Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tales of Woe From the West Coast (Part 5 - Finale)

So many faces in and out of my life
Some will last
Some will just be now and then
Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
I'm afraid it's time for goodbye again
Say goodbye to Hollywood
Say goodbye, my baby
Say goodbye to Hollywood
Say goodbye, my baby 


--Billy Joel


Having departed Burbank just after 5PM on a weekday, the drive back to San Diego was endless. It took over five hours. And yet I remember, as BW's Honda barely crept down Interstate 5 (or "The 5," as it's known on the West Coast), that a giant smile remained plastered across my face. I felt as if I had taken five hits of the best ecstasy ever created. I am embarrassed now to admit some of the insane, grandiose thoughts that flew through my head. I thought about what car I was going to buy with my new-found wealth. (I was still driving Carmen, my constantly-breaking-down '97 Passat, at the time.) I thought about how I'd have to find a nice gym to work out at in Burbank. I thought about how some weekends I would drive to San Diego to stay with BW, and the other weekends he's come up and stay with me. I was literally spending the jackpot of the lottery I had yet to win. And even then, a little voice kept saying, "Calm down. It hasn't happened yet, and it still may not."


And yet: There was a certainty about the whole thing. The way they had mentioned my getting an apartment in Burbank and made the comparison to Joy Behar at the start of "The View." The fact that Annabelle was close friends with Roxanna -- and had told me at the end of the meeting that she was going to check in with Roxanna to get her input on me. It all just felt... meant to be.


That evening, after I had gotten home, I sent Donny and Annabelle a thank-you email. (It actually took me a couple tries; I hadn't gotten Donny's contact info, so I guessed at his email address using Annabelle's as a model. But instead of reaching Donald Page, executive producer at ABC-Disney, I reached Donald Page, ride operator at Disneyland. The latter was kind enough to write back and supply me with my Donny's email.) 


I imagine Donny the ride operator looking like this.


Donny responded  in an email the next morning: "It was great meeting you, too, and we hope to be working with you in the future." That was a good sign; most of the time, you never hear a word back  from industry types unless you've booked the gig.


But after a couple of weeks passed without any further contact from ABC, I started to get nervous. And then it hit me that I had never followed up with Roxanna after my meeting. Maybe Annabelle and she had spoken, and maybe Roxanna could provide a little insight into what the execs had thought of me? So I emailed Roxanna in Europe and asked her.


The tersely worded email she sent back made my blood run cold. I didn't save it, but here's more or less how it read:


"Adam, Annabelle did reach out to me to ask what I thought of you. I told her that you were funny when I knew you 15 years ago, but I hadn't seen you since then and have no idea what you're like now. Best of luck."


People are funny creatures. It's impossible to ever really know what goes on in someone else's head. Roxanna and I had been the closest of friends during a stressful and difficult year in both our lives. She had been a guest at my parents' home for several holidays. In all of my Columbia graduation photos, there's Roxanna and her family posing with me and my family, outside St. John the Divine and at the restaurant where we all got dinner afterwards. So I can't begin to imagine why Roxanna would have been anything other than glowing when speaking about me to Annabelle, someone she knew had the power to profoundly impact my life. It certainly wouldn't have cost her a thing, and I don't have the slightest doubt I would have done it for her had the situation been reversed, whether it was 15 years later or 40 years later. But there it was. As I said, people are funny creatures.


And look, I'm not foolish enough to think that Roxanna's recommendation -- or lack thereof -- had anything to do with how this story ends. It was just one added element of crushing pain, disappointment and humiliation. Because surely by now even the most hopeful of my readers knows how it ends:


I never heard from ABC again.


I sent a follow-up email to Donny and Annabelle a month later and got no response. I sent another one about six weeks later. I also added both of them to my mass email list so they would be included whenever I sent out announcements about upcoming shows. 


Zilch.


If you find the ending to this story unsatisfying to read, try living it. I wish I could I give you a better conclusion. I truly do.





I've only told this story to a handful of people, all of them comedians. They have all had the exact same reaction: 


"OK. And?"


