Sunday, October 13, 2013
Picked David up at his place for the drive to Lionel Wilson Airport in Oakland (Lionel was an old friend who played baseball with my husband, Mel Reid, for the California Eagles of the Black Baseball League back in the day), left at 10:30 and arrived at LAX 15 minutes early to be picked up by a sleek black luxurious limo whose driver was standing below with his printed sign bearing our name. This is where the dream took wing.
About 40 minutes later we arrived in Hollywood at the studios, were met by a most courteous producer who would escort us through the day. We were guided to a dressing room bearing my name which was arranged like a small living room with an adjoining private restroom. A delicious lunch was delivered shortly thereafter (crab, prawns, green salad, garlic bread).
Bryan, our producer and the young man with whom I'd been corresponding over the past 24 hours joined us clutching a clipboard to his chest and a worried look on his face. "I'm supposed to ask you if you'd be willing to join Arsenio for a couple of jokes during the show," and poor Bryan's expectations weren't wrong. Without hesitation I said a resounding, "No!" This is what I'd feared. I did not want to become the foil for a professional comic's schtick. Nor did I wish to become a 'lil' ole lady cartoon. If I couldn't do this on my terms, then I'd not do it at all. I was smiling, but adamant, and Bryan knew it.
He assured me that he could fix it, and that I shouldn't worry. It was clear that it was Bryan who had discovered me online, and it was he who had sold Arsenio on bringing me to the show -- and that Arsenio didn't have a clue. I was sure that if Arsenio didn't have any idea of me or my work then we wouldn't get beyond the 92 year-old ranger, and that would be wasteful of my time and their money.
He disappeared for a time and returned with a smile which meant that my message had been delivered and they'd adjusted their expectations.
I would have about 5 minutes with Arsenio on camera, and there would be no time for messaging.
And, Oh Lordy, the level of humor on this show is surely not that of either Bill Maher or Jon Stewart. Both specialize in sophisticated political commentary generously laced with obscenity and irreverence, but the edgy message never fails to come through with the laughs. The style of Arsenio's show is closer to that of a risque Soupy Sales (make no mistakes, I loved Soupy) and greatly dependent upon sexual innuendo enhanced by lots of skin. I suppose that -- on the spectrum of humor -- many expressions are essential to meet varied tastes, but oh my! What could I have been thinking?
It seems that the night before when Tyra Banks was his guest, Arsenio had done the first 20 minutes of the show with his fly zipper down. Several times members of the crew had tried to call his attention to it during the show, but failed. Tonight the opening skit was based on "Zip Down Fridays," and everyone, including the star of the show had their flys unzipped.
Backstage I was seated with David and others before a huge monitor watching the rehearsal in horror! I was to follow this! I uttered outloud that Arsenio ought to be ashamed of himself for using such material. That this level of humor was below any standards of decency, and to my surprise his backstage people said, "tell him, Betty! We think you should tell him on camera." I was deadly serious. When I was introduced during the rehearsal the first thing I said was that the skit would never pass the grandmother's test for decency (with a smile, of course). I was serious, and he knew it. They decided to drop the stuff they'd prepared for me to say and get it into the script. His charm over-rode my objections, and my resistance flew out the window. One would have to go a long way to escape Arsenio's boyish warmth and infectious good nature. I liked this crazy man!
All-in-all, I figure that they'd flown me down and paid for a limo to pick us up and only for five minutes on camera and no time to learn anything about my work. Makes no sense to me. In the aftermath the public response has been purely positive -- which also doesn't make much sense, either. What are they responding to?
I was followed by Cedric the Entertainer, but didn't hear his interview due to my own inattention brought on by the relief of having completed my brief public appearance on television.
But it was the CNN Anderson Cooper interview that was something I'm still mulling over in the quiet moments. That was even more strange, but I'll leave that story for tomorrow.
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