Monday, December 3, 2012
I FINALLY HAVE MY DAY IN COURT -- WITH WARREN SAPP AS THE JUDGE!
A few years back, I was actually booked (along with a friend) on a show called The Supreme Court of Comedy, which featured judges like Tom Arnold, Joe Piscopo and Victoria Jackson.
Dorothy did check out my friend’s work -- and then chose to go with a different photographer who was much more expensive. Then she handed me the bill.
Our fake court case came about because Dorothy was insisting that I had said I would pay for her pics, no matter what. My argument was that I had only agreed to pay for the pics if she went to the cheap photographer I knew who would give her a low price.
Dorothy felt she was right in doing what she did because she wanted the most professional pics and she wanted to work with a photographer she felt comfortable with. All of this story was untrue of course, except for the part about Dorothy being a model.
The casting people for The Supreme Court of Comedy loved Dorothy and I, and they loved our story. We were booked to appear on the show, and we would be paid a very generous rate. Unfortunately there was a scheduling conflict with my day job and it didn't work out.
Fortunately, that was not my last chance to do a TV court show.
One day in 2012, I saw yet another ad on Craigs List asking for outrageous stories for a new TV court show, this one starring former NFL great Warren Sapp as the judge. The ad made it pretty clear that the crazier the stories were, the better. Although the ad did not say they were looking for made up stories, it was very clear in the wording of the ad that they just wanted good stories -- true or not.
I had to come up with a new storyline. I wanted to do the show with a girl, because I like working with pretty girls, and I always think it makes for more compelling TV when you have a “he said/she said” type of situation.
I contacted a couple of actresses that I knew in the L.A. area.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I always have a hard time getting actresses to commit to anything, even high-paying jobs. Actually, the easy part is getting them to commit. The hard part is getting them to actually show up.
(I will never understand how people who claim to be actors will commit to a decent-paying gig and then they will back out the first chance they get. Makes no sense to me. I do know that some people consider themselves “serious actors” who would never be seen on any kind of reality show. Ok, then why agree to do the job in the first place? And why not just think of it it a fun improvisational acting exercise that, let’s face it, very few people will ever see?
This new show wasn’t even being done for regular TV -- it was being done for a youtube, channel, for gosh sakes. 99% of the people in the would would never even know it existed.)
I really don’t see a downside for an actor to make a few quick bucks doing a low-profile reality show where they get to do some fun improv. Unless they think they are going to get so famous making movies that someday this footage will come back to haunt them.
I had come up with a new storyline that was a variation on the old one.
The new angle went like this: I had a female friend was going to school to become a massage therapist. She was having a hard time paying for her classes, so I loaned her a few hundred bucks. She finished school, and even gave me some massages to practice her new skills.
When I asked her about repaying the loan, she said she didn’t owe me any money because she had paid me in massages! So I was suing her to get my money back.
I liked this story because any time you have a story about a girl giving a guy massages, it always sounds kind of dirty, even when it isn’t.
Even though nothing happened sexually between the girl and I in this story, it still sounds kind of naughty because she has her hands all over my body.
I pitched that story to the producer of JUDGE SAPP, and he liked it. He did have one question, though -- he wanted to know how much money I had loaned the massage girl in my story.
I was on the spot. I had to think of a number quickly that sounded like a realistic amount of money that someone might pay to go to massage school. I figured this would be a “small claims’ type of show. Thinking my number that I was “suing” for had to be under $500, I said the first number that came into my head: $250. This was the amount that I would be trying to recoup in my fake court case.
My friend Rebecca agreed to do the gig. I asked her if she was comfortable with the massage storyline. I added that if she wasn’t, we could change it to any other storyline that she was comfortable with.
She said she was cool with it, but she seemed hesitant. She asked when we were shooting. I told her they were pretty flexible, they would be willing to work around her schedule.
I contacted the producer and said Rebecca had agreed to be on the show. The producer was totally psyched. He asked if he could see a pic of her. I said I would send him one. Then he had one other question for me.
He had forgotten what the amount of money was that I was suing Rebecca for. I figured, ok, he’s forgotten, so I’ll raise the number. I said it was $300. He said great, and then he went back to work.
