Star Search - Sept 24th 2006

Star Search — This Show SucksSunday, 24th September
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I lay huddled against a brick building on 52nd street. It was November and it had to be at least 20 degrees. I was wearing every piece of clothing I could find. Layers of t-shirts, thermal underwear, hat, gloves. I don’t mind cold weather, but New York wind is unmerciful. It always finds you and slashes through everything you are wearing.

I couldn’t feel my hands. Through gloved fingers I pressed play on my frozen CD player. I had Tom Petty’s ‘Running down a dream’ (my motivational CD) playing for about ten minutes before the batteries died. I looked at my watch, 3:30 am. It was going to be a long night.

How did I end up here?

Flashback – two weeks earlier.

When you start out as a New York performer you’re going to do a lot of crazy stuff. There’s a disease in NY where people think you have to suffer for your art and it’s contagious. I remember I was just finishing up performing at some bad comedy room when a friend ran up to me.

“Did you hear the good news?!”


“They’re bringing back Star Search!”

“You mean that horrible show from the 80’s?”

“Yeah, with Arsenio Hall!” He was beaming . He looked at me like this was the greatest day of his life.


He took out this crumpled e-mail from his back pocket. “See? ‘dancers, models, and COMEDIANS!’ They’re having an open call this Thursday. You’ve got to do it with me!”

I rolled my eyes. I knew what ‘open call’ meant. Every jackass performer and his mom would be standing in line. I did a couple open calls starting out because I didn’t no any better, and it usually involved hours of waiting, and then doing 30 seconds of stand-up for a guy who had just heard about a thousand acts before you. Usually open calls are created to help publicize and hype whatever event it was. While in line, there is always a guy with a camera who walks around recording footage they can use for their upcoming TV promo.

I put my foot down. “No way. I hate open calls and I hated the original Star Search. This show is going to tank.”

“PULEEEESE! It’ll be fun! We’ll do it together!”

I felt bad for my friend. He was pretty much a loser and quite frankly his comedy sucks. But I did like him as a friend, and I always look out for my friends. Always.

“Give me the details.”

The game plan was this. The building was at 52nd and 8th. Doors open at 9am. I figured, if we show up at 12 am the night before we have a shot at getting seen at a legitimate time.

I put on every piece of warm clothing I could find. I also tucked away a folded collared shirt and pants into my bag. Something I could change into before performing. If I prepare mentally, I can take a lot of punishment. I was ready.

I showed up at the location that my friend and I agreed on. It was a lot colder than normal. Like any November night, it was dreary and dark, and there were a bunch of homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, I realized they were not homeless but actually a New Jersey boy band who actually brought sleeping bags and were asleep in line!

I was 16th. Not great considering how early this was, but not bad either. My friend was nowhere to be seen. Awesome…

I spent the next 9 hours bonding with the “Jersey Town Boyz” and a middle aged Chinese lady who played the xylophone.

The Chinese lady spoke horrible English, and I wondered if she made it on, would the show put subtitles when she talked to Aresenio Hall?

“WHAT YOU DO?! WHAT YOU DO?!” she screamed. Well since she asked so politely…

“I’m a magician. A combination of optical illusions and laser lightshows.”

She turned her back, unimpressed.

I was on the ground, against the wall with my hat over my eyes. A part of me wanted to fall asleep, but I saw a movie somewhere that hypothermia makes you fall asleep and then kills you. I think it's every artist’s worst nightmare to have a tombstone reading “Here lies Tarun, died while auditioning for the new Star Search.” I tried to stay as alert as possible.

Looking back, I think it's many scenarios like these that make performers who they are, for better or worse. Having started out somewhat young, I realize that this business makes you go through a lot of stuff. It took me a long time to really understand. Most artists (I used to be one of them) have nothing else, aside from a crappy Starbucks job and their miserable studio in Brooklyn, 2 hours from the city. If their career sucks, then their self-worth is reduced to nothingness.

Sometimes I still see it. Though LA people are a lot better at hiding pain, it's common in NY. Miserable comics walking around comedy clubs like zombies. It’s so ironic that their job is to make others laugh yet they are unsatisfied with life. Then I see others. Comics that are genuinely smiling, just happy to be doing what they’re doing. What is it that makes some go down that dark path while others have such a great attitude?

Truthfully, I have no idea. This has nothing to do with a spiritual awakening or any of that nonsense. I just know that if I’m going to be NORMAL and not go completely insane in this career path, I’ve got to set my own gauge for happiness.

I checked my watch. 9:01 am. The doors were open and they were starting to take people. It was a brutal night and seeing the sunlight brought hope that in a few hours I’d soon be back home asleep in my own bed. I looked behind me. The line now stretched down the street and around the block. Also walking towards me was my ‘friend,’ embracing a Starbucks coffee.

“Sorry, man. Fell asleep. Can I get cuts?”

About ten people around me shot him piercing glares. If he had taken a step into that line, I’m sure the Chinese lady behind me would have beat him unconscious with her xylophone. And to be honest, if that happened, I probably wouldn’t have done anything.

“Maybe it’s best I go to the back of the line.”
“Probably” I replied.

I did get a callback that day, but I never made it onto Star Search. It’s ok. At the end of the day, I gave it my best, and I wouldn't have it any other way. 
Tarun ShettyComment