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STUDIO AUDIENCE WORK: A TRAGEDY

When you move to Los Angeles, or even if you are just visiting, you are going to be tempted to go to taping of a television show. At some point, you will be approached by a friendly guy with a clipboard, a visor, and a big grin. As a favor to you, this guy will tell you he can get you amazing tickets to a brand new sitcom! It’s not even on the air yet! It stars Nathan Lane as the gay governor of New Mexico, or that girl from that show you used to watch as a kooky single mother who owns an erotic ice cream parlor! I am telling you now, for your own good, that if you accept those free tickets, you are a sucker. TV sets and laugh tracks exist for a reason. First, once you get to the studio, there will be a lot of waiting, outside, without shade. The California sun will beat down on you as you sweat through your Hard Rock Café t-shirt. They like to break your spirit first, weed out the weak and the elderly through sun poisoning. As you move into the dingy studio, it starts to dawn on you that this is not what you thought you signed up for. First comes a cruel routine by the warm-up comedian, who will berate someone in the audience for being fat and make fun of some poor schlub’s balding head.

Both of these “participants” will end up in emotional shambles, silently crying, but they are not allowed to leave, as they serve as examples. This is all to further break down the audience. By the end of the comedian’s jokes, you will be a psychological mess, terrified into laughing on cue. The warm-up comedian’s reign of terror will extend for the rest of the taping; you must stay alert, for if you do not, he will make fun of your speech impediment or your big nose or the fact that you are Mexican. Now it’s time to start the actual taping. Let’s laugh extra hard to make sure we can hear ourselves when we watch this at home! Also because the warm-up guy is watching us! The first few times the actors flub their lines, you will laugh. As the hours creep by, you will become enraged by every mistake they make, every time they decide to reshoot a scene you’ve just seen 28 times. By #29, you’re mentally screaming, “FUCK YOU, NATHAN LANE! HOW HARD IS IT TO PRONOUNCE ‘REFRIGERATOR’ CORRECTLY??” Time moves on in your windowless dungeon as you struggle futilely to get comfortable on the bleachers. Is it still daytime? Is it tomorrow? You’re having trouble remembering the outside world.

It gets hotter and hotter, and you’re seated sweaty thigh-to-thigh with another tourist, and he smells like eggs. You’re hungry, but despite the fact that the actors and crew break for a catered dinner, you are left to sit on the bleachers, staring at a set that looks like the New Mexico governor’s office. Remember the old folks who may or may not have died of sunstroke at the beginning of the day? Well, you will envy the (probably) dead during the 51st take of the “talk to the hand” scene. Finally, hours and maybe days later, you will be released. To demean you further, the crew will present you with a key fob, or, possibly, a mini Snickers bar. Because that is what your time and forced laughter means to them. “Here’s a worthless item to commemorate your participation! Enjoy this piece of shit in exchange for thirteen hours of labor. It’s not even a full-sized Snickers bar, that’s how little we think you’re worth.” They might as well spit in your face on your way out. You start to wonder if there ever even WAS a pilot about a gay governor, or if this was all just some very cruel joke. So remember – when you are inevitably approached by a smiling guy who wants you to join the audience of a hit sitcom, stand strong. No key chain is worth your dignity! Hold out for a t-shirt, at least.

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