Maybe We'll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial TV Guest Star

BOOK: Maybe We'll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial TV Guest Star
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MAYBE WE’LL HAVE YOU BACK
MAYBE WE’LL HAVE YOU BACK

The Life of a Perennial
TV Guest STAR

Fred Stoller

Foreword by Ray Romano

Skyhorse Publishing

Copyright © 2013 by Fred Stoller

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Skyhorse Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018.

Skyhorse Publishing books may be purchased in bulk at special discounts for sales promotion, corporate gifts, fund-raising, or educational purposes. Special editions can also be created to specifications. For details, contact the Special Sales Department, Skyhorse Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018 or [email protected].

Skyhorse
®
and Skyhorse Publishing
®
are registered trademarks of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
®
, a Delaware corporation.

www.skyhorsepublishing.com

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

ISBN: 978-1-62087-706-7

Printed in the United States of America.

CONTENTS

Foreword by Ray Romano

“You’ve Been on Everything!”

The Making of a Guest Star

“You’re Too Depressed to Be a Comedian”

Welcome to L.A.

The Craft

Auditions

Worst First

Other People’s Homes

Amen to Great Food!

Murphy Brown

Vinnie Bobby

Can I Get Myself Hired as a Regular? “I Don’t Think So”

An Empty Nest Is Better Than No Nest

Murphy/Clark

Don’t Make Trouble

My
Seinfeld
Daze

Where I Left Off, but 20 Pounds Heavier

Can’t Hurry Clones

Maximum Guest Star Exposure

Seinfeld
Aftermath

The Breakout Film that Almost Broke Me

Foreword by Ray Romano

I
first met Fred Stoller when I was starting to work as a stand-up in New York. I was never really aware of any physical similarity between him and me until I heard a club owner describe me as “What’s his name, the healthy-looking Fred Stoller.” You know what, I’ll take it.

Fred had such a unique comedic style on stage. He was a regular at all the New York clubs. Every time I saw him, he made me laugh. Soon after I had met him, he moved out to Hollywood. It wasn’t till years later that our paths crossed again. It was in the early stages of
Everybody Loves Raymond
when the producers and I decided to take advantage of Fred’s comedic talent and similar look and cast him as my annoying cousin, Gerard. He killed it every time. Every line he muttered got big laughs. Without fail he always “brought the funny.” He was just a great addition to the show. Also, the fact that he was on so many other shows fascinated me. I would constantly corner him and bug him with questions: “What’s Seinfeld like?” “Is our food better than on the other shows?” “Does my pulse seem rapid?” He was a good barometer.

Truthfully, he was so good on so many shows before and after
Raymond
. How he hasn’t gotten his own show is beyond me. But then I guess we wouldn’t have gotten this hilarious, honest look at the world of a working actor.

Maybe We’ll Have You Back
gives the reader an opportunity to see this so-called glamorous world of acting from a straightforward and very funny perspective. Not only does he take you backstage through so many sitcoms and describes what that’s like from a seldom-heard perspective, but his childhood, dating stuff, and in general, difficulty of fitting in are also fascinating and hysterical. He covers it all, from the women he dated (who only know you from your IMDb page), to how it is to explain to your parents that as an actor in L.A. not having to get a day job is in itself a huge victory. If you want an inside, funny, real look at the life of a hardworking actor, Fred Stoller is the perfect person to tell that story.

To be honest, I have a new show I’m writing and was thinking of making him a regular, but his voice as the outsider guy is so refreshing, why would I want to spoil that?

1

“YOU’VE BEEN ON
EVERYTHING!”

I
am on the set of
Friends
, nervously reciting my six lines in my head, waiting for David Schwimmer, who is directing the episode, to say “Action.” For the second time in four seasons I am playing a dopey waiter who works in the kitchen alongside Monica, played by Courteney Cox.

When I get my cue, I walk toward the counter where she is preparing her food, trying hard not to look down for the little piece of tape that marks the exact spot I am supposed to stop at. I also have to make sure two extras who are playing waiters pass me before I deliver my first line. Little things, but as a guest star actor on a show as big as
Friends
, I don’t want to make any mistakes.

“So, tonight’s the night of the big bachelor party?” I ask her.

“Yeah! Hey! Thanks for getting me that girl’s number.”

“No problem. So who’s the party for?”

“My husband.”

“You hired your husband a hooker?” I hear my first few laughs and begin to loosen up.

“She’s a stripper,” Monica says, a bit concerned.

“No, she’s a hooker,” I bluntly reply, getting a few more laughs.

“Is that what they call strippers sometimes?” More laughs, our scene is clicking.

“When they’re hookers,” I answer.

“Oh my God Stu! I can’t believe you did this! Now are you absolutely sure she’s a hooker?”

“Either that or she’s just the best, most expensive date I ever had.”

Bingo! The live audience roars as Monica runs out to fix the mess I have gotten her into.

We nail the scene in only two takes, and just like that my job is done. Schwimmer tells me I did well, and to unwind from my momentary high I head off to munch on the snacks at the craft service table. As I down some free dumplings and sushi, Matt LeBlanc (Joey) starts rummaging through pizza boxes, trying to find a slice with his favorite toppings.

