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Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton

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Chapter 4. Stop Me If You Think That You’Ve Heard This One Before

IT WAS EARLY OCTOBER, and a thick blanket of gold and orange maple leaves covered the grass outside my office window. I looked up when I heard the phone ring, and saw Anne playing catch with Ferris, who seemed to have as much fun bounding through the piles of leaves as she did chasing the ball.

From the kitchen, Nolan shouted, “I’ve got it!”

“Hello?” he said. “No, this is Nolan. Do you want to talk to my mom?”

I laughed, and remembered all the times when I was his age that I was mistaken for my mom on the phone.

“Okay. I’ll get him.” A moment later, he stood in my office doorway.

“Wil, it’s your manager and he wants to talk to you . . . and he thought I was mom!" He laughed, and ran back out of my office.

“I love how he’s still got two speeds: running and sleeping,” I thought as I walked out to the kitchen and picked up the phone.

“Hey, Chris. What’s up?”

“Well, please apologize to Nolan for me. I should know better, but he sounded just like Anne.”

“I’ll tell him,” I said with a grin.

“Have you ever heard of a show called Win Ben Stein’s Money?”

“Of course I have. It’s hilarious! Do I get to be a contestant?”

“Better than that. Their cohost, Jimmy Kimmel, is leaving the show, and the executive producer wants to meet with you. If he thinks you’re funny, you’ll do a dry run of the show with him and some other executives, then a test for the network.”

Prove To Everyone, who had been quietly slumbering for over a month since I came back from Las Vegas, woke with a start.

“Oh my god, Chris! If I get this, I’ll be on TV every single day!”

“Yeah, and you’ll get to show people how funny you are, and you’ll get to write.”

“Chris, I can totally do this! I’ve got all that experience from writing sketch comedy for ACME, and I know how to be a good cohost from working on The J.Keith vanStraaten Show !”[6]

“This is a huge opportunity for us, Wil. Your meeting is at 2 tomorrow afternoon. I’m faxing the details right now.”

I hung up the phone, and raced to the backyard to tell my wife about the meeting.

“Oh Puss!” she said. “I’m so happy for you!”

She turned to Ferris. “Your dad is going to be on TV again!”

Thump thump thump thump thump. I picked up the ball and threw it across the yard.

“This could turn everything around,” I said.

“When’s the meeting?” Ferris came racing back, and dropped the ball at my feet.

“Tomorrow at 2!”

We may have done a stupid little dance because we were so excited, but I’d never admit to that in public. Or in a book, for that matter.

I knew that I was a perfect match for this show, and for the first time in years I felt supremely confident that I could book a job. While I waited for the fax to arrive, Prove To Everyone said, “You’re going to blog about this, right?”

Before I could answer, the Voice of Self Doubt convinced me to keep the specifics to myself: “You’re going to look like a big stupid asshole if you talk all about this and don’t book the job, Wil. Talk about the opportunity, but don’t give any specifics.”

In less than an hour, my weblog was filled with over one hundred comments of support and “mojo.” Many people promised to hold a good thought for me during my meeting, and as crazy as it seems, I swear it worked. Thanks to the positive energy and support I felt, I was able to leave Prove To Everyone and the Voice of Self Doubt in the car (with the window cracked, of course) when I had my meeting. I was relaxed, confident, and focused. I had fun, and I left the building certain that I’d get called back for a proper audition.

It was a great audition. Everyone, including me, knew it. I was funny, I was smart, I was having a blast, and I was entertaining as hell. When I left the studio, I excitedly told Prove To Everyone, “In just a few weeks, we will be BACK, BABY!”

When I got home, I anxiously waited by the phone.

And waited.

And waited.

When it didn’t ring for three days, my spirits darkened. I’ve worked in Hollywood long enough to know that when days go by with no word from the studio, I’m not getting the job.

I almost made it to the end before Prove To Everyone asserted his voice and said, “I didn’t get this one, but I’ll get one soon, I can feel it.”

The only thing I could feel was overwhelming, nearly suicidal depression, pretty much the opposite of what I portrayed. The rejection could not have come at a worse time. Anne’s ex-husband continued to find new and exciting ways to disrupt our marriage and our relationship with her children. For the second time in two years, he took us to court, in an attempt to get full custody of Ryan and Nolan. He was costing us thousands of dollars in attorney fees, and every parenting choice I made was heavily scrutinized. I was portrayed to the kids and the court as “The Evil Stepfather,” and I felt like my life was under siege.

The second-place finish (out of hundreds of actors) was nothing to be ashamed of, but finishing second paid the bills as much as finishing last. I was utterly, completely, and totally destroyed by that phone call. I knew that I had given the performance of my life in that final callback—the executive producer of the show told me that on my way out of the studio, but as I said in my weblog, being the best is never enough. The job that I’d fought so hard for, the job that I’d earned, had been given to Jimmy Kimmel’s cousin, Sal. The pain and frustration I felt when I faced the reality of continued financial and professional struggles was compounded by a feeling of injustice. It was so unfair! Nepotism was something we joked about in audition waiting rooms. It wasn’t something that actually happened. As usual, it didn’t matter that I was smart, or funny, or talented, or capable. This time, I wasn’t “related to the outgoing actor” enough for the job.

I told my wife, “I suppose it’s not as bad as `You’re not edgy enough,’ but not by much.”

[6] I’m Ed McMahon to Keith’s Johnny Carson on a Tonight Show-style late night comedy talk show that he and I do together for live audiences at the ACME Comedy Theatre.

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