Funny People

My Irish friend Dave (whose Irish friends probably refer to him simply as: “Dave”) requested via Twitter that I write up an explanation of my 140-character hurrah that I saw myself in the background of the movie “Funny People,” as an extra.

Now, before I start, I should say that when this actually happened, back last November, I was brimming with excitement and Hollywood stories, and I had compiled them all in my mind until I was just about to walk out the door, and some rando wearing a headset who looked important said, “Oh, yeah, and if any of us find blogs or Tweets out there about your time spent today before the movie comes out, you can consider yourself no longer an employee of Central Casting.” My dreams of being a professional extra potentially being crushed, I decided to hold my tongue. Okay, seriously, though, I just didn’t want to be a dick or get dooced or sued or something. So my memory may be a little fuzzy. Just like my face was on the big screen!

Okay, so how this *really* starts is — when I enrolled in class at UCB, I was added to a mailing list. In a joking mass email, I was informed that the casters for “Funny People” actually wanted funny people to come and populate a comedy club scene. Although this goes against many a conversation I’ve had with fellow stand-ups — that comedians are the worst crowd ever because they’re grading you instead of just enjoying themselves — I sure as hell didn’t have a job at the time, and thought it might be fun.

I sent in my headshot on a whim, and lo and behold, got a “callback.” Pretty stringent casting process. I got there with “club attire,” hair and makeup done, even though I got to sit in the makeup chair for half a second as they touched me up. My clothes were approved in what was perhaps the first time in my life I was told to dress for something and a roomful of people could agree I had done it appropriately.

I wanted to eat from the delicious buffet provided for the huge crowd of extras looming around me, but I was nervous, which is ridiculous, but I hate looking like I don’t know what I’m doing and, here, I most certainly did not. Leave it up to me to meander over to a catering spread only to find out it’s Adam Sandler’s and I had mistakenly eaten the last fugu pufferfish imported for him from Japan, and had thusly ruined the entire movie.

But, as I said, jobless, and three meals worth of food were provided to offset the depressing minimum wage, so I got over myself and had some damn home fries.

A young man I met in my improv class named Jake was also there, and even waved to a few people he apparently knew from the Extras circuit.

“In our last movie, we played fake naked people at a convention,” he said wrapping his hand around a short blond girl. I think their last movie was “Yes Man,” which I haven’t seen, but I can only imagine what a fake naked person at a convention must look like.

I opened up my book to pass the time, taking a cue from some of the other professional extras, who looked positively bored while dressed to the nines. The blond girl pulled out a cellphone, where she remained for over an hour, saying nothing.

Sighing loudly at one point, she caught my eye and informed me that she was calling the casting agency, looking for tomorrow’s work. The “types” they needed were listed on a very long pre-recorded message that I assume led you to another phone tree, where you would later email to list what you were available for.

“I was all ready for some background scene work in “Samantha Who?” but then at the end of this 15-minute-long message, they said they didn’t want any blondes. I guess so no one would take away from Christina Applegate.”

It made me a little sad. It was 9:00 AM, and I knew we were going to be there until almost 11:00 PM. Then, provided she found something, she’d probably start the process all over the next day. Then again, we were going to be getting time-and-a-half, and, I can’t stress this enough — FREE FOOD. Lunch was mahi mahi.

We probably didn’t get called in until 3:00. Jake and I passed the time by playing games on a piece of note paper, but the second we were needed, the chaos started. They called us in by tables, which started to worry me. If only I had sat at a table closer to the door, I would be going in first. Ooh, but do the first people get the corner seats, and I will get front and center? Then when we got in there, there was more division, done by what I assumed were very trusted Production Assistants. I was standing with a girl, so I had to be herded over to a table with a boy. Or would I be better suited at the “girls’ night out” table up front? My shirt was black and white patterned, so should I sit with someone in all-black, or will that look to choreographed? I ended up next to an older guy in a blue collared shirt, and we made small talk, as he showed me the right way to “drink” the “cocktail” in front of me where I wouldn’t have to actually ingest the terrifying colored water that the “waitresses” ferried to other tables and then back again. Deciding Judd Apatow wasn’t worth herpes, I simply smiled, nodded, and made the acting choice to hold the drink in my hand while laughing heartily.

When everything was perfect, Judd came out on the stage of the set, (he said I could call him “Judd.” It’s cool, guys) introduced himself, and reminded us of the rules — don’t stand out, don’t look at the camera, don’t try to make a wacky-sounding laugh just so you can hear yourself.

As shooting started, two things stuck out to me as a comedian. The first was that Judd wanted genuine laughter, meaning we wouldn’t do too many takes of the same material. The actors had one chance to genuinely make us laugh, which must have brought them back to their stand-up roots at least a little bit. The final cut of Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Aziz Ansari, and Aubrey Plaza was minuscule compared to what we, the extras, got to see. They had full, actual setlists that they had to memorize, and I don’t know if it was the energy in the room, but they were genuinely funny. The curveball is, of course, the fact that they were guaranteed laughter, by us, the peons, which would have been a dream gig as a comedian. It had to have been fun.

I didn’t know anything about Aubrey before I saw her up there. All I could tell was that she looked terrified and had good stage presence. I think the terrified thing is part of her shtick — a shy person saying really hilarious, outlandish stuff — but she messed up one of the jokes, and Judd warmly assured her over the loudspeaker that she was totally fine and should start from a few jokes prior. She did, and of course we all laughed at the same places, but she was truly funny.

We broke for dinner, and while waiting in the line that wrapped outside the holding building, Seth Rogen ZOMG walked right by me. I could have reached out and grabbed him, informing him that his greatest and most underrated work was in “Undeclared,” and why can’t he get back to that instead of marijuana jokes, but I somehow refrained.

During dinner, we got the bad news that, although they were continuing to shoot for the evening, most of us could go home. They sent another well-trusted PA to scan the room for diverse-looking people to populate a scene that would take place later, as evidenced by a snappy costume change. I put on my best doe-eyed “Gee, I’m not over-eager, but it sure would be super if you picked me” look, and it appeared to work, because I was the last person they called in.

All of this is ridiculous, of course, because the person the cameras want to see is in the opposite direction of where the audience extras are, but it was nice to be part of something. It was nice to see all the costume and makeup people obsessing over a single curl that would only be seen from behind, in a shot over their shoulders, pointing up at Adam. It was neat talking to people from all walks of life, seeing how they came to have 14 hours on a Thursday free to come down and do this.

When I left filming, they handed me my W-2 so that I could be sure to give Uncle Sam his fair share of my 70-some-odd dollars, and I noticed they spelled my name Luaran, because of course, why shouldn’t I get to worry about being audited for another 4 months for my one day of work because Luaran and I oddly share a social security number? (I wasn’t! Thumbs up!)

So that, my dear friends, was my Hollywood experience. Everyone looks pretty much how you’d expect them to look in real life, and it was cool that it was Just Another Day for about 300 crew members there. I don’t know if I’d necessarily do it again, but I got to share the screen with one of my favorite actors and comedians, and that is pretty awesome.

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