Nombre de messages : 58935 Age : 29 Date d'inscription : 07/01/2009
Sujet: James C. Leary : confessions d'un acteur de BtVS Mar 29 Sep - 1:54
Confessions of a G-List Celebrity From a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Actor (Part One)
Hello. My name is James C. Leary and chances are, if you are not a fan of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (specifically seasons 6 and 7), were part of my college improv troupe, or gave me a hand job in the back seat of a 1983 Oldsmobile Delta in the summer of 1990 then you have no freaking clue who the hell I am.
I am what I like to call a G-List Celebrity and I arrived in the City of Angels in the summer of 1998.
I was 24 years old, fresh off a successful two years in Chicago studying improv with the likes of Eric Stonestreet and Seth Myers (buckle up, ’cause I’m gonna’ drop a ton of names); full of hope, wide-eyed naiveté, and visions of Tinsel Town Stardom dancing in my brain. Twelve years later I fled the city with an 1100 square foot, half a million dollar house in foreclosure, a crumbling marriage, and a healthy addiction to copious amounts of alcohol. But fear not, this is not a tale of woe (well, maybe parts of it will be) but one of perseverance, what NOT to do, some of the crazy shit I saw (and did) and maybe, if I’m lucky, a smidge of redemption and catharsis.
Sound like fun? Great! Off we go…
Where to begin? There are so many tales to tell. Like the time I saw Sean Young hop on a vanity, hike up her floral dress and pee in the bathroom sink at a wrap party, or the time I went to a “Gentleman’s Club” outside the Detroit airport (called the Landing Strip) with Lorenzo Llamas, his second ex-wife (who showed me HER boobs at said club – they were nice), his third ex-wife and Vicky from the Love Boat, or the time I got shit-faced on High ABV Canadian beer and somehow ended up naked on a couch between Darth Maul and the Soup Nazi…
Wait. I got ahead of myself…
Most stories start at the beginning, but I’m a child of the 70′s who came of ‘cinematic age’ during the reign of the mighty Quentin Tarantino, so this story is going to bounce all over the fucking place during the upcoming weeks. For this first post though, I think we should start at the end…
Itching. I remember itching. My hands. My lower back. My belly. They all itched like crazy, which is what, I guess, brought me back to some form of consciousness. My first thought was – “why do I taste dirt?” followed quickly by “why is my pillow made of grass?” As I slowly peeled my eyes open, the lids scraping across my dried out eyeballs like coarse sandpaper, I realized I was lying in a field.
Funny, cause I don’t normally sleep in fields.
The itching soon took a back burner to the sudden flood of “Where the FUCK am I?” I slowly got to my knees and looked around. It was still dark, but the sky was getting that pre-dawn purple hue it gets about a half an hour before the sun comes up. I was in a small field next to where they were building a brand new Top Golf – about 300 yards from my office and about three quarters of a mile from my small apartment. I dusted off the dirt and grass as best I could, blearily glanced at my watch (which read 5:30 in the a.m.), and started the long, hot walk to my apartment. Hot because it was August in Texas and even at 5:30 in the morning, it was still 90 damn degrees and humid as hell. My only thought was “get home – get home – get home – get home – get home.” I didn’t want to think about how I got in the field (later, I would piece together, much later, that I had gone to the hotel bar across from my office after work and proceeded to drink myself stupid for the next 7 hours until they asked me to leave); which is when I decided I could “walk” home. The “walk” was only about a mile and half away (I should be totally fine… drunk logic at its finest). I also didn’t want to think about why my hand and stomach burned and itched - or think about the steely spike of a hang-over headache slowly inching its pointed tip into my brain. No, I just had to get home to a bed, which, as far as I can recall, I did. I woke up 5 hours later, completely disoriented with the hang over spike buried to the hilt in my head, a mouth as dry as the Sahara, and a rush of total panic – WHAT THE FUCK DID I DO LAST NIGHT?!
Thankfully, nothing too bad (not like the time I got arrested for a DUI for falling asleep at a stop light… at 3:30… in the afternoon… on a Thursday), I had just passed out in a field, gotten attacked by fire ants and almost lost a backpack with my son’s new computer in it. You know, no big deal.
