AWKWARD NEW YORK is a weekly column about the uncomfortable experiences of Chris Vespoli in and around NYC. Every Tuesday is another cringe-worthy account, from being fat shamed by a Dunkin’ Donuts employee to crashing Fashion Week.
No, I’m not Jack McBrayer, obviously, but I once held the same job as his beloved character on the former hit NBC comedy, 30 Rock. For roughly eight months in 2006, I worked at 30 Rockefeller Plaza as an NBC Page, and for three of those months I was assigned to work as a production assistant at Saturday Night Live, upon which TGS with Tracy Jordan — the fictional show within a show where Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon and, of course, Kenneth Parcell worked — was based. I’d interned at SNL for a season before getting hired as a Page, so the show held a special place in my heart. I was thrilled to be back.
I was stationed at a desk outside the doors to Studio 8H with two other “desk Pages.” Our job was straightforward, yet daunting: tend to the needs of the cast members, producers, guest hosts, and musical performers, which on any given day included ordering food, distributing scripts and rundowns, locating talent, arranging transportation, ushering clandestine VIPs up through the building from the secret service entrances in the bowels of the building, and making sure certain guests’ green rooms were at a specific temperature (Mary J. Blige’s people demanded it be 72 degrees in her room — not 71, not 73, but exactly 72 — and they made it a point to bitch me out when they somehow sensed it wasn’t). One time I was asked by Sacha Baron Cohen’s manager to find a kosher deli that would deliver food for the Borat star…at 11:45 at night…on a Saturday. In a phrase, we made the impossible possible. Or at least we tried.
Why did we bust our asses subjecting ourselves to 12-, 14-, and 16-hour days for $10 an hour? Because like the bubbly Kenneth, we “just love[d] television so much,” and hoped that if we worked hard enough, someone important would notice and give us a real job at the network where we didn’t have to wear a cheap, blue polyester suit with a fucking peacock tie and a name tag — like a budget airline flight attendant on a perpetual voyage to nowhere. Luckily, I had earned a reputation as a hard worker, but awkwardly, it was for all the wrong reasons.
It was nearing Christmas at the show, and one of the sketches that week was set in a Nativity scene. The back hallway was full of live barnyard animals — camels, donkeys, or whatever other diseased creatures were present in the manger that supposed holy night. Needless to say, the mood on the floor was even more chaotic than normal. One of the producers was rushing out to the set for rehearsal when she spilled the cup of water she was carrying all over the floor, right outside the main studio doors. Strapped for time, she kept on moving. Fearing that someone would slip and fall, but fearing even more that someone would blame the accident on me, I volunteered to wipe up the water.
An hour or so later, one of the other Pages with whom I was working struck up a conversation with me.
“Hey, a lot of people back there are talking about you,” she announced. This could’ve meant any number of things, so I instantly tensed up. She continued: “I overheard someone saying, ‘One of those animals peed all over the floor, and that Page, Chris Vespoli, is such a dedicated guy that he got down on his hands and knees and wiped it right up!’”
I was stunned. The good news was someone who worked on the show knew that I would do anything for a job, but the bad news was they assumed “anything” included sopping up camel piss (there’s a fine line between dedication and desperation, know what I mean?). Ultimately, I decided that it worked in my favor, and I let the myth of ol’ Chris Vespoli the piss wiper grow throughout the hallways of 30 Rock.
I never did wind up parlaying my time at SNL into a full-time job — it just wasn’t in the cards — but that doesn’t matter. Working there in the capacity that I did fulfilled a childhood dream, and my media career has taken some interesting and exciting turns since then. Well, maybe not as exciting as some others’ careers, like Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza, another former Page with whom I had served, but exciting nonetheless.
And besides, how many people can say they had the exact same real-life job as a popular TV character? … Well, I guess crime scene investigators can. And ad execs. And chemistry teachers turned meth cooks. And taxi drivers, waitresses, and ER doctors.
OK, I guess this really wasn’t that special after all.
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