Before attending a taping of “The Chew” last week in NYC with my brother Casey, I’d been on television exactly twice—once as a floating head for a story about Christian music that lasted all of 15 seconds and once on KARE-11 in Minneapolis/St. Paul when my second novel hit stores.
The latter was a whole lot of fun until I caught a quick glimpse of myself in Camera Two’s viewfinder. It’s often been said that a TV camera adds 10-15 pounds (one explanation for why Hollywood types are so stinkin’ tiny, perhaps), but in my case, I’m pretty sure it was 50. My face looked like one of those oversized balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, and it took everything within me to keep calm, carry on, and not be totally freaked out by my ridiculously puffy alter-ego. And after the segment wrapped? I vowed to work out like 72 hours a day until the end of time. You can probably guess how long that lasted.
Now, eight years after Puffy Christa graced the small screen, there was strength in numbers as Casey and I waited in line for “The Chew.” It was an extraordinarily hot and humid New York City morning (it was 93 with like 4,000% humidity IN SEPTEMBER), and not only was I sweating buckets, but I was the very personification of Big Texas Hair more than 1,500 miles from home. I’m pretty sure it’s never been that big and unruly, but whatcha going to do? You go with it, and hope and pray you’re sitting in the back.
One of the things to know about being part of a studio audience is that it involves a whole lot of waiting. You wait outside. You wait to go through security. You wait in the green room. Someone had the good sense to have bottled water and snacks by this point in the waiting process, because once you enter the actual studio, there’s a strict, no-tolerance policy on being hangry. You’ll clap on cue. You’ll laugh on cue. You’ll make “yummy noises” on cue (more on that in a minute). You’ll act like you’re having the best time as spontaneously as you can, but yet, totally on cue.
If you’ve ever wondered what a trained monkey must feel like, go to a TV show taping. A half hour before the cameras began rolling, there’s a guy who once probably moonlighted as an extra on The Sopranos who teaches you the fine art of having fun on camera. We practiced clapping at different intervals—loud, soft and somewhere in between. We practiced laughing like we were watching the best stand-up comic ever (even if it was just Mario Batali cracking a lame joke while stirring a skillet full of shallots). And because “The Chew” is a show about food, we practiced ooohing and aaahing the way some people do whenever bacon is mentioned. Whether it was a pan brimming with lima beans or someone merely slathering a bit of mayo on a piece of bread, we were instructed to respond like they’d just passed around a box of Magnolia Cupcakes for everyone to share.
Incidentally, several people have asked if Casey and I actually got to try some of the food. No, we weren’t selected for the coveted Tasting Table. After all the waiting, though, I found myself contemplating the lengths I would go to score a piece of the Hummingbird Pie that Carla Hall made with the star of the Broadway production of “Waitress.” Yes, all that talk of diner food, the focus of that particular episode, makes you hungry something fierce. But even with my stomach growling for all to hear, I’m guessing my “yummy noises” weren’t quite up to par. My hands were the slightest bit sore from all the clapping though.
Casey’s take on the whole experience? “Well that was interesting, and I bet that guy warming up the crowd goes home hating his life.” He’s probably right on both accounts.
If you’re the DVRing type, see if you can find Casey and I in “The Chew” crowd on October 5th on ABC.