When High Times decided to venture into the movie business back in 2001 by lending our name to a cannabis comedy called High Times’ Potluck, one of the perks was that the HT staff were all invited to be extras. Like many of my fellow co-workers, I jumped at the chance to make my big-screen debut. And since I happened to be reading a ton of Bukowski at the time, I stipulated that if there were to be some kind of bar scene, I wanted to be in it. Well, I got my wish: The scene they cast me in was shot at a white-trash-inspired bar, aptly named American Trash, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
It was an early-morning call—a bitch to make, because I’d just ended a long, hard night of drinking. I barely made it home in time to get in a few hours of sleep and a shower before hopping a subway back into the city. I arrived to a slew of lights, wires, and manic people with clipboards and headsets running everywhere. While the crew got everything set up and sorted out, I groggily sipped my grande white mocha and exchanged niceties with two other aspiring actors who’d shown up hoping for a break. Much to their chagrin, director Alison Thompson chose me to be the “featured” extra—no lines, but I’d have actual face time in frame instead of sitting way in the back of the bar as I’d originally expected. Sorry, guys—that’s showbiz.
“So what’s my motivation here?” I asked writer Victor Colicchio.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” Vic explained. “It’s early in the morning, you’ve been up all night drinking, and you can barely stay awake.” Not much of a stretch there. “Jackie ‘the Joke Man’ Martling [of Howard Stern fame] is playing the bartender, Mercury,” he continued. “You’ll be sitting in front of him at the bar when the mules [Jim and Jack, played by Ivan Martin and Bryant Carroll, respectively] come in and start talking to him. When you hear Jackie say the phrase ‘drinking too much,’ that’s your cue to pass out on the bar. Then the bartender’s gonna take all your money, and the old guy’s gonna steal your beer.”
Shit — I was born to play this role.
“Okay, we gotta get you into makeup.” Vic motioned to an overworked girl in a headset. “Take this guy down to the makeup trailer. I want him to look beat-up, dirty, exhausted. Put some dark rings under his eyes, grease in his hair, and mess it up.” So much for looking my best. I could’ve just gone for the Method approach—stayed out all night and come straight to the shoot pre-mussed, no makeup required.
Oh well. Ten minutes later, I returned to the set freshly grunged, took my place at the bar, and made small talk with Martling and the other actors as the crew finished preparations.
“Places!” yelled the director’s assistant. I rested my head on my fist and waited. Then, the moment of truth: “And . . . action!” In walked the mules, and the banter began. When my cue came, I slid my head down onto the bar and kept it there until I heard them yell, “Cut!” On the second take, I opted for slapstick value over realism and slammed my head down onto the bar so abruptly and heavily that it made a loud thunk.
“That was perfect!” Colicchio chuckled. “I could actually hear your head hitting the bar! Do that again next take!” I proceeded to thunk my head twice more before being dispatched back to the HT offices to work.
It wasn’t until nearly two years later—at the standing-room-only premiere—that I finally got to see the end result. My anticipation came to a head as I watched the mules enter the bar and approach the Joke Man up on the big screen. When my head hit the bar and my possessions were pilfered, a roar of laughter swept the auditorium, vindicating my comedic talents—even if I did spend most of my screen time facedown on the bar.
At the after-party, I got to hang out with many of my celebrity co-stars, including Wonder Years dad Dan Lauria, Silent Bob’s hetero lifemate Jason (Jay) Mewes, sexy Lunachicks singer Theo Kogan, Tommy Chong and my all-time favorite Batman villain, Frank (the Riddler) Gorshin. In May, the talented Mr. Gorshin passed away at the age of 72, after a battle with cancer. This column is dedicated to him, as he learns the answer to the greatest riddle of ’em all. Rest in peace, Frank.