Friday, April 5, 2013

A Live Tape(worm)-ing

Every once in a while I’m reminded that I’m surrounded by studios when an entire street is lined with trucks because of some sort of a shoot.  I like to think that it’s Terminator 8 or a new episode of Arrested Development, but it’s most likely a Pert Plus commercial or something equally uninteresting.  Be that as it may, this does afford me a few opportunities such as seeing a horse wandering around a parking lot at two in the afternoon (as happened last week) or the possibility of getting free tickets to see a show.  I frequently see people lined up along the sidewalk at the CBS lot on Beverly, or groups standing outside Jimmy Kimmel’s studio on Hollywood, but I’ve never taken the time to join in.  I plan on going to The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune before I move out of this city, but I’ve simply been wrapped in my own laziness so far.

Despite my intense loathing of leaving my apartment, I went ahead and snagged two free tickets to watch a taping of an episode of The Jeselnik Offensive.  I’ve been a fan of his stand-up for a couple years and I’ve seen clips of the show on the internet (although never a full episode).  Could be funny.  Might as well go.

And so we did.  Now having that experience logged away in my personal-internal files, I figure I’d go ahead and clue the rest of you in on what it’s like to watch a taping of a television show that isn’t broadcast live.

We show up fifteen minutes before the required half hour before the scheduled entrance to the building.  We stand outside and try to stay in the shade while listening to our line-mates (people standing in front of and behind us) talk about stupid bullshit at abnormally loud volumes.  Oh, you don’t drink but you’ll smoke a ton of weed and do blow at a party instead?  Cool.  Sounds like you’re making good, healthy decisions.  While these discussions rage on, employees walk up and down the line telling people that cell phones are not allowed into the studio since they don’t want people posting pictures or videos before the show airs five days later.  Makes sense.

After finally following the line through security we get to watch as people say, “Oh, what?  We can’t bring cell phones?”  “No, ma’am.  Either throw it in the trash or take it to your car.  I don’t care.  But you can’t bring it in.”  Their confusion is understandable, though.  They only had that listed directly on the ticket and told us about ten times while standing in line.  You can’t expect it to soak in that quickly.

We waited in this new waiting area, sitting on wooden benches, until we were finally led into the studio.  Seeing as how I’ve never been in a television studio like that before, it was kinda cool.  There’s the stage set but directly above it is a grid of metal beams which hang lights and parts of the set while generally just looking industrial and gritty.  The juxtaposition of the glistening stage and the utilitarian surroundings, I felt, mimicked the relationship between audience and entertainers.  They are there to look good and be on camera; we are there to make shit work.

And that’s a distinction I didn’t come to until later.  But I’ll get to that.

A warm up guy comes in and does a pseudo-stand up routine while basically just joking around with the crowd.  Okay, that’s cool.  I expected that.  But after he gets through telling us basically how the show goes and how we should be enthusiastic (I get that part, too) the director comes out and we start practicing.


Yeah, practicing.

“Alright everyone, let’s try a laugh.”  And then everyone just laughs.  Nothing funny.  Just laughing.

“Okay, now let’s do a laugh and then fade into a clap.”  And then everyone laughs and eventually starts clapping.

“And now let’s try one like someone just said something really gross.”  And then everyone does a humorous groan.

And this is about the time where I started calling bullshit within my head.  They told us to laugh at everything whether it was funny or not.  This is television, after all.  We’re there to make a television show.  But that’s where they’re wrong.  They are there to make a television show.  I’m a member of the audience.  Just like the audience that watches at home.  I’m not getting paid.  They didn’t even give us water.  I’m not there to act.  Sure, my ticket was free but that’s just because they need people in the chairs when they pan to the crowd.  I didn’t see any agreement to participate in the show besides the basic, “Viacom reserves the right to use your image on blah blah blah,” or whatever it said.  I know how a good crowd can basically make or break a show, but I always thought that you get a good crowd by not having assholes in there and just keeping them in good spirits throughout the show.  Bullying us to be more responsive had the adverse effect on me and I’m sure on at least a few other people.  “I’ve done 2,000 of these shows.  You guys need to step it up.”  Oh really?  Go fuck yourself.

Eventually, Jeselnik comes out and show starts.  It’s good when he’s talking.  The jokes are funny.  The flow of the show is interesting.  And everything’s going well.  Then they have to stop because he’s half an inch too far forward.  The lighting wasn’t perfect.  Then they have to reshoot a few things because of this light.  Then they have to reshoot a couple jokes from the monologue because of something else.  And so on.  And all of this is fine because it’s all part of a taping.  It’s repetitive, but it’s interesting to see how it’s done.  However, reshooting jokes means we’ve already heard them.  A joke is much less funny when repeated five minutes later.  But…

“I need enthusiasm!  Act like you’ve never heard the joke before!  We are looking a little tired and we need to step it up!” says the warm up guy.  He continued like this throughout the show.  He was constantly telling us we needed to step it up and after hearing this for an hour you reach the point where you just say, “Fuck you.  Okay?  Fuck you and leave me alone.  I’ll laugh when it’s funny but I’m not going to smile for an hour straight because that’s stupid and it makes your face hurt.”

And this is how it goes for the rest of the time.  There are a handful of technical problems, which you can’t really fault them for, and it ends up taking about two hours to shoot the half-hour show.  It was funny when they were making jokes (for the first time) but the amount of downtime took all the wind out of it.  That, I guess, is why you need a guy walking around saying, “Where are you from?  Oh really?  What do you do there?  Oh so I guess you…” and then some joke about what the audience member told him.  This was actually pretty funny at times.  At one point he found a guy that was wearing sandals and ripped him apart.  Straight up made an ass out of him.  This wasn’t that funny because you could tell the kid was getting really embarrassed and angry.  “Just a couple of Adidas sandals, everybody,” the kid said into the microphone before sitting down, trying to ignore the fact that he was in public.

By the end, it was obvious that people just wanted to get the hell out of there.  It was a long two hours.  “Okay guys, we’re almost there.  You’re doing great.  Just a couple short things and you can go home.”  Even the crew understood that the audience was restless.  We were tired of the fake laughs and clapping.  Speaking of which, if you watch the episode with Natasha Leggaro and Jason Mantzoukas, listen for an exaggerated cackle or moan that might pop up a few times throughout the show.  That’s me.  I alternated between high-pitched and straight bravado.  But they’re both there somewhere.  Unless they only use stuff shot at the end, by which point I was just saying, “Ha ha ha,” in monotone while thinking about the taco stand we’d be walking to once they finally let us go.

Overall, I’m glad I went because now I know that I don’t want to go to another taping.  Like I said, it was funny when they were doing actual show-related stuff.  If only there was a way that I could watch all of that shit they did for two hours and somehow trim it down to a half-hour of the good stuff.  Any recommendations about how to do that?  I don’t know.  I guess I’ll just have to stick to watching TV until something like that comes along.

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