Thursday, October 3, 2013

Who Wants to Leave A Millionaire Taping?

There are three places in America you can go to see a cross section of citizens that may make you rethink your position on random mall shootings or making cars safer. The first is any cruise line. Any. Just pick a port...New York, Miami, Alaska...and watch the families of tractor racers or septic tank repairman toodle around with their fat little arms and legs sticking out of their cargo shorts and their "Gods a Packers Fan" T Shirts slowly getting stained with honey mustard dressing and marinara sauce from their fourth trip to the buffet, at breakfast, all the while clutching their purses and cell phones and eyeing the waiters suspiciously as if the staff really wanted to get their hands on their bedazzled flip phones, and you can start to slowly weep. The second is any outdoor concert that is a benefit for a crop or church rebuilding. Thirdly, and probably worstly ( that's a word...) is a taping of a game show.

One of the many perks of living in New York City is all the free tapings of shows you can see. All you have to do is get up before the sun, wait in line for 6 hours with groups of people who think that Katie Couric is a hoot, and follow the instructions from the sadistic warm up comics that train you like baby seals, and you too can have a story you can tell at Golden Corral next Thanksgiving. One day I was feeling pretty good about life and not being used to that feeling, I thought I'd fuck it up and attend a taping of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. I received an email a few weeks before confirming tickets I forgot I had asked for probably in a drunken haze. (It's very similar to the email I got from EBAY telling me I had been outbid on a jukebox...what jukebox?). Having nothing to do that day, I thought maybe I could audition, win a quick million bucks, and be home in time for a new FaceOff on SYFY. Leaving Queens,and taking a few trains to historic 108th and Lexington in Manhattan, I arrived to see a line forming in front of the Millionaire studios. Taking my place at the back of the line behind a frighteningly round woman wearing a shirt with tiny dogs playing on it and the words Happiness is a Terrier spelled out in bones, I realized this would be a long day.

A man with a clipboard and little tiny laminated dollar bills with our seat numbers came down the line confirming our tickets. When he gave the dog lover hers, she and her...friend? daughter? Prisoner? smiled at each other and pretended they were running off with the money. They laughed and laughed, and I died and died. The line was expanding behind me. An old woman in a white wig with yellow streaks and lipstick on half of her face wanted to know when we could sit. A family from Philadelphia recalled the day they were extras in a scene from Rocky..."and now this!" The woman and her daughter directly behind me were quizzing each other in hopes of getting on the show. They would have nailed it too if all the questions were about lemon bar recipes.

Finally we moved inside. To a holding room. Where we would sit for another 2 hours "warming up" with mock questions from the ABC interns. The first one being a multiple choice whose answer was Anthony Weiner, which delighted the crowd to no end. So much so this asshole charming man made weiner his answer for all the questions. As funny as it sounds. The woman next to me, who took a day off from giving up on life, asked if I would wait in line and take a picture of her with a cardboard cut out of the host Cedric The Entertainer. I thought shed never ask. She seemed shocked that I didn't want a pic of my own, but I told her that later she could take a pic of me with a telephone pole and that disappointed her more.

Finally, we were ready. We moved from the basement up a few flight of stairs to the Millionaire set. They had warned us that it may be overwhelming to some people, and sure enough, the majority of the group looked like they were back on the mother ship. They pointed at lights, and took pictures of larger cameras. We were seated and instructed we would be taking a twenty question quiz to see if anyone could stay and audition for a future show. The man next to me was an old retired postal worker and this was his 4th time there. He was very serious and I really sincerely wanted him to do well and make it. The woman to my left was the terrier woman, and I really sincerely wished a cameraman would fall from the catwalk and crush the shit out of her.

We took the quiz. I did not get a passing grade. We move on now.

Enter the warm up comic who asked people where they were from and then named a comedy club in their city he played at. He had some good one liners though, and razzed the crowd well, but plugged his website so much I thought his last name was dot com. He instructed us how to hoot and holler at every thing Cedric said. How to seem shocked at a wrong answer and crazily ecstatic at a right one. The sheep did their job. Terrier woman stood up waved her floppy arms in the air so hard it looked like two flying squirrels made of polyester were racing. Cedric the Entertainer came out and the crowd erupted. He high fived the crowd, and welcomed us and episode one of three had begun. Then stopped. Different cameras were used. Makeup came out and dabbed the sweat off Cedrics face. Special how in the fuck are they celebrities, the stars of Braxton Family Values, came out and waved to the confused crowd.

The next three and a half hours are a blur of stops and starts. After three questions was a commercial break. Then a teaser filmed for the at home games. Then after each episode, pick up shots were filmed. If Cedric stumbled on a line, or a technical difficulty screwed up the computers, those takes were filmed again and edited into the final show. When one questions multiple choice answers were Nietzsche, Kierkegaard,and other philosophers, I knew we were going to be there a while as Cedric, who obviously didn't read the questions ahead of time, looked at the screen like he was trying to make words out of a spilled Scrabble board.

The audience hung in there though. Laughing at horrible jokes, sighing when a contestant got a wrong answer and cheering as someone won $40,00. Memories were made, hearts were broken, and my mailman friend didn't get a chance to audition. Terrier woman and friend? daughter? Prisoner? got up and exclaimed how hungry they were and waddled out of the studio. I knew they would talk about this day until diabetes takes one both of them away. An experience I'll never forget. I hope the Wendy Williams taping is better than this.

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