After 4 months of keeping a low carbon footprint (for economic not social reasons) I was tired of looking like a poor hippie backpacker. I could feel it was time for a wardrobe (and maybe character) change.

The nice thing about big cities, especially ones built on the rubble of broken dreams, is that they let you reinvent yourself. For a few days at least. You can play the elegant European staring knowledgably at the modern art work, the surfer chick waiting for her set (or boyfriend) to never come in or even the conscious hipster who orders an organic chai latte to compliment (offset?) his not-so-organic apple that pulls out of his hand-stitched hemp laptop bag. Just as long as you have enough thrift stores and confidence to support your character change, you can zip yourself in and out of whatever alter ego you want.


So if I were in Rome, I would probably slip into a slinky silk dress and chase down “La Dolce Vita” on a vintage Vespa. But in LA, I knew I had to to think bigger, louder, cheesier. So I decided to aim for the lead role in my own reality show but eventually had to settle for wearing a ridiculous costume-and-smile ensemble to play my part as “the most enthusiastic audience member” on an outdated game show. Basically, I became “canned laughter” (and occasionally felt like tinned sardines). I guess there’s no point wasting money on special effects when you can get 180 people to dress up like cartoons, dance like no one is filming (they are) and clap like seals in an aquarium. Free. On command. For three hours.

Welcome to “Let’s make a (bum) deal” where the deal is…

… you spend a lot of time (4 hours) and definitely some money (4 and more in lost work, the cost of your transport, costume and even food they kindly sell you while waiting)

…and in return they’ll pretend that they are constantly “auditioning” you to get on the show (that way they are guaranteed energetic “big smile” audience members) where you can maybe win a few thousand (taxable) dollars and definitely walk away looking like the desperate idiot who dressed up in a goat costume, complete with hooves and horns, and made punny goat jokes that were laughed at by your fellow dogs, cats, penguins (why always penguins?) and any number of pirates and cartoon characters.


I have to hand it to the Americans. I worked on game shows in SA and we never got the crowds to act like they were having the party of their lives. And for so long. Their trick is to tell you that they are always scanning the audience to “select” contestants. The host (Wayne Brady) selects people from the audience. The production crew informs him who those people are. But in every break and opportunity, they tell you they haven’t decided who these people are yet. They warn you to be upbeat and energetic, to stand out and be selected. So people go crazy. They dance and clap and go mad like they are that episode of Oprah where she just gave them all free cars. I am sure I saw some tears. Any and every emotion must be on standby. And they test you. How will you react when the contestant loses? Wins? Needs to make a tough decision? It’s better than puppetry. No one sees the strings but, believe me, they are being pulled in every direction.

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It’s an exhausting process…

By the time you get into an audience seat, you have spent over two hours being “auditioned”. It starts with queues outside, where you fill out a form and get a sticker. You then go through the scanner (no cameras or cellphones) before entering the “audition room”, which is basically an open container where you can hear people trying to sell their story with singing and shouting and all number of over-enthusiastic sounds and gestures. This is where they really decide who is on the show. The costume needs to be loud and proud, the story emotional or unusual (three best friends from school come together after 50 years to complete their bucket list wish to be on the show). And you can bet some guy from the military will be on the show (Americans love war vets). There was one on mine. Being a funny girl from the Cape clearly wasn’t enough. My yoga outfit wasn’t convincing. It probably looked like I just came from the gym.


The show itself is stuck in a TV time warp. You have the host, Wayne, and his trusted sidekick, Jonathan, who makes bad jokes to Wayne’s good ones. Then you have Tiffany, the smiling blonde in a shiny dress who sweeps her arms and angles her body to introduce the prizes behind “the curtain”. She could be the girl at a car show or Miss Texas doing her talent routine. She doesn’t so much have a role as a duty to be pretty and smile at the right times. The only role reversal is that Wayne is black and macho while his cheeky sidekick is white and pasty. But no one gets that. It doesn’t pass through their fake smiles or penetrate beneath the layers of stylised characters.

The show sells the dream…the hope…the chance

So everyone plays their part in hope for a chance to dream.

That’s the deal… take it or leave it.


Musing on the fame game and the wheel of misfortune. xxx


Categories: TravelUSA

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