Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing (8 page)

BOOK: Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing
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I didn't stand a fucking chance. Of course.

That said, there was one night … I was over at Valerie and Eddie's house, just hanging out and gazing at Valerie, trying to make her laugh. When you made her laugh, you felt ten feet tall. As the night progressed, it was clear that Eddie had enjoyed the fruits of the vine a little too hard, one more time, and eventually he just passed out, not ten feet away from us, but still. This was my chance! If you think I didn't actually have a chance in hell you'd be wrong, dear reader—Valerie and I had a long, elaborate make-out session. It was
happening
—maybe she felt the same way I did. I told her I had thought about doing that for a long time, and she had said it right back to me. “Heaven” eventually wrapped up, and I hopped in my black Honda CRX and headed back to Club California with a hard-on that could have propped up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and a nineteen-year-old head flooded with dreams of a life spent with the object of my affection/obsession.

I told Craig Bierko about this the following day, and he passed
on some desperately needed advice and reality, though it was advice I wasn't ready to take.

“Be careful,” he said.
He's just jealous,
I thought as I prepared for the following day of work, but this time with Valerie as my new girlfriend.

The following day at work did not go as I expected it would. Valerie made no mention of what had happened and was behaving—as she should have been—like this was just a normal day. I quickly got the hint and also played the role I was supposed to, but inside I was devastated. Many a tearful night and spending the bulk of my daytimes sleeping off hangovers in my tiny trailer—not to mention hours and hours of watching Craig's part get bigger as Valerie's love interest on the show—all made for a very sad disillusioned teenager. The show did very badly, and I was so grateful that four weeks after that fateful night,
Sydney
got canceled, and I didn't have to see Valerie anymore.

She, of course, had done nothing wrong, but having to see her every day and pretend I was fine about everything reminded me too much of what I had to do every day with my mother back in Ottawa, Canada.

I have spent my life being attracted to unavailable women. It doesn't take a psychology degree to figure out that this had something to do with my relationship with my mother. My mother captivated every room she entered. I vividly remember being at some fancy ballroom when I was about six years old, and when my mom came in, every head in the room turned. I wanted her to turn and look at me in these moments, but she was working and could not—it took me only thirty-seven years to work that out.

Ever since then I have been addicted to “the turn.” Once the turn happened, I could start making a woman laugh and making her want me sexually. Once the sex was done, reality set in, and I realized I didn't know these women at all. They were available, so I had no need for them. I had to get back out there and try to make them make the
turn. That's why I slept with so many women. I was trying to re-create my childhood and win.

I knew none of this at the time, of course, and just thought something had gone wrong with them. Surprise surprise, everyone—Canadian actor-boy had some major mommy issues.

But I was nineteen, and life quickly moved on for everyone. A year later, Van Halen released the aptly titled
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,
and I went back to trying to pick up women at the Formosa. And trying to re-create “the turn” as often as humanly possible.

Sometimes it worked; but every time, I left at 1:40
A.M.
to rush to the nearest liquor store so that I could score more vodka and keep drinking deep into the night. I'd sit there, emptying the bottle (eventually the one with the handle), watching
The Goodbye Girl
or even the Michael Keaton movie
Clean and Sober
(figure
that
one out), until just like Eddie Van Halen, I passed out. A needling thought had begun to enter my brain, too—not a huge one, but one nonetheless:
You are drinking every night,
though this thought was quickly washed away by the next drink.

And every next day, I'd manage to drag myself to lunch, where I would meet Craig Bierko, to this day, by far the fastest comic mind I have ever seen. I thought my mind was fast, but no, it was Craig Bierko. Hank Azaria became the richest one of the group, because he had been doing a voice on
The Simpsons
since 1955. I was to be the most famous, and David Pressman was to be a journeyman actor just like his dad, Laurence Pressman, and the craziest. David loved to do things like run naked into a supermarket shouting, “I have horrible problems, someone please shave me!” and then run out. (He did this well into his forties; I sometimes joined him in disrobing in public, though I quit in my mid-thirties because I'm the mature one.)

