Friday, November 13, 2009

Conan is at war with Eurasia. Conan has always been at war with Eurasia.

This image most likely belongs to NBC.

There is a technician in Amynah’s lab who arrived in Los Angeles at roughly the same time as we did. Dylan’s originally from Reno, Nevada, and was unsure how long he was going to stay in Los Angeles. He had therefore promised himself that he would ensure himself at least one “showbiz” experience, and so booked himself four tickets for the Late Show with Conan O’Brien. He offered a ticket to Amynah, but her brother and sister were scheduled to be in town at the time. Not to mention, the tickets contained dire warnings about highly restrictive toilet-access conditions to which Amynah's current pregnant state would not permit her to comply.

So her ticket went to me, and the other two went to her other co-worker, Chris, and his wife.

We’d been instructed to be in line no later than 3:30. Apparently this was so that we could go through the essential audience-softening technique of standing around in an iron cage for an hour in the hot sun. Once we were properly dehydrated and footsore, the NBC pages released us from our paddock and herded us, single file towards the studio. And lest you think I mean “single file” in the sense that most grown-ups understand it i.e. small groups of people walking behind one another, let me assure you: they meant single file, like we were in kindergarten lining up for gym class.

After one particularly officious page ordered Dylan and I to separate – one behind a tree, the other in front of it because if one of us stood beside a tree it wouldn’t be single-file anymore I mentally dubbed them Greyshirts. I wasn’t alone in this assessment – the guy behind us said “Jeez, I’m looking around for the guard towers.” He whispered it though, because he didn’t want the Greyshirts to hear.

As we approached the studio, a Greyshirt explained that we would have but one chance to use the bathroom before entering the studio. After that – assuming they were satisfied with how we made it through the metal-detector and frisking - you would have to hold it, until such time that we were released from the confines of the studio.

The Greyshirts directed us to our seats in the very back of the first tier of seats, to the right of the camera above the entrance in this photo. Not bad.

The auditorium filled up, and then we waited. Janitors vacuumed the set, technicians wandered to and fro, music blared at a level that pretty much forbade conversation amongst audience members. In retrospect, this was clearly because they were worried we were formenting a plot. Clearly they were concerned that our previous humiliations had not left us docile enough – the stage was defended by four beefy security guards, arms crossed, glaring at the crowd in front of them. Greyshirts patrolled the aisles, keeping a gimlet eye out for potential transgressors of Order.

More telling than the puffed-up martinets with the peacock badges was the two producers, standing near the stage entrance. They stood, a man and woman dressed with a casual sloppiness that spoke to their authority on the set, surveying the crowd ranged in front of them with hard eyes and distrustful expressions. Even when they spoke to each other, out of the corners of their mouths, they never once dared take their eyes off the rabble.

Clearly, constraining our movements and asserting their control over our bodily functions would not be enough for them. And so, they brought out the warm-up comic to destroy our souls.

“So, any of you Twitter? Yeah? You’re stupid. Go suck on a muffler.”

There was a murmur of protest at that “joke,” but after ten minutes of similar abuse (“You’re name’s Tannis? What, your doctor not know how to spell Janice?”), we were beaten, emotionally drained, unable to resist. It was Stockholm syndrome. We were ready to laugh maniacally when told, sit when told, stand when told, and applaud until our palms bled as long as the flashing white sign told us to.

To test our Pavlovian conditioning, the producers then brought out a test-celebrity, to make sure that we would behave with the appropriate docile mindlessness when a real one arrived. And so Conan’s sidekick Andy Ritcher was brought out to introduce the show.

It was at this point that I realized that NBC was even more evil than events to date had made me believe: when Andy took the mike from the warm-up comic I saw what the distance and strange dimensions of the studio had hidden from my perception before – the warm-up comic was, in fact, a homunculus, probably purpose-bred in a studio backlot, raised to loath humans, nursed on bile and posion. Either that, or Andy Ritcher is a giant of Himalayan proportions, because he could have crushed his colleague with his thumb. In fact, his distaste for the gibbering goblin before him was plain, and the temptation to do just that must have been great. I suspect the only reason he didn’t is because purpose-bred comedy-trolls don’t come cheap.

Andy then introduced the Max Weinberg band (performing without its eponymous leader) which proceeded to further reduce our capacity for resistance, by overwhelming our sense of balance and hearing via a very long, very loud, trumpet-heavy jam session that demanded… I choke on the horror of the words… audience participation. Like the agents of many a totalitarian system before them, Colonel Max Weinberg’s melodic shock-troops ensured compliance of the herd through randomized acts of terror. Shoot one, and the rest will fall in line. We did not know, in that darkened studio, who they would come for next – a neighbour, a loved one, but please, we prayed to our indifferent gods, do not let that iron fist point the microphone at me. Clapping fearfully, shocked under the barrage from the brass-sections, we sat sweating as one by one our comrades were plucked from our number to squall “Baby baby baby” into a mike. It was awful: there were no mercy, no regard for age, race, handicap. It was relentless, cruel, and effective: “Please, take my neighbour, don’t pick me! I’ll tell you anything! Laugh at anything! Just let me live!”

Our capitulation was complete. We were ready for The Presence Conan.


JC Martin and the Martinets said...

And when they made us line up, I said nothing. And when they made us use the washroom, I said nothing. And when they made us laugh at the dork, I said nothing. And when they made us sing, i said nothing. And when they made us watch Conan O'Brien, I just couldn't laugh, because the man's an idiot...So FUck you NBC. (Which is what I'm sure you wanted to say.)

belsohni said...

I laughed and laughed reading this. Makes me think of math classes where Teacher would call up kids from the class randomly to do problems on the board. I would slouch down in my seat in an attempt to become invisible.

Brian Busby said...

I can report through sad experience that the experience north of the border is much more polite. No waiting outside, no insulting comic and no security. I expect all involved are appreciative that someone - anyone - has shown up for the taping.

julie said...

I worked on a certain daytime TV talk show on CTV (*cough*dinipetty*cough*) while in undergrad, and while I agree with Brian's assessment above - that we were mostly happy people wanted to actually attend the tapings, we did spend a good chunk of time immediately before taping going over the Do's and Don'ts of Good Audience-hood. Weird, but fun. Plus a few of my colleagues and I once got to appear on TV when the CTV crew filmed a goofy piece in which Dan The Man (the voiceover guy) was being given his own show. (We pretended to be asleep and passed out in the audience chairs - not the toughest assignment of my acting career.)

Anyway, I look forward to Part 2!