Rebecca still seemed liked she wasn’t totally committed. I figured she would back out at some point. Finally the producers gave me a shoot date. They were filming on over a three-day weekend, and we could come in any one of those days -- either Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. The producers could not have been nicer. They were willing to do whatever they could to accommodate us.
As the days went on, and Rebecca still hadn’t committed to a specific date, they even doubled the amount of money they were paying us.
I got the feeling they really liked our story and they really wanted us to be on the show.
I sent the dates to Rebecca to see when she wanted to do the show. That was when the other shoe dropped. She told me she was going out of town that weekend and she couldn’t possibly do the show.
I got the feeling that no matter what dates I had given her, Rebecca would have said she was going out of town. I was tempted to follow her status updates on Facebook just to see if she was really going anywhere, but I decided not to waste my time on yet another flakey L.A. actress who had dropped out.
There were plenty of other actresses in Hollywood who I could get for the show.
So I contacted Michelle, a sexy blonde who I had met at a comic book convention. Michelle was an actress, too. Michelle seemed hesitant at first, too. I guess there is something about approaching a girl by saying, “Hey, I can get you on youtube!” that just turns them off.
But Michelle agreed to do the gig. I spoke to her on the phone about it, and I asked her the same questions I had asked Rebecca: “Are you comfortable with the massage storyline?” She said she was. “Because if you’re not comfortable with the massage storyline, we can change it to any other storyline that you are comfortable with.”
No, no, Michelle reassured me. She was totally fine with the massage angle. But I could tell she wasn’t. You can always tell when someone is going to back out of something when you ask them what day they are free, and instead of giving you a straight answer, they start talking about how busy they are, and they keep asking more and more questions instead of giving you an answer.
As we got closer to the big weekend, Michelle surprised no one by dropping out. Her excuse? She had been booked to work on a short film for that day. I guarantee that however much money she was paid for the short film, she would have made much more money working for 2 hours on the court show.
Speaking as a guy who likes making money doing fun acting jobs, I will never understand how someone can turn down a high-paying job for a lower-paying one. I totally understand the concept of someone wanting “to be taken seriously as an actor,” and wanting to do favors to help out their film-making friends. But Michelle could have taken two hours out of her day to do the Court Show, made the money, and then spent the whole rest of the weekend on the short film, which I can pretty much guarantee paid her nothing.
But no, her mind was made up, she was too busy to do the court show. Now I really had to scramble. The shoot date was fast approaching, and I still had no massage girl.
The producers of the show kept bugging me to see a picture of “Rebecca.” If they were going to put her on TV, they naturally wanted to see what she looked like. (I hadn’t told them yet that Rebecca had dropped out. I figured if they knew that, they might cancel the gig altogether.)
I thought it best to keep stalling them. I told them that Rebecca was nervous about doing the show, she hadn’t fully committed yet, but I was pretty sure I could convince her.
This was all BS, of course. I knew Rebecca was gone, but I figured they would be happy with any actress that I brought in, regardless of the girl was actually named Rebecca or not.
A few days before the court date shoot, I worked as an extra on a show about little people called Pit Boss. While filming that show in an L.A. bar, I met a sweet 22-year-old Latina named Joanna who I had an easy chemistry with. We hung out together for a few hours on the Pit Boss set.
She told me she had never acted before.
I asked Jo-Jo (as she likes to be called) if she wanted to be my massage girl on the court show. Much to my relief, she said yes.
This was my last shot at getting on the court show. The producers needed to see a pic of “Rebecca” now. I sent them a pic of Joanna with a note saying, “Her full name is Rebecca Joanna. But she prefers to be called Joanna.”
The producers didn’t care what her name was. They were happy that they had successfully cast another episode of JUDGE SAPP!
The producer had one more question for me: he had forgotten once again how much money I was suing the massage girl for. I saw this as a chance to raise the stakes again. I told him $350, raising it as high as I felt comfortable while still keeping our story believable and staying under what I thought was a $500 limit. (Later I watched episodes of JUDGE SAPP on youtube where I saw people suing each other for thousands of dollars, so it turns out I may have grossly underestimated the amount of money we could have walked away with on that day.)
Joanna and I met for coffee one day and worked out our whole story. She had never spoken any dialogue on TV before, so we had a mock trial, where I pretended to be a lawyer and grilled her about the “facts” of our case. I just wanted to make sure she would be convincing.