To this day no one has made me laugh as hard as Craig Bierko. Being funnier than Hank, David, and me as a threesome was pretty
much impossible, but Craig managed it. Being funnier than Hank and me without David was also unheard of, but Craig managed that, too. We would go out to lunch, and Craig would say something that was so funny that fifteen minutes after lunch had finished and I was driving home, I would have to pull over to the side of the road because I would still be laughing, and Craig would drive by, see me laughing, and know why. There was no one funnier than Craig. No one.

The other thing that drove our friendships, besides trying to be the quickest, the funniest, was fame—we were all absolutely desperate to be famous. Hank, being the voice of
The Simpsons,
had the most lucrative gig, but it was not the Al Pacino career he longed for. As for me, well, I had done plenty of TV, but nothing that had even remotely brought me fame … and fame, fame, fame, that's all that any of us cared about. In between the laughter—and after we'd shared the latest stories of auditions gone awry or scripts we'd read and hated—the quieter moments were filled with a profound worry, a quiet yearning and fear that we would never make it, that fame would just somehow pass us by. We were four strong egos, four funny men, the bon mots flying about like shrapnel, but the battle raged on: the battle for
fame.

I held firm in my belief that fame would fill that unaccompanied hole in me, the one that Valerie refused to fill. But now it was just me and vodka attempting and failing this seemingly impossible task. When fame finally happened, well … we're coming to that.

I once made out with David Pressman, or tried to, though I didn't mean to, either way.

When we were in our early twenties, he and I and a couple of other guys headed east to Vegas to do the Vegas thing. We basically had no money, but that had never before stopped four idiots heading to Sin City. I think I had about two hundred bucks in my pocket; the four of
us rented one motel room off the Strip, with two beds. I shared a bed with David; in the middle of the night, I guess I was dreaming about Gaby, my ex, and was inching closer and closer to David, saying things like “Aw, baby,” and “You smell so good,” and “I promise I'll be quick.” He, too, was mercifully asleep, but his subconscious had the wherewithal to keep saying, “NO!” and “back up!” and “leave me the fuck alone!” Eventually I started kissing the back of his neck, which caused us both to startle awake—seeing the horrified look on his face I said, “Aw, just forget it,” and scuttled back to my side of the bed.

Clearly, we all needed some release.

The first night we hit the tables, and somehow, I lucked into something, winning $2,600 at blackjack, which was the most cash any of us had ever had.

It was time to spend it unwisely.

I lifted up my arms and, like a king, exclaimed, “I'm getting everyone laid!”

A cabdriver took us way out of town to a place called Dominions, a place he promised us would satiate our needs (he received, presumably, a cut for every set of foolish young men he deposited at Dominions in the desert). To even gain ingress to this fine establishment, we were informed by a man with no neck that somebody had to drop at least a grand, and as I'd done well on the tables, that privilege fell to me. In fact, I ended up plopping down $1,600 on a single bottle of champagne, at which point we were each escorted to a separate, boxy room, where a young lady awaited each of us.

I figured the $1,600 I'd already spent would be good for what I hoped would come next, but I was sadly mistaken. In fact, I wasn't going to be taken at all unless I proffered another $300, which I duly did, but before I could graduate to the business end of the evening, David Pressman and the other two guys appeared at my door, needing their own $300 stipend. Their financial needs met, I returned to the
matter at hand. (It didn't occur to me to do the math, but here it is in case you need it: I started with $200, won $2,600, dropped $1,600 on the champagne, and ponied up an additional $300 each, for a total of $2,800—everything I had.)

With the financial commitments in place, the young lady proceeded to start dancing at me, a ways off at the other side of the room, and though she gyrated in a perfectly acceptable, if slightly “Roxbury Girls” manner, I was ready to take our relationship to the next level.

“What the hell is going on?” I said, obliquely.

“What?” she said.

“What? We're supposed to be having sex!” I said. “I've spent a small fortune in here!”

