By Alex Distefano
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As a recovering TV-soundbite whore, let me once again take you inside the world of human bobbleheads, where esteemed journalists are called upon to give 12- to 18-second utterances (25 seconds if it's live) about the latest celebrity marriage, divorce, breakdown, or botched hairstyle.
It's all so wildly glamorous and exciting, but you quickly find that as a professional talking head, you're the world's only whore who doesn't get paid. What's worse, you have fewer rights than an American war hostage. I've been booked and canceled, put on hold then never gotten back to, and dragged to the studio then bumped for a hailstorm in Indianaall because I was malleable enough to be willing to offer some soundbites for free in the first place (and I still amplease book me, people!).
You can try to fight the system, but generally you're helpless against the heartless quirks of live TV. Once, when a cable news show bumped me for someone else, they appeased me by asking for my available dates in the following two weeks. That was really considerateexcept that they didn't pick up the phone on any of those dates! When they did call on anotherday, I eagerly rang back, pathetically willing to change my plans to be on TV. But they had already gotten some other free whore! As I squealed like a stuck pig, they responded, "Sorry, we can't possibly bump the other person," which I found sadly poetic in all of its absurdist glory. The bumping processmuch like alternate-side-of-the-street parkingcan never seem to work in your favor.
Once, though, I forced it to do so out of sheer will. A producer called to book me about that day's big gossip story and I was thrilled, but halfway through the conversation she murmured, "Wait, the other line's ringing." My heart raced. My palms sweated up. A whore knows when he's about to be had. Sure enough, the woman came right back and ballsily announced, "Oh, sorry, we got someone else. We'll take a rain check." I started my now familiar screaming and geschreying routine. Smoke was pouring out of my anus. I threatened international kidnappings and other drastic acts. She canceled the other person.
Producers will also use the old bait and switch, emitting straight-faced utterances like "We have to bump you, but to make up for it, we'll have you on next week with SARAH JESSICA PARKER." They don't. They don't even have you on with HOWIE MANDEL. Or they'll book you, then call the next day to saytrue story"Sorry, we're going for a more comedic approach. Instead of having a commentator, we're getting a comedian." But excuse me, I take a comedic approach! I have no real information! Alas, the more you scream that, the less hilarious you seem. Another popular dumping line is "Sorry, I didn't realize other producers were working on this segment too. They already booked someone else." The old "they did it" routine clears everyone of any wrongdoing, uniting the dumper and the dumpee in distaste for a common enemy. But the truth is that theyor whoeversimply got someone better.
HO-HO-HO YOUR BOAT
If you miraculously do get on, you have to think more quickly on your feet than a serial killer's love object. Once, I was all set to do a segment reminiscing about a dead screen legend and was told by the producer, "Be your usual wildly funny and outrageous self. Be zany!" I prepared all sorts of crazy quips, which wasn't easy considering we were discussing a world-famous suicide. But when the show started, the host was all solemn and respectful, wanting some serious analysis and probing pathos. I promptly slapped on a dour face and changed my tone to utter reverence! Honey, I'm a slutI mean a proand have learned to use my mouth as a doggie paddle to get my ass to shore within three and a half minutes any night of the week.
Another time, I was pre-interviewed about one ROSIE O'DONNELLrelated topic, but the on-air host asked detailed questions regarding a whole other one, which I knew bubkes about. I hemmed and fudged my way all through it, sweating like KATE MOSS going through customs, but again, I sort of made it, even if I inadvertently wrapped with an unappetizing look from an Edvard Munch painting.
Live shows like that are terrifying, but the pre-taped ones areeven worseannoying. For a shoot at your home, it takes them 90 minutes to set up, 90 minutes to interview you, and an hour to break down. In other words, it takes the whole freaking dayand while they're at it, they turn off your heater and phones to minimize the background noise! You're suddenly held hostage in your freezing apartment where no one can reach you, just so you can robotically recite the details of OWEN WILSON's early life for a mass audience! (Works for me.)
What's more, after grilling you for so long, they'll sometimes end up using only two of your bites while making time for 100 utterances from some 19-year-old cluck from Ding Dong Weekly. And the whole time they assault you with offensive questions about why certain curvy actresses are so attractive "to the opposite sex." I always answer, "Well, not to me! I think I'm probably the wrong person to ask that question." They laugh nervously, then go right back to their black-and-white world of boy-meets-girl, which is so fucking obsolete and boring.