On Forced Enthusiasm: I Wanted To Be A Millionaire
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I really don’t know how I thought getting on Who Wants to be a Millionaire would be a fool proof plan for some quick money.

I guess I thought two things. First, I can get through at least two questions, right? The first one is a gimme, then answer the second one and that’s like… a thousand dollars? I don’t know, I really don’t watch the show.

Second, they love improvisers and I’m an improviser. Five of my improv friends have been on Millionaire. One was during the Meredith Vieira days. My friend Justin had quite the adventure losing big and then going back. And the other three were… on it. Again, I don’t really watch the show.

I heard about the test, though, from some improv source – either a newsletter or something on Facebook. So, I figured I had to give this a shot.

I’ve never been a trivia guy, though. I have strange ways of picking answers when it comes to questions that I don’t know. I remember one trivia question that I heard and it was, “This has only happened eighteen times in the history of professional baseball.” One of the options was “bunt homerun.” I thought, well, in the history of baseball that is well over a century, I bet some crazy fluke things have happened. So, I’ll go with that.

Now, the answer was, “A perfect game.” But I chose, “bunt homerun” – a phenomenon that I believe has never happened ever. That’s how good I am at trivia.

But no matter. I could Slumdog Millionaire it up, maybe just go on a run of questions where I just happen to know the answer. Then, at the final million dollar question, they’d bust out what they think is an obscure gotcha question. “Which Shakespeare play provides the name for a Premier League soccer team?” Little do they know that I have this answer handy. “Is it Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, or The Tempest?” Not counting on the fact that I am a Tottenham Hotspur fan, I would say, “Henry V, final answer,” and walk home with my cool million.

But first I had to take the test to, you know, get on the show.

So, I show up to this warehouse space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I get in line and wait. I start talking to a few people in line. One guy has tried out for Millionaire six times. He’s taken the test and not been picked and he’s trying again. There’s another woman who’s tried four times. I start talking to two teenagers who drove in from the suburbs of Philadelphia to take this test.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it yet but I don’t really watch the show. So, I was a little surprised that people actually cared.

I watched a few episodes when it had just come out and Regis Philbin hosted. It seemed like a bigger deal then. Now I don’t know what channel it’s on. I thought Terry Crews was still hosting. He’s not. It’s another guy and I care so little about who that guy is that I won’t even google him now.

It seems odd to be a fan of a particular gameshow, so much so that you will take the test to be on it multiple times.

Unless it’s Jeopardy and, look, you already know if you’re a Jeopardy person. I am not a Jeopardy person. I’ve known a couple of Jeopardy people. They are way smarter than I am in ways that I don’t care to enumerate. I was a good student but I didn’t memorize a damn thing. I got 4’s on AP European History and American History and here’s the extent of my world knowledge: George Washington, Archduke Ferdinand, Hitler. That’s it and even that stuff is spotty. Dates of the Civil War? What’s D Day? The Battle of the Bulge? Authors, artists, foreign languages, what countries border Switzerland? I don’t know.

But I’m not talking about Jeopardy, I’m talking about people who really love Wheel of Fortune or they get crazy in the audience of The Price is Right or get the family together to play The Feud. Even those are classics, so, when I hear a guy in line who’s taken the test thirty times tell me that he’s been doing this since you could only take the test over the phone, I think, “Dude, you know trivia about getting on the show?” He caps that sentence off by saying, “I’ll get on this show or die trying.”

I waited about an hour. I saw one other comedy friend, Jeff, get in line to take the test. Then Millionaire employees started showing up and here’s where I got annoyed. They were enthusiastic. It seemed like it was their job to be enthusiastic and they happened to be good at their job. There seemed to be a head enthusiasm generator who wore a black Millionaire shirt while the rest of them wore white. She smiled big and said things like, “How’s everyone doing today? Where’s everyone from? Who came from the furthest?”

And people answered. Voluntarily.

I don’t like forced enthusiasm. I don’t like being warmed up. If you’ve ever been to a taping of The Tonight Show, The Daily Show, Colbert or some equivalent, you’re familiar with this. They “warm up” the crowd and ask you to laugh and laugh loud. I hate being warmed up. If I’m cold, man, let me be cold.

So, the room finally opens and they let us file in and take seats in folding chairs at folding tables so we can take the test. It was my first time filling out a Scantron in many many years. I don’t remember the questions but I felt like I knew most of the answers.

You had to pass the test to get to the interview to get into the pool of people who could be selected, then you had to actually be selected.

Things got really annoying while we waited for the test results. They wanted us to make some noise and they started asking us questions. “What would you do with your million dollars?” Everyone just stood up and said something and we all clapped.

It kind of felt like a psychological experiment, like some people in lab coats were behind a two way mirror. The young psychologist just out of grad school says, “Maybe one of them won’t clap today.” The veteran psychologist snorts, stubs out his cigarette, and says, “They always clap, kid. Always. I’ve been doing this for forty years.”

So, I choked down my “why am I doing this?” instinct and clapped away. (My answer, incidentally, was “Buy an apartment in Paris.” Because I’m classy and urbane like that.)

In retrospect I wonder if that was actually round one of interviews, seeing how energetic you were during these inane questions. Yes, I just said inane, so, you can probably tell how enthusiastic I was.

Then the question was, “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done for money?” I had nothing besides, “perform a task in exchange for monetary compensation,” so I stayed quiet. One guy said he wore a mouse costume, another guy wore a sandwich board but there were a couple of winners. One guy said, “I waterboarded a friend for ten bucks.” I don’t think he elaborated. Then a guy said, “When I was in my twenties, I was a gigolo in the south of France.”

Not sure if I mentioned that I don’t really watch this show but holy shit I would have loved to see that guy’s episode.

Then they had the grades. We all had a number at the top of our tests that corresponded to us so they wouldn’t have to call out names.

They started calling out numbers of people who passed and could take a seat and wait to be interviewed. I didn’t hear mine. Not a problem. I’m sure I passed. More numbers. Not mine. More numbers. Jeff passed, he went to take a seat to wait to be interviewed. More numbers. The two repeaters got up and went over to wait to be interviewed. Wait. Did I not pass the Millionaire test? Seriously? I went to an Ivy League university for Christ’s sake! I mean, sure, it’s the shitty one but still.

That’s a strange thing about not caring about something. When it’s taken away, then you start to care.

My number was the last one called. Then they said to the remaining people, “Thanks to everyone who came out!” The teenagers from Philadelphia quietly exited the warehouse.

Off to the side of the large room was a smaller room where more Millionaire employees waited behind more folding tables to interview us one at a time. I guess you’re supposed to have a good story to make it through this phase. I talked about the fact that I was an orphan.

You heard that right. I led with my dead parents. Hey man, when someone says, “tell me about yourself,” that’s where I go.

So, shockingly, I was not entered into the contestant pool. None of those Millionaire people saw the golden opportunity to showcase me. “Do you guys know who I loved? The guy who acted above it all and talked about dead family members!” “I know, right?!”

We all got a shirt, though. So there’s that.

It’s and odd thing to realize about myself that I hate activities where the only requirement is, “Be happy! Smile! Have fun with this!” I don’t know if it’s that I don’t like faking emotions or that I can’t fake emotions or perhaps all of my exuberance was pummeled and shamed out of me in middle school. I feel like if I try to fake an emotion that people can tell and I don’t want to get caught. Fake it ’til you make it? I’d rather make peace with not making it.

I didn’t get a few thousand bucks on Millionaire. Whatever, man, who the hell watches that show?

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