Then she explained to me for some reason that I could arrange the pillows wherever I wanted to.

“That's wonderful, and I'm excited about the pillow thing—I really am—but aren't we supposed to be doing something else right about now?” I asked/begged.

“Are you the police?” she asked.

“No!” I said, though I was beginning to wonder if I should call them to report a fraud. “I paid you all that money. We had a deal—”

“Oh!” she said, interrupting me. “That was just for the dance.…”

At that point, a rapping on the door alerted me to the fact that each of my cronies had faced the same, disappointing fate. But as we were thoroughly out of money by this point, with tears in our eyes, four taken (though
not
taken) losers stepped out into the inky black of the Mojave and began the long walk back to the motel.

One of my friends, Nick, did get to take his girl to
Young Guns II
the following day, so that's something. And there were a lot of unanswered questions in the original
Young Guns.

In 1994, Craig Bierko was the hot item in that particular pilot season. All of us were running around auditioning for the latest slate of sitcoms and dramas, but Craig was the one everyone wanted. This, and he was quicker with a line than me. He was also much better-looking than me, but let's not go into any more of that—we don't want a crying author on our hands. I should have hated him, but funny always wins, so I decided to keep loving him.

I was twenty-four, and already I was missing 50 percent of my auditions. I was tailing out as an actor. Drinking was slowly but surely winning the war against auditions, and no one was really interested in me anyway. I wasn't getting any movies, and the roles I got on TV were hardly setting the world alight. I was hungover half the time, the rest of the time I was on my way to lunch or the Formosa. My manager sat me down one day and told me that the people I aspired to be—Michael Keaton, Tom Hanks—all possessed the attitude I was shooting for. But they both also looked great, and he was getting daily feedback from casting directors and producers that I looked like a mess.

Hank, too, was starting to get worried that he was wasting his life away and stopped coming to the Formosa and the funny lunches—he was always very serious about his body and his career.

I shouldn't have been surprised, but around that time, I got a phone call from my then–business manager.

“Matthew, you are out of money.”

“How about a little warning?” I said, scared to death. “Did it occur to you that a few months ago you could have given me a heads-up? You know, via a call in which you said, ‘Hey,
Matthew,
your funds are looking a bit
anemic,
' instead of waiting till I was now broke?”

There was silence on the other end of the line, as though keeping tabs on someone's income
before
they were broke was an entirely new concept for a business manager.

Fortunately, I had just enough juice in me to book a part in a terrible
pilot. Hanging up with my now former business manager, I called my agents and told them I was out of money, I needed a job, something, anything, and it had to be right then.

If, gentle reader, you're imagining that's how I got
Friends,
you might want to cool your jets. That call led to the show that almost
stopped
me from getting
Friends.

L.A.X. 2194
was a “sci-fi comedy” about baggage handlers at Los Angeles International Airport. You could really stop there, but there's more: those numbers in the title give away the twist—it was set two hundred years in the future, and the air travelers would be aliens. The show would star Ryan Stiles as an automaton office manager with a weird accent (seriously, Ryan is a hilarious actor, but what was that accent?), and me as the poor guy who had to be the lead in this mess and sort out the baggage issues for the arriving aliens, who happen to have been played by Little People in ridiculous wigs.

If all this sounds underwhelming, please know that it was way worse than that. I had to wear a futuristic shirt for a start. Despite my misgivings (to repeat, it was a “comedy” about baggage handlers set two hundred years in the future where the aliens are played by Little People), the pilot paid me $22,500, so I was set for drinks and food at the Formosa for a while … but it did something else, too: because I was attached to
L.A.X. 2194,
I was thereby off the market for all other shows.

Then, disaster struck, and I don't mean
L.A.X. 2194
got picked up for a season—that never happened, thank God. What did happen was a script for a new show called
Friends Like Us
became the hot read of the season. Everyone who read it knew it was going to be great; I read it and immediately called those same agents who'd gotten me
L.A.X. 2194.

BOOK: Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing
13.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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