Tuesday, October 07, 2008

You think I could milk this guest post thing all the way through NaBloPoMo?

You know how disappointing it is when a blogger you've grown to know and love suddenly closes up shop, right? Surely we've all been there with at least one site... And yes, yes, when that happens, we're still left with sixty-some live and active blogs in our feed readers, so perhaps we should not complain, but that is not how that old Girl Scout song goes... "Make new friends, but keep the old," it says! KEEP them! One is silver; one is gold! Who am I to judge which is worth more in our currently shaky economy?

All of this is to say that I am here to help. Here at Stefanie Says, we are all about giving gone-but-not-forgotten bloggers a temporary home: a place to share their tales of ridiculousness or woe without reactivating their own Typepad account.

OK, so by "we," I mean "me," and really I'm not all about this at all. I am sometimes about it, however. And today I am about it again. Many of you piped up and said "Welcome back" to our old pal Darren several months ago. Today we have a post from another good friend you may also recall. Show of hands if you remember a fine writer who went by the name Nabbalicious! And while we're at it, raise your hand if you're a fan of public radio as well! Do you have both hands up now? Oh goodie. Then Nabbalicious has a story for you.

Take it away, Heather...

Radio on the TV

I purposely told very few people that I could potentially be appearing on "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me" when the show would be in Los Angeles taping a pilot for CBS. Emily from WBEZ Chicago called to ask me if I wanted to be a contestant, in response to my frantic email looking for tickets to the taping.

(For the uninitiated, "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me" is a weekly news show on NPR that is part current events, part commentary, and all comedy. Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of it, either. One person backstage at the show told us that when he heard it was going to be a TV show he responded, "Do they have NPR in L.A.?!" Oy. I think he should feel a little bad.)

If I still had my blog, I would link here to the story about how I was traumatized each year in September at school when my birthday arrived. The class would gather around and sing songs to me. They would eat cupcakes in my honor, sometimes topped with things alight. We all have our crosses to bear in life. But my point is, I don't like to be the center of attention. I don't like to be ignored, exactly, but I'm always unsettled when all eyes in the room are on me, and I usually tend to panic in situations like that. Unless I'm drunk.

So, Emily's question about whether I wanted to be a contestant on the show was met with this response: "Um... I just wanted to see the taping?"

"C'mon! It'll be fun!" I reluctantly agreed, thinking to myself that I would just play along with her and back out later. This was clearly a mistake both me and the producers of "Wait, Wait" would come to regret. If I don't get on, I get to watch the taping. Everyone wins!

Emily asked a few basic questions. "Where do you live?"

"Long Beach."

"Yeah? How is that?"

Shit! This is an interview! I'm already auditioning! So, naturally, I start saying logical things like, "Oh, it's great. You know, it has a real reputation for gangs. But I just don't see that. Sure, maybe up in the northern part you might. But where I live? Totally cute." I don't suppose there was any need to tell her about the bodies occasionally found in dumpsters near where I live, or last year when I saw a coroner's van parked outside one of the neighborhood apartment buildings.

I frighten most people with my rambling, but Emily seemed to love it. We talked for a few more minutes, and then she told me that we'd be in touch.

While I tried to decide if I should back out, I explained to the few people I told about this why I didn't really want to go on: YouTube. They would ask me a question like, "Who is the president of the United States?" and I'd stare dumbly at Peter Sagal while the panelists dropped increasingly frustrating and obvious hints such as "Rhymes with MUSH!"

And then a video of the entire thing would go on YouTube, and I'd become a national laughingstock.

However, less than a week later, I was waiting in a van to go to the Wilshire Theater for my taping with a few of the other potential contestants. I decided to just go ahead with this contestant business, because I figured my chances of getting on were slim at best. Dozens and dozens must be vying for a spot on the show.

On the van, I'm told there are six trying out, three will be chosen.

We're hustled to the theater backstage and approved for wardrobe, then invited to raid the craft services table, a mélange of randomness. Twinkies, trail mix, Nutella, bread, Red Vines, coffee, tea, cereal, fruit.

I resisted the urge to scream, "I SAID ONLY BROWN M&Ms, DAMMIT!" because I'm sure no one has done that before.

While drinking my tea (how very post-rehab rock star of me, right?), I find out that I'll be on the show. My moratorium on telling anyone about the show is lifted and I commence texting everyone I've ever met, plus possibly a few strangers.

Twenty minutes later, mid-text, I find out that I'm bumped. My suspicion is that I looked too similar to another girl who had been chosen and they wanted a little more diversity among the contestants.

Commence texting everyone I've ever met to tell them that I will not, in fact, be on TV. I'm vaguely disappointed, but mostly relieved. This is why I told almost no one to begin with. I should have known from my degree in quantum celebrity physics that just as quickly as you rise to the top, you can crash to the bottom and wind up with your face in a ditch with your friends on an episode of "E! True Hollywood Story" selling you out.

My consolation prize is actually a good one: I'm going to be on the radio show. "I have a face for radio," I said to a fellow would-be contestant next to me.