Because this is, at the end of the day, what happens in showbiz. It happens every single day of every single year to every single person trying to make it as a performer. You try out for things, and most of the time you don't get them. And you never hear back from the people for whom you tried out. And even if you do possess the talent and the fortitude and dumb luck to FINALLY get something... it ends up falling apart. The pilot gets canceled. Or it gets shot but doesn't get picked up. Or it does get picked up but gets canceled after four episodes, and you don't land another job for five years. 


That's showbiz.


And I know that. I've learned that lesson a thousand times. Believe me, these Tales of Woe could have easily had 50 chapters instead of five. But each time it happens to me, I die a little bit inside. And after these two particular episodes --having a manager and then not, and being summoned to ABC for a talk show and then not -- I died a lot. I lost faith: In myself and in the world. My relationship with BW suffered to the point of collapse. And I ultimately just gave up. 


My dear friend and fellow gay-median Brad Loekle is fond of telling me: "You have the worst possible personality for this business." As cunty as that sounds, he's right. In spite of all my extroverted bravado I am fundamentally a deeply sensitive, insecure person. I am still that 14-year-old gay kid getting pelted by snowballs on the school bus and not knowing why or how to stop it.


The Voice of Reason. Which sounds oddly like the voice of Satan.


Again, I hear every comedian I know answering that with: "OK. And?"


Because that's also showbiz. Nobody becomes a performer -- especially not a comedian -- because they feel wonderful about themselves. We're all trying to fill some deep, aching need, and also because we're adrenaline junkies -- a potentially lethal combination (RIP Lenny Bruce, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Mitch Heburg, Richard Jeni, Greg Giraldo and the list goes on.)


Look, I don't want anyone out there worrying about me. I have neither the genius nor the madness of any of the folks mentioned in that last paragraph. When I say "I gave up," I mean on comedy -- not life. Yes, I've continued to perform steadily these last two years, and I will continue to do so. The truth is, I can't stop now. Comedy is in my blood. I write new jokes whether I want to or not; it's an involuntary reaction. And when I'm away from the mic for more than a week, I begin to crave it, the way a hungry person craves food.


But for much of the past two years, since my West Coast fiascoes, I've given up on the idea of "making it" in this business. And by "making it" I mean achieving a level of financial security from performing such that I'm comfortable giving up my day job and my employer-sponsored health insurance. Life is about choices, and this had been my choice. Some days it's a choice that keeps me awake at night, and some days it's a choice that makes it very hard for me to get out bed in the morning. But it's also a choice that allows me to live in a very nice condominium in one of the best neighborhoods in New York City and know where my next paycheck is coming from enjoy a semblance of a social life. 


Something is shifting now, though, and I can feel it. I've felt it ever since I had drinks with Leah Bonnema last month -- which was the whole impetus to begin blogging again. It's not that I'm planning to do anything rash like quit my day job (although I do fantasize about it a lot lately). But I am feeling that little spark of hope and possibility again. I have a number of fun gigs on the horizon for this spring and summer -- far more than I did last year at this time -- along with some potentially exciting side-projects. I feel as though maybe I'm ready to put myself back in the game and see what happens.


That's also what showbiz is, by the way: The ability to dream big.


I'm trying.


Homo out. (Probably for a while, but I'll be back. I promise.)


Don't forget THAT SANK SHOW every Wednesday at 10PM at Bar-Tini Ultralounge.


And you can hear me on the Derek & Romaine Show on Sirius-XM OutQ (Channel 108) next Friday, May 27 at 7PM ET.


Oh, and here's video of an interview with me at the Love Out Loud VI Event on May 11.
(I come in at 6:42.)


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tales of Woe From the West Coast (Part 4)

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime...

--Eminem

There are fuzzy aspects to the memories I'm recounting here. Remember, it all happened more than two years ago. Moreover, I often feel that the hot southern California sun literally baked my brain like some kind of giant cookie when I lived in San Diego. My time out there often feels like a fever dream, rather than an actual experience.

For instance, I can't remember whether Roxana, my grad school friend, and I ever actually spoke by telephone after I got the ABC meeting, or whether we simply exchanged emails. I do know that she assured me she'd put in a good word for me if Annabelle contacted her. And I mean, of course she would. Why wouldn't she?

