Recently, I taped one of those VH-1 talking head shows, where comedians and professional wrestlers and editors of Women’s Health Magazine narrate an essential list of cultural moments, such as the 20 Most Pregnant Ladies of the 1980s, or What Were Those Faggots Thinking?!? Part IV. I was a little conflicted about doing it for all sorts of reasons, both real and made up, but was gently talked into it by a friend at the network. She made the very excellent and difficult to ignore point that this would be silly fun, and probably no more harmful to my career than the Hitler uniform I choose to wear onstage at comedy shows, for shock value. (and comfort--the cotton moves remarkably well.)
I went in and, yes, it was actually kind of fun. The only difficult part was my reluctance to use certain kinds of colloquial words that might have pleased the producers. This was because 1) My great respect for the English language causes me to get terrible migraine headaches just from seeing slang like “hottie” or “blogroll” or “23 skidoo” written on a page, and 2) I feel super insincere trying to make that kind of youthful stuff come out of my mouth. (Please understand I realize this also makes me a tremendous prick. My reluctance to fist-bump only makes my interactions more awkward, and my insistence on avoiding emoticons and spelling out every little bit of Internet shorthand is probably only slightly less annoying to people than my insistence on repeatedly telling everyone about these delightful grammatical rules I follow.)
Now that I think about it, there was one other difficult part for me--I had no real memory of about 1/3 of the celebrities I’d been asked to discuss at length. I mean, I recognized their names (mostly), but couldn’t place most of their faces, couldn’t remember their pop songs, never watched their sitcoms, didn’t follow their modeling careers, etc. To their credit, the producers were very nice and did their best to re-awaken my interest in Gabrielle Reece and Toni Braxton, but I guess I was thinking about other things when the rest of the world was obsessing over those two. Actually, it did make me wonder what I was thinking about back then, if not Toni Braxton. Probably something awesome.
Oh wait. I just remembered one last part that was a little difficult for me. (My life is way harder than yours, Burma.) It was not easy to discuss certain things without betraying some measure of cruelty or contempt in my voice. Really, it’s harder than you’d think. For instance, if someone were to say the words “Jordan Knight” to you right now, how many truly positive things would you have to say about him? Keep in mind this isn’t you in the year 1989; this is you with almost 20 years perspective on the version of you that used to wear a gigantic NKOTB button pinned to the single strap holding up your acid-washed denim overalls. I understand and respect that VH-1 prefers upbeat or tongue-in-cheek jokes but, man, when you’re charged with generously offering an extra cultural minute to someone like Jordan Knight or Joey Lawrence, there really is such a fine line between tongue-in-cheek and knife-in-back. (or gun-in-own-mouth.)
Apart from navigating those concerns, I honestly did have a good time and my first thought after wrapping was, “I’d do this again, if the topic were something I’m more familiar/comfortable with.” (i.e. not '40 Reasons We Used to be Really Horny for Nick Lachey.') Sure, the experience was a little embarrassing and I definitely wrestled with my own highly self-conscious ideas about integrity, but what it really came down to was this: I got to goof around for an hour. I wasn't asked to wear a crazy hat, and no one suggested I sing a Gerardo song for grins. I just sat (slumped) in a chair and joked. Pretty painless, kinda fun. Until I saw the show.
Here's the thing…I sucked. Honestly, after watching the broadcast I was watching some of the other pundits speak very knowledgeably and sentimentally about the show's subjects and I started thinking, "Ohhhhh, that's what makes shows work. People who are really good at setting up video clips!" Also, people who are not shy about being very enthusiastic. And people with decent posture. Suddenly, any traces of embarrassment or compromised credibility were supplanted by a very strong sense that I looked chubby, had bad hair, poor posture, and weak eye contact. Also, maybe only about half or fewer of the topics on the program were ones I discussed during my taping. As a result, I didn't have a lot of screen time. After spending all that time deliberating about doing the show in the first place because it seemed a little shallow, I ended up disappointed that I was barely present in the broadcast and, when I was present, it was a really unappealing, nasal version of me. It proved an O'Henry-esque lesson in dramatic irony. And, with literary references like that one, if VH-1 ever produces a special called '40 Most Gifted Short Fiction Writers of All Time,' hopefully I will be asked back. But first, I'll be sure to take night courses in diction, nutrition, and The Alexander Technique.