How I Ended Up on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno
Strange things happen in Los Angeles. It is a land of constant summer, Hispanic restaurants, marijuana haze and beautiful people. And everything seems to connect somehow with the film industry. Everyone is an aspiring something.
And sometimes you end up on television. It just happens.
It was spring break of my senior year and I was visiting one of my best friends in sunny L.A. V was in her final semester of university as well, but she was spending hers doing an externship of sorts, performing grip and electric work on projects that ranged from music videos to feature length films. I was there for almost two weeks, and I very much enjoyed my time hobnobbing around with her, my other good friend Sam, and a varied assortment of colorful characters.
One of my last days in L.A., before I had to return to snowy Chicago, V and I were down by the pool of her apartment complex. We remembered a short while later that Emily, V’s good friend, was coming to visit and we needed a cell to know when to let her in. Back up to the room we trouped, grasping towels around our waists and lamenting that we were wasting time in the sun. We just get back to the room, and are about to go out again, when there is a knock on the door. V opens it, and this man in clearly fake judge robes is standing there, surrounded by people lugging heavy equipment. He flashes a huge grin.
“Hello,” V says. She used to this sort of thing.
“Hello,” the man answers back, noting V’s bikini and me standing further away, safely in the room away from the crazy people with cameras. “My name is Judge Gold and I do a show on NBC called the Home Court. Do you want to be on television? All you have to do is come up with a problem with someone close. Maybe your roommate?”
I come forward and V and I explain to him that I’m not her roommate, that I am visiting. He asks if we are having any issues with each other. We shake our heads and hug each other in solidarity. Finally, the three of us brainstorm a fake actionable problem- I had a huge scrape on my arm from falling out of a tree the day before (don’t ask). We decided that I would pretend that I got that injury from falling off of V’s couch while sleeping there in the middle of the night. She would argue that I was slumming off of her generosity the whole trip, and costing her a lot of money in upkeep. It was television truth; something approximating a fictional re-telling of our story. It was as good as it was going to get.
The next thing we know, 20 people descend on the tiny apartment. Men bring in a judge podium, and our defense and plaintiff witness stands. A gavel is reverentially set on the podium by a scrawny teenager. A hairy man dressed as an unconvincing bailiff comes in and asks for ‘evidence’ for our case; we scrounge up a receipt from In and Out, a heart proclaiming V’s love for another best friend, and a teddy bear to throw on my couch. Four cameras are set up by competent seeming camera people; lights are shone towards the set. A camera man tells us “there is no need” to change out of our bikinis. I marveled that I was to partake myself in the pandering of flesh for the consuming American public. I wished I had brushed my hair that morning.
They tell us the basic script of what they want us to say: I’m to lay out my complaint, V her defense, and then Judge Gold would render a decision. Then the filming begins.
They start and stop us a lot. The judge, Elon Gold, is laying it on a little thick, with many mug shots to the cameras. He definitely as a huge ego, but then again who doesn’t in Hollywood? He and the bailiff keep trying to pick us up; a particularly memorable line from the bailiff was “Permission to hit on the plaintiff, your honor?” That motion was denied. V said something even better: when Judge Gold asked her for umpteenth time something like whether she fell from heaven, V answered instinctively, “Aren’t you a little old for us?” He told the camera people to stop rolling and delete that part; someone snickered. Almost all tongue wagging and eye popping and sex appeal was cut from the final version.
We had filmed for about an hour when there was another knock on the door. Emily, V’s friend! We had completely forgotten. She entered the room and almost dropped her sneakers in shock. “What the fuck?” she exclaimed. The entire crew laughed as V and I explained the randomness that was this scene. Emily got it quickly; she became V’s witness. I was really glad she made it; Emily, unlike V, was aspiring to be in front of the camera, not behind it. So it was good for her to be able to add this experience to her resume.
Near the end of our ‘testimony’ the judge tells me to let my hair fall from my bun and shake it around my shoulders. He’ll then rule in favor of the plaintiff. I do it, he pretends to drool, I wonder what my grandmother would think of this. She’d probably laugh. (Interestingly this whole segment was cut; either I wasn’t sexy enough, or it was gross for a man almost 20 years older than me to appear a sexual lech. But it amuses me because this messed up the final version: my hair is down for no reason, as they didn’t ever film it up while he rendered his decision. Oops.)
The judge rules in my favor. V and I pretend consternation and joy respectively. The camera people tell us that we should change into pjs so they can film a ‘Paranormal Activity’ like segment involving V twitching and swaying back and forth while looking at me menacingly. We comply, as long as they buy us pizza; we had been filming for almost three hours and were eyeing some of the smaller and tastier looking film folk at this point. It was for their own good to feed us.
As they begin to pack up and change the courtroom back into a normal living room, the big ‘reveal’ occurs. Judge Gold says in a booming voice that this show that we just filmed isn’t only for NBC as he previously told us. Actually, it was for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno! Wow! The camera men film our reactions. V’s is a squeal of shock. Mine is to blurt out, “Who’s Jay Leno?”
Needless to say, this also didn’t make the final cut.
As quickly as they had entered our lives the film crew left; the only reminder of their passing was several empty pizza boxes and our identical slightly bemused expressions.
“What the fuck?” I say, slowly.
“What the fuck.” V agrees, amiably.
“What the fuck!” Emily exclaims and hugs us.
The night after it aired, I get an email from a friend. It read simply, “Jay Leno? How the hell did that happen?”
Well, now you know.
Want to see the final version that aired on April 14th, 2010? Click here to download and watch our portion of the show.