I remember clearly the day I drove to Burbank. My meeting was set for 4PM, so my boss at the time, Lisa, let me leave work at noon. I have been extremely blessed over the last eight years to have a series of incredibly supportive bosses -- bosses who let me leave early or come in late or miss days altogether because I had some kind of performing opportunity or commitment. Lisa was one of them.

I remember I borrowed BW's LaHonda and our roommate, CW's GPS device for the trip. I packed a Subway sandwich -- the sweet onion teriyaki chicken -- and a big bottle of water. I again wore what I thought was casual-yet-cool t-shirt-and-jeans ensemble. And I drove. And I drove. And I drove, and I drove, all the while repeating a mantra to myself: "You can do this. You will do this."

About 20 miles outside of L.A., I witnessed a car accident. I mean, I actually saw the accident happen. A car several hundred yards ahead of mine sideswiped another changing lanes, causing it to spin out. It wasn't a major accident; I watched as both drivers stepped out of their cars unhurt. But I remember thinking as I passed them, "Thank God. In five minutes, once the emergency vehicles arrive, the freeway is going to be a parking lot." (Reflecting on this now, maybe I shouldn't have left the scene of an accident? Or does that only apply when one is actually involved in the accident?)

Burbank is only 12 miles north of downtown L.A., and it's often referred to as the "Media Capital of the World." I therefore expected it to look like L.A. itself -- a sprawling, industrialized hellhole. But it didn't. It was actually rather charming -- a place with tree-lined streets and single-family homes and horse farms. (The air actually smelled like horseshit, but in a pleasant kind of way.) It was like a wealthy Connecticut suburb with palm trees.

This is exactly how I remember it.

I remember I arrived about a half-hour too early for my meeting, so I pulled over at a hamburger place and stepped outside to call my parents. I remember the air outside was extremely hot -- even hotter than midday San Diego -- and I quickly got back into the air-conditioned car so I wouldn't be all sweaty and gross-looking for my meeting. I remember pulling up to the gate at ABC and giving the guard my name, and I remember him smiling at me and waving me in.

I remember walking through the lobby and seeing the walls lined with pictures of classic television shows from my childhood -- shows like "Happy Days" and "Mork & Mindy." I remember the elevator ride up to meet Donny and Annabelle floor, willing myself to stop sweating.

I was greeted by an assistant and offered water in a cup -- bottled water had recently become verboten at the network due to environmental concerns -- and then Donny and Annabelle came out. "I just saw a car accident!" I blurted out after hands were shook. We were all walking back to Donny's office.

"You did?" Donny asked.

"Yes, right in front of me! On the freeway! I actually saw it happen!"

Meanwhile, my inner voice was whispering "Shut the fuck up. You sound like a crazy person. Witnessing a car accident is probably not that exciting to people who live in Los Angeles. Or to anyone else, for that matter. Calm down. You can do this. You will do this."

We went into the office and shut the door. And for the next hour -- and it was a solid hour -- we talked. Or more accurately stated, I talked. And I talked. And I talked, and I talked. Every time I shut my mouth, Donny or Annabelle would ask me another question, and I talked some more.

And what did they ask me about? Everything. And I do mean everything. In the course of that hour they asked me -- and I told them -- about my experience in stand-up. About living in San Diego versus New York. About having a boyfriend in the Military. About pop culture, including what TV shows and performers I liked and didn't like. About my family. About my sex life. About my political views and my philosophy of life and my thoughts about being a gay man in America in 2008.

It was an incredibly intensive hour of therapy. In fact, as the meeting wore on, I found myself leaning back in my chair, almost reclining, as if I were in an actual therapy session. I even said I one point, "I feel like I'm talking to my therapist!" Donny and Annabelle didn't react. They didn't react to anything I said. They were completely inscrutable. It was like having a conversation with two very inquisitive housecats.



"If you could co-host a pop culture talk show with any straight female celebrity, who would it be?"

I told them I liked Kelly Ripa and thought I'd have good chemistry with someone like her. For some reason, I starting talking about how I liked Danielle Fishel, the girl who played Topanga on "Boy Meets World" and now hosts "The Dish" on the Style Network. Only I couldn't remember her name and kept referring to her as "that Topanga girl." I also mentioned a number of non-famous female comedians I've worked with over the years.



