To supplement my meager stand-up comedy income back in the day, I used to audition for commercials. The process was ridiculous, and often hilariously demoralizing. Here’s a true story of one of my favorites:
I walked into a room with three other guys who would be described exactly the same way as myself on paper. It was clear what the director was looking for: longhaired white guy. There were four of us in the final callback, but only one could win the grand prize: playing a ‘surfer dude’ in an upcoming Burger King commercial.
We each took a turn looking at the camera, saying our name, and answering a question the director gave out at random. After saying my name (nailed it), and telling him what my hobbies are (went with soccer, then lied about how often I surf), the director said, “and would you be willing to shave if you got this?”
I didn’t even have a full beard, more like a week or so of stubble. Willing to shave? Really? Being in a national ad campaign would pay thousands and thousands of dollars… not to mention residual checks every time it played on TV after that. I was a broke stand-up comedian. For that amount of money, I would’ve shaved my entire body right there in that room right in front of everyone.
Instead of admitting that, I decided to go with a much more subtle, “yes.”
That’s what auditioning for commercials was like — sipping a can of coke and pretending it was so delicious that you were about to have an orgasm. Taking a bite of a Carl’s Jr. Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger that had been sitting out there forever, pretending it wasn’t cold and disgusting, and spitting it up into the trashcan next to you as soon as the director yelled, “Cut!”
As we struggled to have enough space for the four of us to stand side-by-side in the tiny auditioning room, the director asked us to take our shirts off. I suppose that’s normal — guys are usually shirtless at the beach, but it still felt a little dirty. I thought this might happen, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t crank out a hundred push ups right before I left the house.
We recited a few lines the director fed us, and everything was a breeze. But then things got weird.
He asked us to get in our surfing stances, right there in the room. Four grown men pretending to surf in a tiny room with the director’s camera rolling as he played “Surfin’ USA” by the Beach Boys through a laptop. How do you compete here? Can you really out-surf anyone on solid ground?
“Paddle!” the director shouted. The other three guys didn’t hesitate, dropping to their stomachs, still shirtless, and pretending to paddle on the carpeted floor
I so desperately wanted to say, “screw this” and walk out with the moral high ground. But I thought about the money again, and how low my bank account was at the time, and I was soon on my stomach, dragging my hands across the carpet along with the rest of them.
I never got a call back, and I never actually saw that commercial on TV… just a fond memory of me and three other dudes pretending to surf in a tiny room for several men and a video camera. Nothing weird about that!