The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me happened recently and I wanted to share the experience with my Jazz Pickles.
A friend of mine who is a reality TV producer of note, Jon Kroll, called me a couple months ago and said he was working on a new show and they were looking for a narrator. He’s always liked my voice and thought I might be a good fit, so he asked if I’d be interested in auditioning, even though I’ve never done this kind of work before. I said I was. He said over a hundred others were auditioning, too, so not to expect anything. I didn’t.
After submitting my home-made tape (on my laptop with an inexpensive microphone I use for recording my songs) they called me in for an interview and another round of auditions. This process went on for weeks and I submitted who-knows-how-many tapes. I made the cut to the final three and they brought each of us to a professional sound studio for one last audition. Somehow, and this is only the beginning of the weird part, I got the job!
I was very stoked and began recording narration for pre-production purposes, basically reading anything they put in front of me and just doing my best not to sound too much like Don Pardo. Then, suddenly and without warning, with only a week to go until air, they decided perhaps the narrator should be on camera now and then during the episodes.
So, I was off to a screen test to see what I looked like on camera. I’ll be honest, some network folks were a little wary of my absurd mustache, which, to be honest, I expected. A mustache like mine has never been on a network show before and I’m proud of that. So we toned down the mustache (didn’t cut it, just styled it differently) they dressed me up like a grown-up, and I’m now the on-screen host and narrator for FOX network’s new, very big-deal reality show, Utopia. Nobody is more surprised than I am.
Think about it. I’m at home in my sweatpants working on my cartoon career like I’ve been doing for the past 30 years, a friend asks me if I’d like to do some voiceover work for a TV show and I’m thinking, “Sure. If I can make a few extra bucks talking into a microphone for a few hours a week, I’m game.” A few weeks later I’m on national TV, posing for publicity shots, and going on press junkets. I didn’t even have an agent or a headshot when this started. People who’ve been working for this kind of break in showbiz for years must hate me, and I can’t blame them. To them, I can only say I’m sorry.
The show premiers on FOX (the network with The Simpsons and Family Guy, not the one with Bill O’Reilly) this Sunday night with a two-hour episode, then again on the usual nights it will be seen thereafter, Tuesday and Friday. You can also tap into what’s going on inside the compound 24/7 at UtopiaTV.com. In fact, here are the first five minutes of the premier episode on YouTube. Somehow, Jon made me look like actually I know what I’m doing.
My first day on set, standing on a hilltop above the Utopia compound. None of the crew are allowed inside during this televised social experiment, and that’s a big part of the difference between this show and previous “reality” shows. What happens in the compound is actually real, NONE of it is scripted, suggested, or prompted, and none of the “Utopians” are ever interviewed on camera once they enter the site.
This is the great Jon Kroll, my guardian angel, who dragged me into this strange world. Here, he’s producing me.
I’m wearing a heavy winter vest and hat in these scenes and we were taping in 100˚ heat. The shade over me is for lighting purposes but I was pretty damned happy about it. By the way, I’m standing on a box not because I’m short (which I am, by choice) but so the dirt at my feet wouldn’t show up in the shot.
After the video is finished, I have to read some of my narration lines in the same environment, to match the ambient sound. Most of my narration is done in a small sound booth they built at the site. I’m laughing at Jon who has just said something producers say, like, “Do it again just like that but better, by a factor of three.” Thanks, Jon.
And here is my amazing Olive Oyl, standing with me on the hill overlooking Utopia. She’ll also be the one standing next to me on the red carpet when I am the first person in history to have been given an Oscar for hosting a TV show.
In closing, I’d like to say that everyone I’ve worked with there (and there are no less than a hundred personnel on site at any given time) are incredibly cool, professional, and nice. Even before anybody knew what job I had on the show, they treated me like family. I just hope they don’t fire me in three weeks and replace me with a hand puppet or a talking cat.