You guys, I have to admit that I've been hiding something from you. But only because I was ordered to. And then I thought the thing I was hiding wasn't really going to happen, and I kind of halfway forgot about it.
Remember when I wrote about the epic Return from BlogHer Odyssey? The one where I got caught up in the world of a father dealing with his son's acute psychological breakdown, just because of a storm front moving through the mid-Atlantic?
Let me take you back to a few days before that.
Or wait. Maybe I should go back a couple weeks before that day first.
My friend Charlie, who's a show biz dude, asked me if I had any interest in going on the Ricki Lake Show and representing stay-at-home dads. Like absolutely everyone who ever hears the words "Ricki Lake Show," I said, incredulously, "She still has a show?"
Turns out she has a show again. It hadn't been on the air yet at that point, but was scheduled to start in September.
Being the total famewhore that you know and love, I immediately said yes.
I talked to producers, blah blah blah, and the next thing I knew, I was putting together a little movie about "A Day in the Life of a SAHD," with the understanding that if they liked it, they might edit it and use it on the show. I mentioned part of the process of making that video in this post, which of course was fraught with feelings of guilt and embarrassment at my shameless and exploitative self-promotion and my crappy parenting.
They liked the video I made, certainly because of its adorable little starlets. But instead of using my home video on the show, they asked if they could send a camera crew to my house to spend the day with me. That sounded incredibly invasive, disruptive, and possibly traumatic for my kids.
"Sure!" I said, without hesitation.
So, on the morning before the day I had to leave for BlogHer in New York City, I awoke to a camera crew setting up their equipment outside my house. Before making coffee, I had to get wired with a microphone. I had not slept more than a few minutes the night before. I didn't feel particularly nervous, in terms of stage-fright; and I didn't feel giddy with excitement either. I think I was just tweaking because of all the logistics on my mind. I had to get us through our regular daytime activities while also accommodating the needs of a film crew.
Oh yeah, and I also had invited some guys from my SAHD group over to the house with their kids for a cookout/playdate. I was mostly worried about dog shit in the yard, cooking with the kids and the cameras all over me, Stella freaking out with all the people around, the kids melting down, the fact that it was almost 100 degrees outside. I didn't really care all that much about how the movie turned out. I just didn't want to have a shitty day.
It turned out to be a pretty decent day, albeit very strange, and, by the end, exhausting. The camera guy, sound man, and field producer came in the house and the girls woke up to all of us standing in their tiny room. For the rest of the day, a camera and a mic were in our faces. It could have gone any which way, as far as the girls' reactions to the strangers following us around, but they were great. Real pros.
It was a decent day, as I said, but it was nothing like a typical day. Every "normal" activity we did was staged and choreographed:
Now, walk from the kitchen to the bedroom with both of the girls. Good. Keep doing that. Just a couple more times. Great.
Can you put a braid in her hair? All right. Now just brush her hair for a while. Let's get the camera over by the stairs. Now move over by the window and brush her hair some more.
Let's have the dog walk right through the shot. Is the dog wearing the diaper? Great. Okay, cue the dog.
Walk about half a block and then turn around and come toward the camera, with the kids, the dog, and the wagon. Try to laugh and smile a lot.
Let's get the kids in their pajamas, close the blinds, and get some shots of you tucking them in. I know it's the middle of the day. Do you want us to stay until 9:00 tonight?
The crew has to go on break at noon. We'll have to change the time of the playdate to either 10:00 or 1:00.Most of the producer's demands weren't unreasonable, except for that last one. You playdate-organizers will recognize the absolute insanity of that proposition. Yeah. With one hour's notice, I'm going to change the time of the playdate, and reschedule it during prime napping time, with utter disregard for the children's normal mealtime. Let's see how many people show up for that. They ended up requesting permission to pay the crew extra to work through their lunch break.
While the kids were great and the scenes of us doing our thing were no problem, I was a terrible actor when they needed me to talk. They asked me to do a bunch of cutaway shots where I spoke to the camera, and the producer tried to feed me lines, which I completely rejected. I would try to riff on the aspect of SAHDness that they wanted me to address without saying the stupid crap people want to hear SAHDs say, and then she would tell me to do it over, with more energy, a big smile, my eyes directed at the camera, and my head inclined just so. They ended up keeping only one line out of all my monologues, something like: "I'm a stay-at-home dad, and I feel sorry for you suckers with jobs."
By the end of the day of shooting, I was done. I wasn't any more exhausted than on any other day when I hadn't gotten any sleep the night before: I was just done with being told where to stand and what to make the kids say and how to inflect my speech. The producer wanted to get a shot of me swooning on the couch with my hand over my face when my wife came home from work. I pointed out that that never happens--when my wife comes home, one of us cooks dinner while the other minds the kids, and the work continues until around midnight, after the dishes have been done, the dog walked, and the house cleaned up. And that night, I would get to stay up a few more hours to prepare for my trip to New York. But she talked me into the stunt, which I did reluctantly and unconvincingly, but I guess passably, after about five takes.
The most valuable lesson of the experience was probably, "Never, ever, under any circumstances, agree to do a reality TV show."
And then there was the part where we went to the studio and filmed the show. It took some convincing to get my wife to agree to come on the show, and frankly, bribery. I don't think I'm supposed to talk about that. But after my wife was on board, she really got into it. She got a new hair-do the week before the show, she bought us both some new clothes that would look good on TV, and she convinced me to get a facial (which I would probably do again), and an expensive haircut (a farce I will not be participating in any further).
On the day of the show, my wife got her hair and makeup done professionally before we even left town. They had told us to be camera-ready when we got there, and my wife is an over-achiever in all areas. Then we piled the kids into the minvan, and made the two-hour trek up to LA.
This is what happens when you go on a talk show:
- Wait in the dressing room
- Get your make-up done
- Get your clothes pressed
- Wait some more
- OH MY GOD GET DRESSED YOU'RE ON IN 15 WHERE ARE MY PANTS OH MY GOD THESE AREN'T MY PANTS DO THE CHILDREN HAVE ANY OTHER SHOES WHAT THE FUCK MY PITS ARE ALL SWEATY WHERE ARE MY GODDAMN PANTS
- Watch, for the first time ever, along with the studio audience, the 3 minute film of your family that resulted from eight hours of shooting and god knows how many hours of editing, and then walk onto the stage with your whole family. Answer questions. Wonder where to look when speaking. Realize that the host is not going to set you up for the funny story about when you thought you were going to have to start sitting down to pee. Butt into a conversation just so you get some airtime.
- Go home. Try to resist the urge to blog about all the weirdness, since the producers tell you to wait until the episode is going to air.
So that was that. I had launched my career as a talk show guest, and probably a show-biz dad. The show airs tomorrow (Dec. 21). Check your local listings. The Ricki Lake Show website will tell you when and where to watch. If you are an agent or producer, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.