Monday, November 11, 2019

Awkward Actor Moment

From time to time, folks in show business try to use contacts to get house seats for various plays and musicals. Some participants of a production – like playwright, director, actors – are entitled to a certain number of house seats for each performance and often they don’t use them. So through agents, casting directors, friends, or on those rare occasions, actually knowing the participants yourself, you can sometimes score their house seats.

A number of years ago at the Huntington Hartford Theatre in Los Angeles there was a new play by Herb Gardner starring Judd Hirsch that my wife and I wanted to see. In this case, I did not know anyone. I had met Judd on a couple of occasions when I was on CHEERS and he was still doing TAXI on the same lot. But those were only momentary “Nice to meet you” encounters. Still, through the casting director of the show I was working on at the time I got Judd's house seats.

We go to the theatre, they’re great seats, and about ten minutes before the performance Judd’s assistant approaches and says Judd would like us to come back to his dressing room after the show. Okay. That’s a little strange. Often as a courtesy, you will go backstage to thank the person for the seats or just leave him a note acknowledging your gratitude. It’s a little odd to be summoned.

All through the play I’m wondering – what does he want? Does he have an idea for a show he wants to pitch? Is he just a big fan of my shows? Does he want to go out with my wife?

After the show the assistant reappears and escorts us backstage to Judd’s dressing room. And here’s where it gets weird.

We walk in and immediately, by the look on his face, it’s clear he doesn’t know me from Adam. He must’ve thought I was somebody else -- someone that he did know. But of course he doesn’t want to be rude so he pretends that he does know us. At which point we don't want to embarrass him by saying he doesn't know us so we pretend that we know him as well.

So now the three of us engage in the most excruciatingly awkward conversation ever. I don’t recall what we talked about. I just remember a whole lot of pauses. All the while I kept hoping the assistant would pop her head in and say there were other well-wishers or the theatre was fire. Nothing. There was no escape.

After what seems like an hour (it was probably ten minutes) we go to the babysitter card and gracefully make our exit.  Moments later our car screams out of the parking lot. 

The next day the casting director who arranged for the tickets said Judd called her and asked, “Who the hell was that?” Then, when she told him, he said, “Oh. Glad he stopped by.”

The next time I’m just buying tickets.


Phil said...

Does he want to go out with my wife?


slgc said...

You should invite Judd Hirsch to be a guest on your podcast. I'm sure he'd have a lot of great stories about Broadway and Hollywood, and you guys would probably have a good laugh about the house seats story.

Lemuel said...

As Mad Magazine put it, a "weird interlude".

Kirk said...

That's a great story. As I'm sure you no doubt know (but maybe some of your readers don't, so I'll point it out for their benefit) the Charles brothers produced the first few seasons of Taxi, and of course they went on to do Cheers that you worked on. So you and Judd had that in common.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Now there's someone who discovered the secret to NOT aging at all! Judd Hirsch starred on both INDEPENDENCE DAY films, released 20 years apart. He looks the same now as he did back in 1996!

Y. Knott said...

Funny story! Glad you shared it.

DBenson said...

Back in community theater days, I'd occasionally have conversations with people I thought I knew -- and who thought they knew me -- because we'd seen each other onstage and had a lot of mutual acquaintances. It wasn't mistaken identity, but mistaken assumption we'd actually met before.

Mike Bloodworth said...

It would have been even funnier if he actually did know you, but didn't recognize you, couldn't remember your name or how he knew you. Not that that ever happens in real life. (Just teasing)

Off topic: MeTV is airing the M*A*S*H finale tonight as a Veteran's Day special. I saw one of the previews with Ken talking about the show. There is a version where during each break one of the actors or writers, such as Ken, et al, comments on the series. I'm not sure if tonight's airing is that one.
If it is, will you get royalties, Ken?
In Los Angeles, MeTV is on over-the-air 56.3. Don't know about cable or the rest of the country.

Unknown said...

Free good seats for a show, in exchange for awkward conversation? I would take that.

Tony.T said...

My Motto could well be "Never ask for freebies." It almost always leads to complications.

Chris said...

If the show was "Conversations With My Father" I'm guessing, all in all, it was still a great evening. Saw it in NY just before he won the Tony for it, and while I wasn't a huge fan of the writing, his performance was one for the ages. Also, having seen "Ordinary People" going on 15 times or so now, I continue to marvel at his performance as Dr. Berger. Timothy Hutton won the Oscar for the more showy role, but Judd Hirsch (also nominated) demonstrates what can be done when an actor actively listens. Really strong work. And yes, as someone already suggested, please ask him to do your podcast!

Cat said...

Still confused at how he won the Emmy over Ted Danson's first season of Cheers.

Steve said...

Maybe he thought you were the BioShock guy.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Not that I'll ever be in this sort of circumstance, but what would be wrong about:

Hirsch: (pretends to know Ken)

Ken: We've met, but it was on the Paramount lot some time ago. I'm a producer for CHEERS. Please thank your casting director for the tickets.


Hirsch: I'm so sorry, but I'm drawing a blank. How did you get my house seats?

Ken: Your casting director got them for us.

Then, if Hirsch wanted to know, you could explain the connection - CHEERS, Paramount, TAXI - everyone has a laugh and you can say how much you loved the show.

FWIW, why not see if Hirsch will come to your podcast?

Tudor Queen said...

My mother was a huge fan of Mr. Hirsch and introduced me to his work. I went on to love him on Taxi, on stage in "Conversations With My Father" and "I'm Not Rappaport" (his Tony speech for the latter was a highly moving tribute to his late co-star Cleavon Little) and on the big screen in "Ordinary People" and "Running on Empty".

One night a family friend, having taken me to a show, went on to take me to Joe Allen's, which in addition to having what I consider the greatest jukebox I've ever encountered, often attracts celebrities. At one point I needed to find the ladies' room and found myself on a long, slow-moving line. Suddenly I realized that Judd Hirsch was sitting in a booth to my immediate left. I gasped, which caught his attention, and he smiled pleasantly. "You're Judd Hirsch!" I said in wonder, and then added the final fatal words: "My mother loves you!"

As soon as the words left my mouth I realized what an idiot I was. Too late. I slunk on to the restrooms and replayed the moment over and over...

mike schlesinger said...

A year or so ago, my pal Dan O'Shannon got me a ticket to the taping of what would prove to be the last episode of SUPERIOR DONUTS. Afterwards, he got me down to the stage to meet Hirsch. He did not know me from Adam--hell, he barely knew Dan--but he was nothing but gracious, pleased I knew so much about his career and inscribed a lobby card I'd brought from "King of the Gypsies," proclaiming it "the best photo of me that was ever taken." A real mensch, at least to me.