You know... Topanga!

Then they asked me: "If you had to get an apartment in Burbank to tape this show on a regular basis, how would that affect your relationship? Would your boyfriend be OK with that?"

I assured them he would.

Right before I left, I asked them if the fact that I wasn't widely known would be a factor in their final decision. (Good ol' Adam, always trying to sabotage himself.)

"No," Annabelle said. "Nobody knew who Joy Behar was before 'The View.' The show will make you known."

Will, she said. Not would. Will.

They shook my hand. They told me they'd be in touch. I left Donny's office and said goodbye to the assistant and took the elevator down to the lobby and walked outside to my car. My hands shaking, I called my parents again.

"Mom," I said when she answered. "I think my life just changed."

To be continued.

Homo on the brink of fame and stardom.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Tales of Woe From the West Coast (Part 3)

Opportunity knocks once, let's reach out and grab it
Together we'll nab it,
We'll hitchhike, bus or yellow cab it!
(Cab it?)

Movin' right along.
Footloose and fancy-free.
Getting there is half the fun; come share it with me.

--The Muppet Movie

My last installment garnered a whopping zero comments, and I'm about as busy at the moment as I've been anytime in the last two years. But my childhood friend Rebecca Landwehr Olgeirson emailed me Wednesday demanding to know what happens next. So for Rebe's sake (and nobody else's), here goes:

When we last left off, my manager/agent had disappeared, and a woman named Annabelle Chang from ABC had emailed me out of the blue about meeting with me for a talk show. 

After several emails back and forth, Annabelle and I had a pre-meeting phone conversation that lasted about 25 minutes. She told me she had come across me by googling "gay comedians." ("And then we contacted the ones who were good-looking," she added.) Strangely enough, when I google the same thing, my name doesn't even appear on the first results page. I should probably do something about that.

I told Annebelle about myself, including the fact that I had gotten my master's in journalism from Columbia in '96. "Oh," she said, "did you know Roxana Scott*? She's one of my best friends. In fact, she was a bridesmaid in my wedding." 

I couldn't believe my ears.

"Um, yeah," I said, "she was my best friend in grad school."

And she was. I met Roxana my very first day at Columbia. She was a beautiful, elegant, young black woman from Brooklyn. During our very first conversation, as we sat on the steps outside the J-School, I mentioned to Roxana that I was gay -- which was not something I mentioned to everyone in those days. (I was only 25 and had been officially "out" for just three years.) I wasn't sure how Roxana would take this news. Something about her told me she'd be cool with it. But I was wholly unprepared for her response.

"I think my boyfriend might be gay."

"Oh," I said. "Does he..." and then I stopped. I had planned to ask, "Does he initiate sex with you?" This has always struck me as a pretty good test of someone's sexual orientation. But I didn't want to be presumptuous. Maybe Roxana and her boyfriend weren't yet having sex? Or maybe they were, but Roxana wouldn't be comfortable discussing that fact with someone she had just met?"

So all I said was, "Does he..."

And Roxana interrupted, "Yes, he really likes it in the butt."

Well then!

The Site of Our Butt Talk

There's an episode of "Sex and the City" in which Samantha is trying to get an appointment with a much-in-demand breast cancer specialist. Alongside her in the waiting room, also waiting to get an appointment, is a nun, played by the brilliant Julia Sweeney. The nun is not wearing a habit. Their discourse goes as follows:

Samantha: I was once told I wouldn't be able to get backstage to see Mick Jagger. Well I did get backstage... and I blew him. [Silence] Excuse me... I don't know if this is an appropriate question to ask...

Nun: I think we passed appropriate a few seconds ago.

Samantha: What kind of cancer do you have?

Nun: Breast.

Nun: Breast! Me too. I'm curious... Do you have children?

Nun: I'm a nun.

Samantha: You have none.

Nun: No, no, no... I AM a nun. But that doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy your Mick Jagger story.

