A few months ago, my friend, Kristen, emailed me and asked me to offer some career advice to her friend, Mike. He had recently moved to LA to pursue acting and Kristen thought that I could give him a few pointers. It seems that Kristen had read my blog about the Groundlings, which led her to believe that I had moved to LA to become the next Brad Pitt. It’s hard for people to see past my good looks sometimes, but I suppose that’s just my cross to bear. I clarified that I had come here to embark on a television career in writing and development, but added that I’d be happy to share what limited knowledge I had acquired thus far. At the very least, I figured that Mike could add my experiences to a list of things NOT to do. After exchanging a few emails, Mike told me about a casting opportunity that he had come across for a new game show called Celebrity Name Game. Perhaps this would finally be my chance at living out my childhood fantasy of being on a televised game show instead of playing along from my living room.
According to Google, Celebrity Name Game was created by Courteney Cox and David Arquette. It involved getting your partner and a celebrity teammate to guess names of famous pop culture figures. Mike was in need of a partner and this show seemed right up my alley. I may not know the name of the third president of the United States or understand Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence formula, but I do know celebrity names and the roles that they played in TV and film, i.e. the really important stuff. Also, the grand prize was $20K, and after four months of working for free for my literary manager, this seemed like a better way to make money than playing the weekly Powerball.
There was one minor problem with the casting prerequisites: the show was searching for teammates who were longtime friends. Since Mike and I were practically strangers, we weren’t exactly the model contestants whom the producers were targeting. Undeterred, we decided that we could embellish enough of a backstory to get us through the audition. The night before the audition, Mike and I brainstormed over the phone to concoct a story about how we knew each other. We agreed to play up our Notre Dame connection, as his sister went to ND and lived in the dorm two buildings away from mine. To show our pride for the University, we decided to wear ND shirts to the audition (such Domers, I know). The t-shirt would also help me identify Mike, as I had never met him in person.
Going into the audition, I figured that it worked in my favor that Mike had never seen me in action on game night, as none of my real friends would ever invite me to play a game with them on national television. I have a bit of a checkered past when it comes to playing games. To put it lightly, my family and friends don’t really appreciate the energy that I bring to the table. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friendly round of charades after Thanksgiving dinner or a playful game of sand volleyball with my coworkers, I’m always focused on one thing and one thing only: winning. I realize that I behave like a complete lunatic, and I can sense others around me getting worried and annoyed, but I don’t know how to shut it down. Thankfully, Mike hadn’t experienced this side of me.
When I arrived at the studio, the casting agents had us line up outside while they checked us in. Mike hadn’t arrived yet, so I kept my eyes peeled for an individual wearing a Notre Dame shirt. Sure enough, he showed up right as the casting agent was taking down my information, so I had to act as though my old friend had just arrived. I think my fraternal greeting caught him off guard, but he quickly caught on to the fact that the casting agent was standing next to me. We proceeded to act like old chums until the agent had left our field of vision. It was a very strange first meeting, to say the least.
Once everyone was checked in, we were escorted inside and told to sit in any one of the six rows of seats. Regrettably, Mike and I selected two seats right below the A/C vent, which seemed to be set to full blast. Within minutes, my teeth were chattering and I was hunched over trying to stay warm. It wasn’t necessarily the best look when trying to convince a casting agent that you’re comfortable in front of a camera. While we waited for further instruction, I immediately started to scope out the competition. At first glance, the room appeared to be full of peculiar-looking characters who seemed a little rough around the edges. I know that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I had serious doubts that any of these fellow competitors were on summer break from Ivy League schools. Now if this had been Jeopardy or Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, I might have considered the caliber of my opponents an advantage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a refined citizen to yell out celebrity names, so I feared that these unsightly oddballs had the upper-hand because they would make for good television. There was one woman, in particular, who seemed to command the attention of the entire room. She sat directly in front of me and reminded me of Loni Love from Chelsea Lately. Her uproarious laugh boomed across the room, and her over-the-top personality made me look like a wallflower. I had serious doubts that my waspy disposition was going to secure me a spot on the show over her theatrics. I had no other choice but to rely on my boyish charm and classic good looks and to pray that the casting agents were as superficial as me.
For the first round of the audition, the casting agents called us up row-by-row to a table in the corner of the room where we had to talk about ourselves for two minutes. The agents’ objective for this exercise was to discern how engaging we could be and determine how comfortable we were when put on the spot. Fortunately for me, talking about myself just so happens to be my forte, so I had no problem with this challenge. At one point, the agent had to cut me off and asked me to let my partner say a few words. Everything seemed to be going fine, but then the agent asked us how we knew each other and for how long. We spit out the answer that we had rehearsed (“We met about ten years ago during move-in day on ND’s campus…”), but to me, it sounded inauthentic. Also, there aren’t too many ND fans in LA, so I feared that our affiliation with the University might hurt us. The agent maintained a poker face during our entire conversation, so I was convinced that we had blown it with our backstory. After everyone had taken their turn at the table, the agents excused themselves to deliberate in the other room.
