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Tom Ryan wisely suggested in one of his Big Move essays that it would be helpful if, on occasion, we would pretend that we are planning to move. The theory is that we'd be forced to plow through all the clutter that surrounds us and we would then throw the bulk of it out. We did that very thing around SHECKYmagazine.com headquarters recently.
An interesting by-product of such a wholesale tilling of the detritus that collects to a depth of two or three feet is that you're forced to review and evaluate clips, writings and notes from years prior and take a very vivid stroll down memory lane. It's an emotional tilt-a-whirl ("emotional roller coaster" is so hackneyed, don't you think?) as you essentially relive the last few years through the printed matter, datebooks, notes and scraps of paper. I unearthed the essay below and was immediately transported back to one of the more comical and miserable episodes in my comedy life-- my appearance on Star Search.
After enjoying several wildly successful seasons, the producers of the nationally syndicated talent show Star Search decided it would be a good idea to move the taping of the show from Hollywood to Orlando, FL. They also thought it would be a good idea for the show to air five nights a week with a special highlights show on Saturday. That was 1992. It was the last season of Star Search.
What follows is an essay about my appearance on Star Search. I have inserted present-day observations in blue.
After eleven years as a professional comedian, I was asked by the
folks who produce Ed McMahon's Star Search to be a
"contestant" in this year's comedy competition. This is a
brief synopsis of my experience:
MAY After several "teleconferences," it is agreed that I will appear on the first show of the season. I am repeatedly assured by a producer that I have a real good chance of "going all the way" and winning the $100,000. I am at a loss to imagine just how stupid he thinks I am.
That producer, Gary Mann, is now working for HBO. I met Mr. Mann at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal in 1999 and have found him to be a swell guy.
Part of the deal is airfare, aboard Delta, of course, to Walt Disney World in Orlando and accomodations at the Contemporary Resort Hotel.
June 14 My Itinerary: I board Delta #1648 at 10 AM at LAX. I arrive over 7-1/2 hours later, fresh as a daisy, in the stifling heat of Central Florida after stops in Albuquerque and Dallas (with a change of planes at DFW).
I seek out the "hospitality suite," as per my instructions, after checking into my barracks-like hotel room. I am told to wait in the hallway along with a three-man Japanese dance team who speak little English and a junior dance team named "Awesome Threesome." We are all worn out from our travel, but we are buoyed by the promise of the ice-cold Beck's and acres of cold cuts and cocktail weenies which undoubtedly await us.
The last time I was in the Contemporary Resort Hotel (CRH) was in 1984, as an invited guest of the Eastman Kodak Corporation. As the managing editor of a small, monthly photographic magazine, I attended the opening of the Kodak Exhibit at EPCOT. The A-shaped CRH, oft-depicted in Disney literature, was an impressive hotel. A monorail runs through the center of the giant atrium. In 1984, my room was high up in the atrium, overlooking the lush gardens and contemporary furnishings of the lobby. Eight years later, the hip furniture was frayed and looking very dated. This time, I was billeted in a squat, cinder-block wing in the rear of the complex with all the charm of the EconoLodge in Runnemede, NJ.
The "hospitality suite" turns out to be a single hotel room, just like mine. The extent of the "refreshments" is three half-empty, two-liter bottles of Coke and several dirty glasses crowded atop the television cabinet.
The assistant producers (or is it production assistants? are they a.p.'s or p.a.'s?) are all impossibly young and they are clad in loud shirts, jams and sandals. Their uniforms are perfectly accessorized with sunglasses and Croakies.
One by one, we surrender our plane tickets and sign our contracts. We are told to be in the lobby at 8:30 AM the next morning when we will board a bus to MGM-Disney Studios for rehearsal.
In a little over 36 hours, I would find out why they were so concerned about confiscating our plane tickets
When I ask a surfer-dude a.p./p.a. if he can help me recover the bag that I left behind at the airport, I am told, "Bummer, man, there's nothing we can do! None of us have cars!" I am a Disney captive.
After my grueling flight, I left my check-through bag at the airport. The next morning the airline delivered my bag to me at the hotel. It was then that I discovered that I had failed to pack any underpants. I ended up purchasing a three-pack of Calvin Klein jockey briefs, at a horribly inflated price, in the lobby of the CRH.
June 15 The "talent" is herded onto Disney buses and shuttled to the soundstage. The rehearsal is nine hours of monotony, broken up only by a visit from the man himself-- Ed McMahon. He arrives midway through the day wearing no socks, his child bride at his side and slightly behind. He greets the talent, thanks us all and quickly disappears. I will see him once more, only briefly, at the taping the next day.
Quite possibly a ten-year-old Britney Spears was among the "talent" on the shuttle that day. She was a contestant on the show in its final season.
June 16 We are once again shuttled to the studio, where we go through makeup, wardrobe. We are offered coffee, juice, bagels and fattening pastries.
In an attempt to resolve a wardrobe crisis (I left my shoes back at the barracks), I commandeer the only phone available to the "talent." While on hold, I am confronted by an a.p. (p.a.?) who has a "spokesmodel" in tow and the spokesmodel also desires to use the phone. I tell him that I'll only be a minute. He is insistent. He tells me that if I don't hang up, he'll "rip the phone out of the wall." Apparently the spokesmodel has a wardrobe crisis of her own, but "lacks the ability to speak effectively."
A staple of my onstage wardrobe was a pair of bright yellow Vans. (I actually managed to persuade the company to send me a pair.) I told them that I would be appearing on some television shows and that they should send me some more shoes. In return, I'd wear them on TV. I had made arrangements for Vans to send them to the CRH. By the morning of taping day, however, the shoes had not arrived. I called the lobby to see if they had shown up. They put me on hold. That's when I was set upon by our violent a.p.
Minutes before taping begins, my "challenger" and I are "placed" backstage. Ed arrives. I can get no closer to him than eight or nine feet. He strolls onto the stage to wild, prompted applause.
During the previous day's rehearsal, the floor director decreed that me, my challenger, a Vancouver native by the name of Herb Dixon, and a third comic (the European Star Search comedy champ, a British chap who plays the cello) briefly "run through" our sets to time them and to ensure that there was no objectionable material. While reviewing each set, he insisted that the other two acts be sequestered out of earshot, so as to eliminate the possibility that we might steal the other comics' material. Herb and I thought this was ludicrous, but we went along with the gag. It was believed that while Herb and I were standing out in the parking lot during our sequestration, we'd review our acts and make sure that there was no overlap in material. We instead chose to talk about the weather. This would prove to be a fatal error on my part.
Approximately 14 minutes later, I receive three stars across the board; my challenger receives four fours. The judges are obscure coreographers or agents from Central Florida or ex-MTV Veejays. English is the first language for at least one of them. Because I lost, I never do get to shake hands with Ed.
It was determined that Herb would go first. The crowd was poor,
innocent MGM-Disney Studios customers who were herded into the theater
to see "a real-live TV show being taped!" They were one
of the worst crowds, comedy-wise, I'd ever seen.
Less than 90 seconds after I lose, I am directed down a ramp to a table where the Walt Disney Travel Company people are set up with a laptop and a modem. Two minutes later, my airplane ticket has been "adjusted" and I am instructed to check out of my room at the Contemporary Resort Hotel and be in the lobby the next morning at least two hours before my flight is scheduled to depart.
Weeks of anticipation, dreams of $100,000 and fame and fortune--
all over with in a matter of 142 seconds. I eventually strongarm
an a.p. to take me back to the CRH, even though I have express orders
that we are to remain at the MGM Studios soundstage through the taping.
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