“The craft service woman here is really nice,” I tell Matt. “I worked on
Dharma & Greg
a few weeks ago and the woman on that show was very nasty.”

LeBlanc looks at me with utter amazement. “Man, you’ve been on every show. What show have you not been on? It’s unbelievable!”

“Well, they’re just these little guest star spots,” I say.

He shakes his head in wonderment. “Man, I’ve seen you everywhere.”

On the one hand, he was right. Since my first small role on the short-lived
Singer & Sons
in 1990, I have done more than sixty sitcom guest star appearances. When people stop me on the street and insist I list my credits so I can tell them where they know me from, most notably it’s as the dim guy on
Seinfeld
who Elaine was attracted to only because he couldn’t remember her, or Ray’s annoying cousin on
Everybody Loves Raymond
, or the officious security guard on
Murphy Brown
, or the moronic pharmacist on
The Nanny
, or perhaps as the role I was playing on
Friends
, the jerky waiter. Once in a while it might even be from some smaller hit I’ve been on, like the man attending the masochist’s convention on
Wings
, the guy who was scared of losing his gallbladder on
Scrubs
, or the demented bellhop on
The Wizards of Waverly
Place
. And there are some shows I’ve guested on no one knows about (
Living in Captivity
,
Can’t Hurry Love
,
Alright Already
). I’ve played dozens of characters who are “offbeat,” ”annoying,” “pathetic,” and “depressed,” all after years of establishing myself as a stand-up comedian whose persona is, well, kind of offbeat and depressed.

But as LeBlanc heads off, I am tempted to tell him that all the guest star appearances I’d made, and even writing for a season on
Seinfeld,
don’t add up to half of one week’s worth of his salary.

At the end of the
Friends
taping, it is curtain call time and there’s always a very festive atmosphere on every set. They’re either blasting the theme music of the show or some other high-energy crowd pleaser. Every show, from
Friends
on down to a lowly pilot that may never air, ends in this upbeat party atmosphere.

I get herded to the exact spot I have to be, based on the age-old pecking order of least significant to most significant role. Going before me is an actor that had one line as a waiter and the actress that portrayed the hooker.

I come out, get a polite round of applause and step aside for the other guests and the actual stars of the show, who come out to a thunderous ovation.

I used to think if I got a big enough round of applause, the producers would note this and make an extra urgent attempt to bring me back. But after so many curtain calls, I have come to realize that even if I got the four-minute ovation Michael Jordan got his last game before his third and final retirement, it still wouldn’t matter.

Since I am one of the first, I get pushed all the way to the side, but I have to keep clapping for everyone who comes out after me. The
Friends
curtain call is a little different than other shows. No one cast member is more promoted than any other, so when the regulars start coming out, there is no ascension of applause, like on
Everybody Loves Raymond
.

We stand there, still clapping away, while the audience cheers and applauds. I am sort of happy. I am smiling, and I am feeling good, and I am a part of show business. But my claps start to feel hollow, my smile frozen. I know this cheerful party is going to end real soon. I am almost clapping to drown out the scary thoughts in my head about what lies ahead.

Curtain calls are very bittersweet for me. They mean it’s the end of my treasured workweek, and I’m minutes away from going back to unemployment and uncertainty. The next day I’d be back on the meat market, going on cattle call auditions for parts I know I am wrong for. It could be months before the next gig.

Now the energy is fading: The music suddenly stops. The six stars head off, and the crowd gets up to leave. It’s over. But I linger just a bit, pining for just a little bit more validation to keep me going. The executive producers of the show, Kevin Bright, David Crane, and Marta Kauffman, are going through the cast to say thanks, but get stopped and don’t seem to be making their way all the way down the line to me. So I decide to go over and genuinely thank them for a fun week of work. I patiently wait for a pause in the conversation they’re having with a network executive, fantasizing about those five words I hope to hear after every guest star spot I do: “MAYBE WE’LL HAVE YOU BACK.”

It’s the goal of every actor in my shoes who’s had his six lines (sometimes more, often less) and tried to walk the fine line between not stealing the scene from the actual stars of a show but making enough of an impact that the audience, writers, critics, and viewers at home will remember me and want more.

Waiting for the showrunners I couldn’t help but fantasize. Maybe this could be the time they tell me I am so funny, they had already devised stories to have me back and become an integral part of the show. Maybe I could be promoted to Monica’s annoying boss and then it turns out we live in the same building and she can’t get away from me. Or maybe, just maybe, they’re thinking of giving Monica her own spin-off series about a restaurant, and I’ll be the co-star.

But when I finally reach writer-producer David Crane, all I get is a big warm smile and a “Great job, Fred.”

I’m not crushed or surprised. But the only way to go home happy is to keep hope alive in the back of my mind: surely having to do twenty-two plot lines a year, at some point they will need to bring back the memorably jerky, annoying waiter.

BOOK: Maybe We'll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial TV Guest Star
12.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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