If you were living in New York City around 2011, you may have caught an odd commercial on NY1, Time Warner Cable’s local news channel in the five boroughs. If you didn’t, I suggest you take a moment to watch the 30-second spot below, which some noble benefactor of the arts recorded straight off a grainy standard definition TV, using a cell phone camera, and uploaded to YouTube.
Let’s state the obvious: The actors made some great decisions with their characters.
For one, the Sun was very believable. She made me feel warm, you know? Not like that other creepy, intrusive Sun in the Jimmy Dean commercials who’s always invading people’s homes and forcing frozen breakfasts on them (when a strange white man breaks into your house and wants you to eat his “sausage,” that’s your cue to quickly get the fuck out of there).
And how about that surly raindrop? He really made me believe he was out to ruin someone’s perfect day. And his object work with the newspaper? Brilliant.
The actors’ tour de force performances are really allowed to shine (like the sun!) against the sparseness of the plain, white studio backdrop. Well, it’s probably just a white sheet stapled to the wall of an East Village tenement, where this low-budget monstrosity was likely shot, but that’s not the point. The point is, this commercial made you feel something, and that’s what great acting is supposed to do. It’s supposed to make you feel. When I first watched this commercial, I felt something, alright; jealousy, because I could have actually been in it.
You see, my one and only TV audition was for the part of that surly raindrop. And I failed spectacularly.
In the summer of 2010, after I had all but abandoned the stable career path that is stand-up comedy (but before I embarked on the equally solid gravy train that is freelance writing), I impulsively tried my hand at commercial acting. You might not know this, but most people you see in TV commercials are comedians of some stripe. Before “Flo” was hawking Progressive Insurance, she was performing at The Groundlings in LA. Before “Lily” was helping AT&T customers find the perfect rate plan, she was running scenes at the UCB. And before “Jan” was selling Toyotas, she was at The Groundlings, too. Yes, commercial work is a lucrative life for those with a vagina and a three-to-four-letter word name, but not for a guy like me.
Commercial acting wasn’t something I had always wanted to do. In fact, I had never even considered it. So when an old comedy friend told me he had recommended me for the audition, I was woefully unprepared. I had just returned to New York after a yearlong stint in LA, where I was “writing and producing,” which is LA speak for “making asinine comedy sketches on YouTube during my days off from working part-time at the Best Buy off Venice Boulevard.” A role in a local cable channel’s weather commercial sounded like the lead in King Lear by comparison. And best of all, it paid a cool $1,000.
Let’s examine how it all went wrong for me…
First, I didn’t have a headshot — the most basic tool used by aspiring actors to convince casting directors of how beautiful they can look while unnaturally posed in front of a brick wall. In lieu of a professionally shot photo, I repurposed an old picture of me at the Hollywood sign that my friend had taken back in LA. I didn’t want to seem too cocky, so I opted to crop the Hollywood sign out, leaving only my fat, bespectacled, smirking mug.
The only version of the picture I had was on Facebook. This might come as a shock to those of you who aren’t photo savvy, but Facebook shots look fairly atrocious when blown up to 8-by-10 inches on a self-service photo machine at an understaffed FedEx Kinko’s just minutes before a big audition. But nevertheless, I stapled it to the back of my “acting résumé,” which I had hastily thrown together the night before.
Experts say you should never tell a lie on a résumé. Mine contains many.
For starters, I am not, nor have I ever been, 5 feet 4 inches tall. I’m actually about 5 feet 3 inches. It may seem inconsequential, but that extra inch can mean the difference between playing a tall child and playing a short man, which translates to a considerable jump in day rate. (Side note: I can’t believe I was actually 125 lbs. back in 2010. I’m about 165 now. They say muscle weighs more than fat, which means I must have a lot of fat.)
I didn’t exactly tell the whole truth when it came to my acting credits either. Though I really did play all those roles for a production company called Sans Pants Productions (my work as “Jewish Boy #2” was quite masterful…and culturally insensitive), what I failed to reveal is that I didn’t have to audition for any of them, because Sans Pants Productions was just myself and four of my college friends making dumb sketch comedy videos for YouTube (on my days off from Best Buy, as I mentioned). Though we did get some good media exposure — including a write up on Gawker and an appearance on the Maury show — a professional enterprise we certainly were not. Our “corporate headquarters” was my friend’s walk-up in Brooklyn.
The rest of the résumé is pretty clueless too, particularly the “Special Skills” section. I have no idea why I thought being able to play drums and guitar would be pertinent to playing a personified raindrop in a weather commercial. I probably should’ve read the casting notice that my friend had emailed to me more closely:
When I got to the audition, I originally read for the part of Cloud #1. It demanded a “young, hip attitude,” but when the casting directors saw just how much of an old soul I was (read: insufferable curmudgeon), they invited me back the next day to read for the part of the 40-year-old-ish Adult Raindrop. This is what is known in the acting world as a “call back.” I delivered what I believed was the best on-camera performance of my early career, easily trumping my previous work as “Jim the Restroom Attendant” or “1950s Announcer.” I was cold. I was cutting. I was unforgiving and unrelenting. I was the raindrop to end all fucking raindrops.
Unfortunately, the casting directors did not agree.
When you get turned down for an acting part, there’s no regretful phone call or email. There’s no eloquently crafted rejection letter. There’s just silence and waiting and desperation. Days turn into weeks. Weeks become months. Hope gives way to doubt. Then, more than a year later, after you’ve finally moved on and made peace with yourself, you see the part you were meant to play on TV being played by someone else, and you wonder what could have been.
I’m not saying that playing a surly raindrop on a limited-release cable TV commercial would have catapulted me into stardom, made me a household name, or otherwise changed my life for the better…I just really could’ve used that $1,000.