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September 19, 2014

The New York Reality TV School (Parts 3 and 4)

by Jay Black, posted Jun 27th 2008 1:41PM
Reality show casting director talks to an aspiring reality star while some woman from Sweden records it for some reason.Part Three: Never Retreat! Never Surrender!

The lessons started in earnest. First was a philosophy that Robert follows in his own life, but that he felt worked perfectly for those seeking to be on reality TV:

Never Deny, Always Reply, Never Ask Why.

He repeated it several times. I won't do that here. Just, uh, read that sentence a few times and you'll get the point.

Essentially, the point of his philosophy was that you need to be open to all things -- you should never say "no" (never deny); you should reply to every request made to you, presumably in the affirmative (always reply), and you should never question the logic of what is being asked of you (never ask why).

At first I thought the slogan was the kind of thing that you would design as the heart of a shady religion. Or, maybe, it would be something an upperclassmen would use on a sorority sister who was hesitating to take her top off.

This was, however, the first really solid advice offered for those seeking to be on reality TV. Because, like people being fleeced of their money by soulless evangelists or freshmen girls being talked out of their virginity by beer-soaked frat boys, people on reality shows are, for the most part, victims. Producers use their willingness to make fools out of themselves as entertainment fodder; the ideal reality show "star", then, is one who gives themselves over completely to the needs of the production.

Whereas a normal person should Sometimes Deny, Reply When Appropriate, And ALWAYS Ask Why, that kind of common sense is death on a reality show.

To hammer home his point, Robert immediately launched into an exercise designed to illuminate his philosophy. The students in the circle were asked to hand clap at one another. One student "gave" the clap to another student who "took" the clap with a clap of their own, and then the process repeated itself.

I'll leave the gonorrhea jokes for the commenters.

If your response to the clap giving and taking is "What the hell?", then you weren't listening to the slogan. Remember, you're supposed to do what's asked of you immediately and without question.

The clapping started. Then it continued. And continued. And ... continued. I wrote in my notes that the clapping "has just entered into its seventh hour," but I may have been indulging in a bit of hyperbole.

There was one notable moment during the clapping: someone did something wrong and said, "I'm sorry." That led to another New York Reality TV School slogan:

Never apologize.

See, reality TV is supposed to capture who you are. You can't apologize for being yourself -- warts and all -- because the whole point of reality TV is to show who you are... especially the warts and the all. You're supposed to be like Comic Book Guy. If someone asks you to comb the Sweet Tarts out of your beard, the appropriate response is "don't try to change me, baby."

The noise you just heard was the sound of the last thin sinew holding civilized society together snapping.

Part Four: Tennis Anyone?

Things were really rolling now. Literally.

During the entire class, Robert had several cameramen floating around filming everything. This was to get you used to the idea that on a reality show your every move would be filmed. This was one of the better lessons because over the course of the three hours, you really did start to forget the cameras' presence. Reality show stars have to maintain a precarious balance between forgetting that the cameras are on them and constant awareness of the fact they're being filmed.

But, as Paula Abdul would say: every time the New York Reality TV School took two steps forward, it took two steps back.

While the cameras were a good, physical representation of what you would face on a reality show, the next exercise smelled so much like BS that I was worried the White House Press corps might show up out of habit.

Robert introduced his brother, Philip (Phil! Philly!), who was going to be playing the part of a reality TV show casting agent in a lesson called "on the grill with Phil".

This was interesting to me as one of the attendants was an actual reality TV show casting agent. Like a real one. Like one that casts shows that you've heard of. Like Big Brother and The Moment of Truth.

So why Phil needed to be there -- as an over-the-top Hollywood caricature, complete with unironic mustache -- is something I didn't understand.

He carried with him a list of actual reality show casting calls. After Phil read the description of what the producers were looking for, the students were to jump in the center of the circle and start explaining why they were the best person to be cast on the show.

While this was going on, the other students ... threw tennis balls around the room.

See if you can follow this: during a reality show, there's a lot of distraction, so, to be a good contestant, you need to learn how to talk while those distractions are going on. After all, the next big reality show might be Real World: Wimbledon.

So, you know ... tennis balls.

Phil read the descriptions:

"Does a family member owe you money?"

"Did a family member ruin your life?"

"Are you divorced?"

"Are you a former prom queen?"

"Do you suffer from road rage?"

"Does someone in your band have a serious issue?"

(Next year's television lineup ... get your TiVos ready!)

Anyway, there were no shortage of people willing to jump on the grill with Phil. Phil hit them with a set of rapid fire questions, most of which revolved around one theme: "why are you the right person for this show?"

Guess what? Very few of the students in attendance were able to answer that question. Despite the fact that the whole thing was playing out like the kind of lame improv activity Michael Scott might be a part of -- presumably something that should be old hat for so many accomplished actors -- almost every On The Grill with Phil segment ended with a shrug.

The problem with the question is that there is only one answer: I want to be famous. And that answer is the only one you're not allowed to give.

I'm not sure if the students learned the central contradiction of the lesson. It reminds me of The Tao of Steve. To paraphrase: If you're out on a casting call and even THINKING about getting famous, you're finished, cuz casting agents can smell an agenda like sh*t on a shoe.

One last thing about the On the Grill with Phil segment: as it was winding down, Phil insulted one of the students. She tried to handle it, but Phil kept at her: "What are you, a moron? You can't figure this out?"

She stormed out, screaming "This is the school ... for stupidness!"

If you were worried that the first ever class of the New York Reality TV School was marred with controversy, fret not. She was an actress who was working with Phil and Robert to recreate the kind of big emotional breakdowns you often see on a reality show.

It was a clever and most likely important lesson to learn. The thing that was hilarious about it was how the students reacted to it. My friend and fellow comedian Vinnie Nardiello who attended the class with me pointed out this particular gem from one of the female students:

"When she ran out of the room, all I could think of was ... well, one less competitor!"

Really? Were we on the show already? Were these people so conditioned by their love of these awful shows as to be constantly playing some sort of weird home version of Survivor?

And people worry about video games causing violence.

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