August 21, 2009

72 Whooping Cough Lane – Part 1

“Kenny wasn’t like the other kids. TV mattered, nothing else did.”

Those of you from “my generation” will recognize the above as being from the MTV game show, Remote Control. Now for those of you not yet pushing forty, back in the day, MTV actually played something called “music videos” nearly 24-hours a day.

You see, believe it or not, the “M” in MTV stands for “music.” Seriously.

Today of course, the programming on MTV today consists primarily of: reality fare, competitive dating shows, competitive reality shows that may also involve dating with contestants who have already appeared on other MTV reality shows, and whatever Diddy’s latest project happens to be… all interrupted occasionally for a thirty-second clip of either Lady Gaga, Eminem or Beyoncé… but back in the late 80’s, the station actually played videos close to 100 percent of the time.

Heck, The Real World didn’t even debut until 1992!

The first non-music program to air on MTV was Remote Control – and it was the epitome of cool. The nebbishy Ken Ober hosted this trivia-based game show that served as the launching pad for comedians like Adam Sandler, Dennis Leary and Colin Quinn. It was “THE game show” for college kids of that era, providing an actual use for having had their brains stuffed full of useless information like the name of Cindy Brady’s doll and the Munsters’ home address and countless other inane bits of arcane TV and music trivia.

So cool, LL Cool J was on it.

My freshman year of college, they held an open audition for contestants at Syracuse University. About 60 people crammed into a small classroom, and took a written trivia exam. The top 30 scores or so advanced to the second round, where we were each given 30 seconds to “make our pitch” to Gena, the casting director for the show. In essence, it was nothing more than a quick personality check… did we have any entertainment value, or were we in fact, duller than dirt?

Some people did celebrity impressions, some sang or danced, some juggled or did some other “stupid human trick.” Completely unprepared for this unexpected development, in total desperation, I ripped off an old Howie Mandel routine about Superman’s costume being lame and much to my surprise, advanced to the final round of the audition process, which was a simulated game. There, I got my ass handed to me on a silver platter, as I went up against a player who buzzed in to answer each and every question faster than the speed of light.

Sadly, I was not going to get to “Sing Along With Colin” – at least not this year…

By my sophomore year, the show had managed to reach an even higher level of popularity, and the open audition was now scheduled to be held in a huge auditorium that filled up quickly with several hundred aspiring contestants. Passing the trivia quiz was again, for me, a snap - but this time around, I knew I was going to have to make a huge impression on the casting director if I wanted to stand out from the crowd.

Gambling (correctly as it turned out) that Gena would once again be in attendance, I had carefully planned my 30-second skit around her. I went up on stage and asked if she remembered me from the previous year. When she said she didn’t, I went into “psycho-stalker, rejected-lover” mode, saying that I didn’t know what I had done to make her not want to pick me for the show, but that I took full blame, and that I totally apologized for whatever it was that I had done to make her feel that way and that this year, I’d do whatever it took to make it up to her. I then ripped open my flannel shirt (What? It was the age of Nirvana and totally cool! Was too! Shut up!) to reveal a T-shirt that read “I LOVE GENA” underneath.

Gena’s face was beet-red in embarrassment as her assistants were beside themselves in laughter.

I didn’t even need to play the sample game… I was headed to Kenny’s basement at last.


  1. Eileen Sarett-CuasayAugust 21, 2009 at 11:03 AM

    Well, first of all, thanks for the memory jog: I'd forgotten all about Remote Control! Second--geez! I sure missed some interesting stuff in your life, huh? I'm staying tuned...

  2. Please do, Eileen... I hope everyone who is reading is equally as entertained, and will spread the word!

  3. AJ, keep these stories coming!