After an hour or so, we were had gotten our story down pat. I didn’t know how good of an actress JoJo might be, but at least I knew she could convincingly tell her side of the story.
On the day of the shoot, all the defendants and plaintiffs in the fake court cases were told to dress casually. I chose to dress as if I was going to an actual courtroom. Even through the producers said this was supposed to be more of a party atmosphere, like in at a nightclub, I felt more comfortable; treating it like a real courtroom and dressing appropriately.
JoJo was dressed, like she meant business -- a blazer with a blouse and skirt. Her hair was tied back in a no-nonsense bun.
Throughout the day, the producers kept reminding us that was supposed to be a fun show, to have fun with it, keep it light and funny, and not take it too seriously. Although there was no script for JUDGE SAPP, each person who would be speaking in court was coached as to the best way to tell their story.
Just like in any “reality” show, they wanted to make sure the people on screen said things in the most entertaining way possible.
Joanna and I had a short wait, about an hour or so before they were ready for us. Then it was time for our "trial" to begin.
I entered the courtroom first, followed by Joanna. After weeks of planning, it had finally come together. The trial of the century could finally begin.
There was just one hitch here. Although the cases on Judge Sapp were fake, plaintiffs would still be awarded real cash if they won -- in addition to being paid a fee for appearing on the show.
So not only would Jojo and I be getting paid to act in the fake court, but, if the judge ruled in my favor, I would be paid a settlement, which I had promised to split with JoJo.
Here was the catch -- if Jojo won the case, we wouldn't be paid any settlement money.
That meant there was only one possible outcome of the case for us to make that extra money -- I had to win. Jojo would have to take a fall.
Here was the tricky part: would a first time actress be able to convincingly play the part of a woman who is putting up a good fight but still has to lose in the end?
That was the challenge faced by my last-minute substitute.
The trial began. Jojo explained her side of the story to the judge. She was very calm, almost quiet. She seemed a little nervous to me. I found myself not really believing her story. She wasn’t selling it.
I tried to add a little drama to the proceedings. At one point, I shouted out, “She’s lying!” Judge Sapp calmly nodded in my direction, saying, “I got ya, Barry,” implying that he would consider both sides of the case before rendering a verdict.
Next it was my turn to speak. Jojo had referred to me giving her the money as a gift so she could go to massage school. She had apparently been coached by the writing staff to say that, as well as making a remark about me being “much, much older” than her.
I could take a little good-natured ribbing. I knew the writers were just trying to punch up our case, and make sure they squeezed as much drama out of it as they could. I was kind of bummed about that “gift” angle, because if the judge believed that, then there would be no settlement money.
The writers had coached me to say that it was definitely a loan, and that she needed to be taught a lesson in responsibility.
I added in a comment about how you can’t pay people in massages. “You can’t just go massaging all your problems away,” I noted.
Judge Sapp asked Jojo if she had made enough money to repay the loan yet. Not wanting to tell a lie, even in a fake court case, Jojo said she was just starting out in massage and hadn’t made that much money yet. A few minutes later, she was asked how much she had made so far. She admitted that she had made at least $350. That little contradiction wound up deciding the case.
After a few short minutes, the judge had heard enough. He deliberated with his legal advisor, who said, “This is a classic case of gift vs. loan.”
The judge ruled that Jojo was inconsistent with her story in how much money she had made giving massages. Because of this, he felt she was being deceptive. The verdict was in my favor.
Judge Sapp ruled that I would receive a settlement -- but I wouldn’t get all the money. “You did get all those massages, “Barry,” he noted. So he awarded me $175.00 -- half the money I had sued for, which I promptly split with Jojo as soon as the check arrived in the mail a week later.
And so it came to pass that after years of trying, I finally had my day in court.
What lessons did I take away from the case? That justice is fair, even when the judge is an ex-football player; that Hollywood actresses are totally unreliable; and that sometimes, it’s best to go not with the person who is necessarily the best for the job, but the one who will actually show up.
Jojo turned out to be so reliable that just a few months later I approached her again when I needed someone to play a prank on for a show from the producers of Punk’d!
That show also aired on a you tube channel. Funny, my acting career started out in big-budget movies, then I moved to prime-time TV, and then I started doing work that went straight to you tube.
Some progress, huh?