"What does that say about me?!" he said. I pointed out that he'd be on TV waving, as Aisha Tyler would be playing for him during the "Not My Job" segment (she was funny, but she didn't win him the Carl Kassel calendar). I didn't even rate that.

While we stayed backstage for a minute, some of the "Wait, Wait" staff came to talk to us. The radio show's director came backstage to chat with us, and we immediately notice how young she looks. It turns out this is her first job out of college, but she's so sweet, I can't hate.

She tells us that the show is a complete mom-and-pop operation. There are just a few people working on it, and they each write one-fourth of every episode. The Chase Auditorium has just 500 seats, they tape about five segments and dump the least funny one each week. They even redo jokes, and play tricks with the laughter to make it all sound natural and off-the-cuff.

She also told us that "This American Life" is recorded in Berkeley – something to do with the TV show. That means when Ira says, "Coming to you from WBEZ Chicago. It's This American Life. And I'm Ira Glass," he's a liar.

The taping was about to begin, so we were ushered off to our VIP seats and Peter Sagal was introduced to the audience. After the clapping and hooting died down, he told us how surreal the entire thing had been and how he was wearing a suit that wasn't even his. He also noted later that his favorite thing about television is that nothing is ever your fault. That sounds like a job I might like.

My friend Steve, aka Digital Janitor, was there to lend some moral support in the event that I got on TV and freaked out, and he got a much better shot than I did of how everything looked:

With that, they started the show with panelists Mo Rocca, Tracey Ullman and Tom Bodett.

Someone at NPR was looking out for my ass, because the first contestant came on and I knew instantly that it would not have worked with me.

First, she seemed to have trouble hearing and comprehending what was going on – she wasn't on stage, but rather on a set designed to look like she was live via satellite instead of backstage in Hollywood. Not hearing or comprehending is pretty much my general state of being, which means I would have been doomed.

Second, she had to pretend that she was in Denver, CO, and did something for a living that she didn't really do. It made bantering with the panelists a little rough.

Third, Tracey Ullman said during a break in shooting that there was something "Sarah Palin-esque" about the contestant. She didn't hear Tracey, so I felt doubly bad for her that she couldn't even defend herself. The stage guy said not to pick on the contestants, and the taping continued.

I was beyond relieved to not be up there. I'd hate to hear what –esque qualities, Palin or otherwise, I bring to the table.

Seeing the show live was surreal. It was all the voices I hear in my car each week, but come to life. The action was hard to follow at times, especially when they would talk over one another. Listening on the radio, I can just focus on their voices, but in person, my head was darting back and forth as I tried to follow along. Later, I found out that just about everyone in the contestant pool was having that problem.

My love for Carl Kassel only grew. He reads his voices with such a straight, serious face, regardless of what he's saying, and it's exponentially funnier in person.

On our way out, we passed a hallway where Peter Sagal and Mo Rocca were winding down. I waved and said, "Hi, Mo! You're my favorite!"

"Ha! Thanks!" he said.

No need for him to know that he's tied with Paula Poundstone, right?

Anyway, if you want to hear me be a boob on the radio, you shouldn't have to wait too long. I'll be the one talking about all the gang activity in Long Beach and drawing blanks on the names of places like that street where the stock market is.


steve said...

You're gonna rock the radio show, no question. Tear it up!

nancypearlwannabe said...

Wow! Having Carl Kassel on my voice mail is just one of many lofty life goals. Also, I never really thought of how strange it would be to see everyone live and not just be able to relax and listen to the voices.

-R- said...

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me is my favorite NPR show! (Car Talk is second.) And Mo Rocca is my favorite too! I am so jealous.

Darren said...

Never participate in anything you love, that's my motto. This is why I hope that if I'm ever a part of "Wait, Wait," it'll be in name only. As in:

"And Carl, tell us all who Rod Stewart is playing for," and Carl will say, "Rod is playing for Darren in New York City, Peter."

That way, I (hopefully) get Carl Kassel on my voice mail, but I don't have to embarrass myself by appearing in person or finding out something disappointing about the show, like Peter Sagal's a nasty drunk or something.

Noelle said...

I had no idea NPR was so full of liars! I mean, I worked in reality TV for a while, so I get why the lies happen, but I always thought public radio was somehow different.

Cool story, thanks for coming out of retirement to share!

Alice said...

oh how cool! i know all their (lying liar - who knew!) voices from my car, too :-)

Allie said...

That is so very cool! The whole faked satellite thing is so strange!

Lara said...

That is really weird that they are all liars!

Also, HI Nabbs!! I heart you.

Heather said...

Well, to be fair, I think they faked the satellite thing because it was a pilot and perhaps they didn't want to go to TOO much trouble in case it wasn't picked up? But I'm not sure how this is going to work logistically if it does. Will they always have contestants backstage pretending? Or will they go people's homes like Publisher's Clearing House?

Also, Darren, if Rod Stewart is playing for you...well, good luck!