For the next fifteen minutes, my partner and I exchanged random personal facts and interests with each other, just in case we miraculously advanced to the next round and had to continue talking about our faux friendship. We attempted to keep this conversation under wraps, but it was hard to hear one another over the Loni Love lookalike. She continued to belly laugh every 30 seconds and was carrying on with her teammates about how great their table session had been. When the agents returned, they cut the group from 100 contestants down to about 40. Shockingly, my partner and I made the first cut. Even more shocking, the Loni Love lookalike did not. I didn’t think that anything would silence her, but this news seemed to do the trick. As she gathered her belongings to leave, I ruthlessly swiped her chair to escape the freezing air conditioning vent.
Once the first round of rejects exited the room, the casting agents passed out a sheet of paper marked 1 through 20 to give everyone a short quiz to gauge our current knowledge of pop culture. Sadly, I knew almost every answer. The only two questions that I’m positive I missed had to do more with the academic world than they did with the entertainment world: 1) Name the main character from The Catcher in the Rye; 2) Which president was a peanut farmer in Georgia? How the hell should I know?! If that knowledge ever occupied a part of my brain, it was evicted years ago to clear up space for knowing the real-life names of the entire Brady Bunch cast and learning every word to the Jerry Maguire “Secret Garden” mix. And I’m totally okay with that. To my credit, when one of the casting agents made a Dennis Haskins joke, I was the first person to laugh and shout out “Mr. Belding!”
After we submitted our answers to the casting agents, they called each team up to the front of the room to do a trial run of the actual game while being filmed. An agent held up random names/words to one of the contestants while the other contestant attempted to guess the answer. Each player was given thirty seconds, and the team needed to get at least 3 words correct between the two of them in order to be considered for the next round. After a few mediocre auditions, a brother/sister team took the stage and I was convinced that they had spent hours practicing their shtick. Their outfits were coordinated, and after each round, they exchanged a sibling handshake that was so queer I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Also, I’d like the record to show that they totally ripped the handshake off of the 1998 Parent Trap film. Unfortunately, I don’t think the casting agents had seen the Lindsay Lohan reboot, as they seemed totally enraptured with the siblings’ whole Donny and Marie routine. Before they returned to their seats, I overheard one of the agents ask them to go into the hallway to fill out additional paperwork. At that point, I knew that any team that wasn’t asked into the hallway was history.
The next two contestants looked like they stepped straight out of The Big Bang Theory. I believe that they said they were engineers, and I noticed that the Sheldon Cooper doppelganger had completely sweated through his t-shirt. During his pre-interview, he made it a point to say that he didn’t know anything about pop culture, as he had only come at his roommate’s request. Boy was he telling the truth. The first name that went up was Demi Moore, and the poor kid just froze. His partner tried to guess names out of thin air, but it was useless. After sixty painful seconds and no correct answers, they were told to return to their seats. The kid’s flop sweat had gotten out of control, and he looked like he had just been caught in a monsoon. I thought about telling him to go cool off under the A/C vent, but I decided to mind my own business. The next few groups that followed the lovable geeks did much better, each scoring about 4 or 5 correct answers. However, I noticed that only a couple of them were escorted into the other room for additional vetting. It appeared to me that the agents were basing their decision more on the entertainment value than the number of words that team had gotten correct.
It was down to the last three pairs, and Mike and I still hadn’t gone. The next team called was comprised of a pair of insufferable twits who behaved like they were auditioning for The Rich Kids of Beverly Hills (I loathe that show). Similar to the Big Bang Theory contestants, this team struggled to get a single point. The only difference was that the clues that they were giving were extremely offensive. After using her one-time pass on J.D. Salinger (whose book, Catcher in the Rye, we had literally just discussed thirty minutes before), the clue-giver was shown the name Michael Chiklis. She began her clues by saying, “He’s really big and black. And he was in that movie with Tom Hanks.” She was clearly thinking of Michael Clarke Duncan. The casting agents intervened and said, “No, that’s not the right person.” The girl began to giggle and then said, “Oh I’m getting him confused with the OTHER black guy.” Now I don’t claim to be the most racially sensitive person in the room (see My Persian Immersion blog), but there were so many things wrong with that statement! First, Michael Chicklis isn’t black. And second, there are more than two African Americans in Hollywood. Fortunately, the other African American contestants in the room laughed, so it made the situation a little less uncomfortable. Needless to say, these two girls weren’t asked into the hallway.
