March 9 - Auditions

Today I saw a commercial for The Sports Authority.
It made me very happy.
Because I no longer have to go on auditions for horrendous commercials anymore.

In 2004, I had a meeting with Aria, a talent agency in Chicago.
I was an improviser. Meaning, I did comedy for free, drank a lot, and was white.
Getting with an agent and going on auditions was the next logical step.
It's one of the few ways a Chicago improviser can make any money.
If you book the audition.
The meeting went fine.
Bob and Ray at Aria asked me if I was an actor.
I said no.
I have never considered myself an actor ever.
At the time I would have called myself an improviser, which is probably worse.
But accurate.
They decided they would represent me, because I was currently dating improv powerhouse Susan Messing, one of their leading talents.
I didn't have much interest in auditioning, especially for commercials.
But it's what you're supposed to do.
We shook hands.
It felt like I had signed up for the army.

I started going on auditions.
Mostly commercials.
I took an On Camera class with Rachael Patterson.
Hers was a great class and I learned a bunch.
In the spring of 2005 I somehow booked a commercial for Long John Silvers.
I played a guy bored out of his mind in a cubicle.
Until he thinks of Long John Silvers.
Then he slides a palm tree into his cubicle and wears flip flops.
Life becomes good.
And I never had to say a word.
The commercial paid for the recording and manufacture of the first Sandwich Shop EP.
Plus they paid for the flip flop-related pedicure, the only pedicure I've ever had in my life.

I continued going on auditions for the next three years.
I had a rare movie audition for the Will Ferrell vehicle Stranger Than Fiction.
The role was for a donut shop worker.
The director, Marc Forster, was sitting in the front of the little room.
It was a small role, and I was told to improvise a little.
I interpreted the word "improvise" to mean "be funny."
So I talked in a dumb voice and did bits about wackily-shaped donuts.
Afterward, Bob called to tell me that they hated my audition.
I never auditioned for a movie ever again.

I also embarrassingly tanked a song at the audition for that spelling bee musical.
All I had was the sheet music for this song I had never heard. When the pianist played it about 50 times faster than I had expected, all I could do was try to turn humiliation into a "choice."
At another audition for a Jewish musical I pronounced manischewitz as "ma-NISH-uh-witz."
Because sometimes you just do really stupid fucking things at auditions.
Yeah, so I never auditioned for theater again either.

But I continued auditioning for commercials!
And I hated it.
It meant having to take time off from my job as a bike messenger, carry a change of clothes in my bag, and then sit around in a room full of talky actors talking about acting and being actors and talking and actors and talking.
Yeah, I hated everything about it.
And the auditions were always stupid.
I'd have to pretend to be at a Best Buy, and pretend to be amazed by HD TV. Then I would have to say something fucking disgusting like "Wow, I never knew HD could be so real!"
It felt like my soul had diarrhea.

Worse were the bite and smiles.
That's when you have to bite into something (often a slice of bread) and pretend to be amazed by the taste of a worthless Little Caesar's slice of shit pizza.
Or some crap.
My face just doesn't do that.

Maybe even worse, were the auditions with kids. Because then the weird parents would be there, too. And those people are just plain alien to me.
In a The Day The Earth Stood Still way.
Meaning, a nervous soldier should shoot them right there in the waiting room while they schmooze loudly on the phone above their child product.

It got to the point where I would show up to the audition, fill out the form, put my head in my hands and take a nap until it was my time. If they were running late, I'd leave. Even if they were five minutes behind. Any excuse to get me the fuck out of that environment.
It made me miserable.

I started not taking calls from my agent.
I began turning down auditions.
Or blew them off.
They called less.
I became more happy.
When they did call I felt a jolt of stress that would make me inhale hard.
I knew I did not want to do it anymore.
But if I quit it would seem like a step backward.
Throwing away potential opportunity.
Potential income.
It would be seen as self-destructive.
Because as an improviser, this is what you're supposed to be doing.
Going on auditions.
Booking commercials.
Landing a small role in a movie.
Making a reel.
Moving to LA or New York.
Making it!

I dunno.
It just didn't seem like the direction for me.
So when I got back from a four month contract performing with Second City aboard a cruise ship, the agency called. I was turning in my paperwork at the end of a day bike messengering.
I didn't take the call.
Bob left a message to say that he noticed I hadn't contacted him since I returned. He took it as a sign that I wasn't interested in being represented by Aria.
When I got home I responded that I was not.
That I had tried it.
For four years.
And that it wasn't for me.

I felt free again.
And in control of my life.
I still do.
And now whenever I see some guy getting paid to shill something on television, I am glad it is not fucking me.

Verdict: Win

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