Reality television has as much to do with reality, as corn-holing has to do with corn. There, I said it. Someone had to. I was on one of the earliest reality TV shows, A Dating Story, and hardly a genuine moment was captured on tape, much less lucky enough to find its way on-air.
So having been inside the belly of the beast, I’ve never watched reality TV. It’s like child porn: I feel that if I watch a second of it, I’m condoning it.
Along with A Wedding Story, and A Baby Story, A Dating Story rounded out TLC’s trilogy of early reality shows. Each episode started with a matchmaker type telling why they felt their two friends should go on a blind date. Then they’d interview each of the friends, of which I was one. The cameras then follow them though the process of getting ready for the date, and going on the date. All told, it was a three-day affair.
I nearly backed out of it when the producers told me they didn’t want my job description to appear on camera as “comedian.” As this was shot in Los Angeles, they said they’d had too many “comedians” and “actors” on the show already. They wanted the show to feel accessible to non-industry-types.
Fair enough. But I explained that the bulk of the people who had claimed to be comics were more than likely waiters; I was the real deal. With the exception of a six month job writing jokes and trivia questions for the Austin Powers: Operation Trivia CD-ROM game, I had done nothing but stand-up for 15 years. To me, it didn’t make sense to alter reality before the cameras were even rolling.
I told them the only reason I was doing the show was to get exposure for my stand-up career, and if I couldn’t be a comedian onscreen, I wasn’t interested. They capitulated, and I signed on the dotted line.
Fast forward to the big date. They have me pull up to a parking space they’ve saved for me right in front of my blind date’s Hollywood apartment. So much for reality; no one has gotten a parking space directly in front of where they were going in Hollywood since the 1920s– and that guy was parking to pick oranges!
But then the camera crew simply could not get all their equipment to work at the same time. I pulled up to the saved spot, glided in, got out, walked to the front door all cocky like, and rang the bell. The sound guy wasn’t ready: “Do it again,” he said.
I back out of the perfect parking spot and before I’m even 10 feet from the space two freshly-fuming LA drivers start fighting over who saw the space first. A production assistant stops them from coming to blows.
I glide back into the coveted spot, and repeat the process; this time, the camera guy wasn’t ready. This goes on two more times. By the fourth time I get up to the bell, I’m thinking, “Do I even walk like this? They need actors for this– and they need better ones than me!”
Each time we repeat the process, two or three more Hollywood hipsters threaten to kill one another over our seemingly vacant parking space. It was “a very negative experience, dude.”
Meanwhile, the a similar rigamorol is going on upstairs — minus the fist shaking — and my date is instructed to do everything five or six times because of this or that Snafu. I’m chomping at the bit to finally meet her. After all, that’s what my last three days have been devoted to.
I’ve been at her apartment for over an hour, and we still haven’t seen one another face to face. By the time we meet, we’re both so eager to get on with it, that I grab her elbow, and we zip down the hallway so quickly that the cameraman who’s walking backward in front of us falls down and we literally step on him. It was the first real moment of the evening — and the funniest — and the first to wind up on the cutting room floor.
By the time we’re equipped with our wireless packs and we’re in my car, it had started to rain. We pull out with the camera crew following in the car behind us. At this point I found myself hoping that I’d lose control of the car; T-bone a police cruiser with a Cops crew in the back; and wind up on two crummy shows at once.
I’m a record collector, so most of my dates are going to involve watching a top-notch band my date has never heard of. Going to see a band, and several other ideas for fun dates were shot down by the producers as being “too expensive.” The show didn’t have the budget for copyright and performance fees so live music, and almost everything that’s cool to do in LA, was nixed.
Reality takes another solid punch, and its legs are starting get rubbery.
Instead, we go to a party at our matchmaker’s apartment, and a lot of my best comedian friends are there for the fun. Well-known pros like Patton Oswalt, Blaine Capatch and David Spark are there– but guess what? Despite truly hilarious moments involving them, none of them could be used, because Patton and Blaine are both SAG, and would have to be paid SAG rates. At this point, I’m prepared to reach into my own pocket to cover the fees, so I don’t look like a lame-o on national television. As it turns out, I didn’t need any help.
To the crew’s credit, the party looked better on camera than it really was. There was unlicensed music (i.e. free music) for us to dance to. By the way, there seems to be a connection between unlicensed music and it being impossible to dance to. Not that anyone wanted to dance in the first place: comics are fine with being laughed at, just not while they’re taking part in ancient mating rituals.
So I learned a valuable lesson. Never take a dance lesson with a camera rolling.
At first I refused. The director pointed out that this guy, and that guy, were going to take a swing dance lesson, and it was only going to be a tiny part of the show. I pointed out that those guys weren’t rockabilly cats, like myself, so they didn’t look like they should be able to swing dance. I do.
I explained it like this: If Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern are standing around on a street corner, and there’s an emergency, and Batman and Superman fly off while Batman hops on a bus, people are going to blow him some crap: “Hey! Why do you have a cape if you can’t fly like your friends?”
But we got through the date. The girl and I actually got along well– partly because we were adrift in the same leaky boat up the same dank creek. But we never went out again. When the show aired, it froze with a shot of us dancing and the subtitle said that we were “still swing dancing together, as boyfriend and girlfriend.”
Not only that, but the only reason I agreed to do the show was stripped from me. When the show aired, my job description was listed across the bottom of the screen as “CD ROM Game Writer.” You’d think a writer would know that you should always get everything in writing.
Lord Carrett is a stand-up comedian and writer based in New York City. For more information, check out www.lordoflaughs.com.