People, basic cable absolutely loves me. Strive as I may to break free of my fate as “matinee idol of channels well about thirteen,” the camera simply will not give up and turn its gaze in another direction.
About a year ago this month, I made the mistake of wowing a television producer into thinking I knew everything about the Beatles [He does, though. He really does. It’s scary.— pamie]. Really soon after — as fast as that guy from the Micro Machines commercial could spit out the words “Look, I was young and I needed the money” — I found myself standing on a game show set somewhere off Melrose at 7 AM padding my acting resume with the enviable title “Special Guest Geek.” And for those of you turning to one another now, placing hands on hips incredulously, and musing, “I didn’t even know he was an actor!” as your nearby friend responds, “Dude, I don’t even know who he is at all,” to you I retort, “I’m totally, totally not” and “Shut up, dude. I’m totally famous. Go ahead. Just ask the Geeks.” Respectively.
Several exciting career developments occurred as a result of that five-episode commitment, and I used my newfound Industry clout to take advantage of some of the perks y’all down there don’t get to see that often. First, I lavishly spent most of the money on a trip that got cancelled when my airline flew into a mountain of debt and went bankrupt, and my non-refundable tickets got, well, non-refunded. Second, I sat covertly and silently at any number of LA’s finer coffeehouses, my face covered by a baseball cap and a long, fake wig, listening as passersby commented to one another on the entertainment news of the day: “Hey, you know who I heard was on Beat the Geeks this week?” “Who, Pamie?” “That’s right! Hey, pass the cinnamon, okay?” “Here you go, Ted.” “Thanks.” “Sure.” Third, I received a fan letter to my private email account (with all this protection, how do these people still track us down?), which read, in part, “What’s this I heard from Aunt Carol about you showing up on a game show on some second-rate cable network, wearing a Merlin robe and answering Beatles trivia incorrectly? Weird. Let me know, okay? Love, Mom. PS. Weren’t you coming home next month? Whatever happened with that National Airlines thing you booked, anyway?” Spoils of fame, people. Spoils of fame.
Anyway, I’d gotten really accustomed to life out of the limelight in the last year, when another opportunity presented itself last week I was totally unable to say no to. A producer from VH1 came calling, looking for a writer from Television Without Pity to give his or her (or my) expert opinion in one of those I Love the 80s-type shows. The topic of this one is “The Top 25 Rock Star Cameos on Television.” I said yes with absolutely no hesitation. Because I am, unironically, a fame whore who apologizes for nothing.
Okay, yes, I was a little nervous. After all, I’d been burned by basic cable before. And since the whole thing had come together in such an accidental, slapdash fashion, I started to think it was some horribly-planned surprise party held nine weeks after my birthday on the fifth floor of a high-rise building in the middle of midtown. The day before the taping, a reel showed up at my house featuring, wouldn’t you know it, twenty-five cameos of rock stars on television ranging from The Rolling Stones on The Simpsons to Cher on Will & Grace to L’il Kim on V.I.P. (is that really one of the best, I ask you?). Like you do, I sat at my computer and recapped each of them, in order, sad when I was done that I couldn’t just email the whole mess to Wing or Sars and let them figure out how to take care of it. But sitting in a stifling room with lights bearing down on me while I sweat so much I was afraid I would have to take two of every animal with me if I had any chance of getting out of the room alive? Less my idea of how I like to deliver my message unto the people.
And I sweat. A lot. There were eight people in that tiny room, and after doing my riff about Stevie Wonder on The Cosby Show (“Because what the troubled world of the 80s really needed was a version of ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ as covered by Claire Huxtable”) [That’s one of my favorites, though. “Baby! Baby! B-b-b-b-baby! Jam it on number one!” It brought rap to my parents. — p.] for the two hundredth time, the producer finally called off the make-up team, stopped the camera, and asked for the fourth time, “Weren’t we getting that roll of paper towels in here for his forehead already? Whatever happened with that?” I’m totally going to look like I should have Tarzan and Tonto on either side of me, singing Christmas carols on Saturday Night Live in 1993.
The other, biggest problem with my performance is the method by which I had to present the material. Because the show is going to be edited into pate and then reconstituted as television, I had to make every line I said completely independent of the lines before and after it so they could splice it in anywhere. So it was kind of hard to talk like I was hanging out, just like folks, when every sentence I spoke necessitated a full stop and a two second pause after it. Example:
When it comes to Barry White on Ally McBeal, you have to wonder why any talented musician would appear on a show that told Vonda Shepard she was aloud to sing in public. [FULL STOP]
When it comes to Barry White on Ally McBeal, I personally liked him better as a cameo when he was animated on The Simpsons and he wanted to save all the snakes. [FULL STOP]
The thing about Barbara Streisand on Saturday Night Live is that she looked like Yentl as played by Blossom. [FULL STOP]
You get the idea. And I had to sit up agonizingly straight in this really uncomfortable chair for two hours, as if my junior high school gym teacher was about to walk into the room and administer a scoliosis screening in an extraordinarily “bad touch” kind of way. Hard to keep the comedic rhythm going. I felt like Mr. James on News Radio when he was starring in the documentary about himself. Very stilted. Very formal. Very nervous. And very, very sweaty. And I think I might have stolen my only good joke from Stee. Sorry, Stee.
Mostly, I can’t wait to see who VH1 considers to be as famous as me. I can’t wait to be counting down to the #1 rock star cameo of all time in the company of, like, the guy who wears that really round head in the Jack in the Box commercial, Ellen Cleghorne, and the “Whassup” guys. Actually, those guys cashed out and retired two years ago. [I hope it’s the eldest brother on Blossom, Helen Slater and the Baha Men. — p.]
When my Beat the Geeks appearances aired (yes, all five of them), I got my unlikely wish of actually being out of the country, and hence out of the range of American’s basic cable broadcasting capabilities. Then the show got canned, I think, so it’s not even like it’s airing in perpetuity until the end of time, so most people have thankfully forgotten all about it. Sadly, though, VH1 does have the tendency to repeat its programming until it’s woven itself into your DNA (Saturday Night Fever is a movie that rocked and WE GET IT). Plus, my bankrupt airline doesn’t seem to be heading back in business any time soon, which leaves me with as good of a chance of traveling out of the country as I do of traveling into The Past. So if anyone without cable wants to invite me over the night it airs, I’ll totally bring the popcorn and beer, and I promise I’ll never make fun of you for not having cable. Even basic. Ever, ever, ever again.
You can email djb here.