney and stopped answering her phone. 20/20 went so far as to send someone to her house. She wouldn’t say a word. The Springer people got a sworn affidavit from Danielle saying that our story was completely accurate, that I’d never known Suzanne until she came out on the stage. I faxed phone bills to 20/20 showing calls to Suzanne from a month before to prove otherwise. The Springer people got more affidavits from other guests, guests I hadn’t even met, who said that I’d been upset with the show and swore to do anything to prevent it from airing. 20/20 couldn’t air my interview without someone else coming forward. It was scheduled to run on Monday, now three days away. Without corroboration, they would have to run their original piece on Springer, about him degrading unsuspecting people on his show. Either way, they were going to cash in on his popularity.
Over the next three days, right up until hours before the show aired, we tried to get another source. I went down to a theater where one of the girls from the plane performed in an improv group. She said she couldn’t talk to me because the Springer people might be watching. And she was serious. Finally, they went with their original story. Norm continued to call, mostly in the middle of the night, muttering and hanging up. About a week later we caught a break when the show Extra came up with a group of people who said their Springer shows were all rigged. It was on every local news channel that day and I made sure to call every one of them, scratching for my 15 minutes of the pie. I got on a few local news channels, including the NBC affiliate, which passed me on to NBC Dateline. 20/20 got the people from Extra and now ran a drastically different story from the one a week before. In the first story, Jerry Springer was bad for exploiting his guests. Now, Jerry Springer was bad for not really exploiting his guests. Poor prick couldn’t win either way. Dateline sent a crew to my apartment. The producer told me to pause before I answered the questions so they could cut Maria Shriver in later. I said, “So you want me to pretend that you are Maria Shriver and tell you how Jerry Springer is bullshit?” In the end, 20/20 and Dateline cut my interviews down to a few benign words, focusing mostly on the people whose episodes had already aired. I got a few sound bites and, what I was looking for initially, a great story to tell my friends. A story I got sick of telling almost immediately. About a year later, when I was on the road in Texas, I saw the Springer episode that I’d been on. They had cut my segment out, due to the publicity, but they couldn’t cut me out of the end, where everyone takes questions from the audience. There I am, for seemingly no particular reason, sitting there looking stupid.