That was like my first conversation with Roxana. She passed appropriate with me from the get-go, and I adored her for that. The fact that she combined inappropriateness with utter class and poise made her all the more appealing. We were basically inseparable for the remainder of grad school. I recall walking with her through the streets of Harlem and having black guys scream at us: "Oh, no, baby! What are you doing with that ghost?! You don't need to be with him! You need to be with me!," and being utterly flattered that they had assumed we were a couple.

So when Annabelle Chang from ABC dropped Roxana's name -- out of all the names she could have mentioned of people who had gone to Columbia J-School -- it felt more than serendipitous. It felt like fate.

Annabelle scheduled a meeting for one week hence in Burbank. It would include me, her and her boss, Donny Page*, a network vice-president in charge of programming. "And I'll be sure to touch base with Roxana before then," Annabelle added.

The moment our phone call ended, I began composing an email to Roxana. In the years since our Columbia days, she had moved to Europe, married a very wealthy man and given birth to several beautiful children. We had stayed in touch, but only sporadically and always via email.

"You're not going to believe this," I wrote. "But you and I know someone in common. And she could change my entire life..."

To be continued.

Homo who likes it in the butt.

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*A pseudonym.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tales of Woe From The West Coast (Part 2)

The papers said Ed always played from the heart
He got an agent and a roadie named Bart
They made a record and it went in the charts
The sky was the limit...


--Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 


I'm going to cut to the chase here, because the punchline of this story is far less exciting than the set-up:

Bruce disappeared on me.

I mean, not immediately. There were a few phone calls here and there over the next several months; some talk about getting me booked in Vegas. At one point Bruce was going to send me out for a new series that was filming in San Diego; but then the show got canceled. He came to see me at the Laugh Factory one night when I was again booked on that gay show -- and told me afterwards that I was clearly the best comedian on the bill. (And not to sound like an ass, but I was.) But other than that, he never "managed" me in any way.


At the Laugh Factory, Oct. 3, 2008 -- The Night Bruce Came to See Me.
(Photo by Ken Kleiber)

Actually, that's not entirely true: He got me booked on one no-pay show at the Hollywood Improv. And he also tried to negotiate my contract with a little gay resort in Puerto Vallarta that had contacted me directly. (The place was actually located in the appropriately named Playa Los Muertos -- Beach of the Dead. They were offering me like $300 for the whole week, and I would have had to pay my own airfare, so Bruce and I both decided it was a joke. I know other comics who ended up doing the gig. The general word back was that the place was a shithole, and nobody got paid. It has since folded.)

Such Stucco Fabulosity!

Aside from that, I did no business of any kind with Bruce. Every few weeks I would call him and say, "Hey, there. I'm still eager to go out for stuff! What do you have for me?" And each time, he'd say, "I know, I know -- I will, I will." His calls back eventually petered out to the point that they stopped altogether. And then one day, I heard through the grapevine that he had gone to a new agency... and never told me.

Now I'm no showbiz expert, but I'm pretty sure when your manager relocates and neglects to tell you, it's a bad sign!!!

So what happened? Who the hell knows. I sure don't. The whole thing would have made more sense to me if Bruce had sent me out for a bunch of auditions, and I hadn't booked any of them. Or if the night he saw me at the Factory, I had stunk up the joint. But neither of those things happened. He just disappeared... for no apparent reason. Making me wonder if the entire sequence of events hadn't been some sort of grandiose fantasy on my part -- a self-induced Hollywood mirage. Maybe I was Bruce Willis at the end of "The Sixth Sense." Except I knew I wasn't dead; only my career was

Needless to say, I was crushed. I felt as though I had won the lottery... and then lost the ticket.

Months went by. I began working full-time at a tedious, low-paying job in a military housing office. My spirits sank. And then one day, sometime in early spring, out of the blue, I got an email from someone named Annabelle Chang* at ABC-TV:

"Hi, Adam. My team is developing a talk show, and we're looking for a gay comedian to co-host. Would you be available to come up to our studios in Burbank for a meeting next week?"

Suddenly, I was back in the game.

To be continued.

Homo Gone Hollywood.
 
Don't miss THAT SANK SHOW at Bar-Tini Ultra Lounge this Wednesday, 5/4 at 10PM with headliner Helen Hong and featuring Sheba Mason and Neil Thornton! Details at www.adamsank.com.

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*not her real name