...Or No Deal

Whenever I meet an actor at a party I immediately feel a sense of overpowering relief. Normally, I do pretty badly at parties where I don’t know anyone because there’s nothing really to do except make small talk all night, and I’m almost as bad at small talk as I am at most other things that aren’t writing a blog and sleeping constantly.

It’s just kind of stressful for me to be interested in all these little tidbits about a person I really don’t know, particularly because small talk is almost never interesting. It’s one thing if the person I’m talking to is an astronaut or a professional wrestler or something, but if it’s some girl going to CSUN and studying to be a hospital administrator I can only ask so many questions about school, where she lives, and what she likes about hospitals before I’ve completely run out of things to want to know about her.

When I meet an actor, though, I’ve always got a set of talking points that I can fall back on the second there’s a dry spot in the conversation. Have you been on any auditions lately? Are you taking any classes? Have you done any commercials? Have you done any stage work? Are you in SAG? Have you ever done porn?*

*This one is usually after my third drink.

There are usually some pretty good stories to be had along this line of questioning, because struggling actors have a wide range of really bizarre and interesting experiences in their day to day working lives. What always throws me for a loop, though, is when I meet an actor from something I’ve actually seen or heard of.

Tonight, for example, I was talking to an actress at my cousin’s birthday party – and since there was no alcohol at the party I was doing an okay job of not completely embarrassing myself.

“I haven’t been acting much recently,” she explained as I loaded up on more brie and pita chips than my lactose intolerance would want me to. “I’ve been doing a lot of receptionist work since I finished my last acting gig awhile ago.”

“Oh,” I said, through brie. “What was your last gig?”

“I was one of the suitcase girls on Deal Or No Deal.”

I very nearly did a spit take with a mouthful of creamy soft rind French cheese – which would’ve been just as embarrassing as anything I could do under the influence of alcohol.

“Oh my God, that’s awesome!” I exclaimed, before asking that age old question that has stumped philosophers for generations, “What’s Howie Mandel like in person?”
I never watched Deal Or No Deal so I’m not really sure what it was about, but if the 350,000 promos I saw for it between 2006 and 2007 were any indication, it appeared to be a show where beautiful women walked around carrying metal briefcases for 22 minutes at a stretch – and one of those women lives in the apartment downstairs from my cousin’s girlfriend, apparently.*  

*What’s more, not only was she on the show, but she was one of the four suitcase models selected to be on the casing for the official Deal Or No Deal slot machine in Las Vegas!

Meeting an actor who’s been in something you’ve seen (or at least were aware of) is a lot like bumping into one of your teachers at the grocery store in elementary school. There’s a moment of cognitive dissonance, seeing the lady who made you stay in at recess because you didn’t write your name on your homework standing there trying to decide between Prego or Safeway Select™ pasta sauce.

She goes to the grocery store? But I go to the grocery store! We both have the same kind of experiences!?

Somehow I just can’t shake the impression of television that I formed when I was a child: That if you were on TV, even if it was only once, you had been absorbed into a vast and wealthy secret society that would care for you for the rest of your life. You lived in a nicer house, you drove a nicer car, you had servants, and guacamole was free at every Mexican place you went to.

I’ve been in LA for nearly a year and a half and am acquainted with quite a few people who have been on TV and struggle to pay rent on a month-to-month basis, but it still surprises me every time I meet another one existing in the same normal person social circle as me. Part of this is because I’m endlessly gullible and stupid, but the other part… Here, you know what? Let’s do a paragraph break first.

The other part is because even though Hollywood doesn’t consider these people to be celebrities, on a strictly personal level, they’re celebrities to me. Pop culture played a huge part in my childhood growing up in crappy, boring small towns – I didn’t know anyone who had even been close to being on TV, so I figured that anyone who had been on TV was truly special and different from everyone else I knew.

If there’s one thing Los Angeles is good at – besides serving as a magnet for all of America’s girls with daddy issues – it’s systematically eliminating childlike wonder and joy. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to meet a bit player from Star Trek Enterprise at a party and not have to run outside and text my parents immediately.

But for now, it’s kind of fun to meet a girl who carried a briefcase on primetime TV at a family member’s birthday party and immediately feel like you’re Robert Evans.

Truman Capps has no idea what he’ll do if he ever meets a pornstar at a party.