When it was finally our turn to go, I was amped, but I sensed my partner‘s nervousness. I was the first one to give clues, and the first word that I was shown was “T-Mobile.” Now I won’t pretend that I gave the most precise clues, but within seconds, my partner knew that I was trying to get him to guess a cell phone brand that had the words “T” and “Mobile” in it. Unfortunately, he kept saying, “Mobile-T! Mobile-T!” Ruh roh. I kept yelling, “Reverse it!” but he stared blankly, and then started saying “T-Verizon.” He finally figured it out, but time was slipping away. He guessed the next word fairly quickly, so I wasn’t too worried. When it was his turn to give clues, he totally blanked on the first name he was shown, which was Rosie O’Donnell. The only clue that he could conjure up was, “She was in Blank Movie (I don’t remember the name he said) with Sylvester Stallone.” Now I’m not sure if such a movie even exists, but when I realized that my partner couldn’t offer any additional clues besides “Sly’s costar,” I made the decision to pass for him, and we ended up getting two more correct before our time had run out. The casting agents then told me the name that we had passed on, and I immediately turned to my teammate and started scolding him. Like a crazy person, I began yelling things like, “Betty from The Flintstones! Famous lesbian talk show host! The View! Donald Trump nemesis! Elisabeth Hasselbeck feud!” My competitive ways were getting the best of me, and I feared that my intensity had scared off the casting agents. When we returned to our seats, I waited anxiously to be tapped on the shoulder by an agent and taken into the hallway, but no such interaction occurred. Instead, we sat there, watching the last team go and feeling like Rosie O’Donnell had just cost us $20K.
Before the entire group was dismissed, the agents thanked everyone for coming out and then told us that even if we weren’t selected for Celebrity Name Game, we could still get cast in one of their other shows. As we began to walk out the door, the casting agents yelled for Mike and me to stay in the room. I couldn’t believe it! When we walked back in, they asked us if they could do more filming and go through another round of the game so that they could send the film to the producers for a final decision. This time, we were each given sixty seconds, and we totally knocked it out of the park. The agents didn’t seem entirely convinced, and so they had us do one more round and asked my partner to try and match my energy level. I thought this request was slightly unreasonable, as few people can/should try to match my enthusiasm when playing games. My partner, however, did a terrific job, and the agents finally appeared to be satisfied. According to them, the hard part was over, and now they just needed to get a few more interview snippets recorded about how long we had known each other and the extent of our friendship. Crap. The awkwardness ensued, and I really believe that it came across in the film. The agents got very specific with their questions, asking us to describe how we watched football games and what we liked to do in our free time. We seemed to give two totally opposite answers, which the agents even picked up on and asked us to come up with better answers. We eventually got something on film that the agents appeared to like, but I still felt like it was a bit of a disaster.
The total audition time took over 3 hours, so I was in a hurry to get back to work. Before I could leave, the casting office asked me to fill out a 6-page questionnaire. One of the questions asked me what I would do with my winnings. I’m sure most people wrote “cure cancer” and “feed the poor.” I was too rushed to come up with anything selfless, so I answered honestly, saying, “Pay my bills for the next few months while I continue to pursue a career in television.” I’m an accountant and a realist, so I don’t have grandiose delusions about how far $20K can be stretched once it is split with a teammate and taxes are taken out.
There was another question about who my dream celebrity teammates would be. Again, I figured that I would answer this realistically. After all, I don’t think that Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep would consider taking a break from filming their Oscar-nominated movies to stop by the Celebrity Name Game. Therefore, I answered Lisa Kudrow (friends with Courteney Cox), Martin Short (a regular on Hollywood Game Night and also a huge ND fan), and Kelly Ripa. The last celebrity was more because my sister always says that she thinks Kelly and I would have great chemistry – and I happen to agree! I finished my paperwork about ten minutes quicker than my partner. I looked over and he seemed to really be struggling with the celebrity teammate question. I finally said, “Dude this isn’t the Make a Wish Foundation. It’s probably not actually going to happen so just write down a damn name and let’s go.” The talent agent sitting next to him thought my comment was particularly funny and let out a nice chuckle. In response, I told the agent that he could hear more of that sharp wit if he were to cast me on the show!
It’s been over a month since our initial audition, so I’m fairly certain that the producers went in another direction. Regardless, I had an absolute blast with the entire process and I wouldn’t be opposed to auditioning again. In fact, I’ve decided that if I don’t find a full-time job soon, I might as well start auditioning for every game show that is filmed in LA. Pat and Vanna, I hope that your wheel is ready because this Hollywood Hoosier doesn't have any money to waste on buying vowels!