Later that afternoon I remember sitting in my living room trying to muscle down a few beers to quiet my thudding head, rolling stomach, and utterly, completely, totally, unequivocally demoralized soul. I didn’t want the fucking beers. They tasted like shit and I was having a hard time not throwing them right back up. But… I also couldn’t imagine NOT drinking them. I was terrified. I wanted to stop but didn’t know how. Things went on like that for another few weeks until after a particularly awful pre-divorce hearing – I went on a final bender, called someone to stay with me, and had what I hope will forever be my last drink on August 30th, 2013.
Now, I start with this to give some context to my state of mind. That was the culmination of practically a decade of slow burning self-loathing, doubt, fear, sadness and anger that got its start while I was struggling to be a working actor in Hollywood (I’m not saying Hollywood made me an alcoholic – it’s not as simple as that – but it certainly didn’t fucking help). I was 24 years old when I got to La La Land and surprisingly I did a few things right… and then a whole hell of a lot wrong… that ultimately led to me being 39 years old face down in an Austin, Texas field covered in ant bites. It took a long while to get from A to B and it wasn’t until I was a good year sober that I was able to start looking at things objectively. Hence… this column. So… let’s go to the beginning now.
In the late summer of 2001 I got booked for a five line part on the cult smash TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was HUGE for me. I was a very big fan of the show. I loved it and had been trying hard for 3 years to get on it. I had met the casting associate at a casting workshop (we’ll go over those in another post – basically it’s where you pay to audition – I had, and still have, mixed feelings about them. They are technically illegal. But without them, I NEVER would have gotten the audition for Buffy) and she called me to read for producers for the character of “Loose Skinned Demon” for the fifth episode of season six.
I was STOKED.
Having been a fan of the show, I knew the tone and decided to play it for as much humor as I could – forgetting the fact that I was supposed to be a demon and… I got the part. I was in heaven. In my head, this was it. My big Hollywood break. This was going to launch my career in full force. No more commercials or Spanish Language sit-coms for me (again, a tale for another post). I showed up on set at 6am, spent 4 hours in makeup and almost bounded on to set I was so giddy. And the day was awesome. I got to work with Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters. I saw Emma Caulfield (who I had a huge crush on) and stood next to Anthony Stewart Head while stuffing my latex covered pie-hole full of Red Vines and pineapple. James and I had a talk about acting, realizing we’d both spent time in the Chicago theater scene, and at the end of the day when I was saying my goodbyes and it-was-great-working-with-you’s, James said “Oh, trust me, you’re funny. You’ll be back.” I thought yeah, he says that to everyone, went home, had victory-on-being-a-working-actor sex with my wife and figured that was that.
Well, much to my surprise I got a call from my agent a few months later after the episode aired saying they wanted me back for another episode. For a FULL WEEKS WORTH OF SHOOTING. Again, I was thrilled and had an amazing time working with most of the main cast. My character even got a name – CLEM. Getting to meet a few of the writers, going to the Christmas party and having the thrill of hearing Allison Hannigan say “Oh, you’re cute!” after showing up on set without makeup on my last day of shooting (none of the cast knew what I looked like ’cause I got to set for makeup super early and usually rolled out after everyone else was gone) was particularly awesome.
This happened four more times that season and when all was said and done I did six glorious episodes providing some much needed comedic relief in a very dark season. I was officially a “recurring character.” My agent had gotten fan mail. It was awesome. And then… I got invited to start doing conventions… and they were… A-FUCKING-MAZING. My first one ever was San Diego Comic Con in 2002 which was kind of like losing your virginity to a porn star. People actually paid money for my autograph. They wanted pictures with me. I got… attention. For the shy, chubby kid that got picked on, beat up, and laughed at by middle school girls… it was a drug like no other.
Then I started doing strictly Buffy-themed conventions. Spending three days with 1000 adoring fans who treated me like a motherfucking rock star?! Are you kidding me? I was in heaven. Pure bliss. But… it is also where things started to go so very, very wrong for me. Because like a drug, it was great until it wasn’t. The three day parties turned into me needing to drink during the week because why the fuck was I still waiting tables at fucking Bucca Di Beppo? Two days previous, people were buying me drinks and paying for my picture! Being an agreeable attention hungry party guy led to… drinking way too much and making some very bad decisions…
There it is. Blunt as you can get. No punches pulled. I. Fucked. Fans. And… I was married. And… I hated myself for it. The morning after was always awash in red faced shame and a loathing so deep it was like a kick in the balls. But… I kept doing it. I would swear I wouldn’t – then the first cocktail party would happen and a few beers later my “fuck it” switch would get flipped and I would go looking for that hit of sweet, sweet adoration. I’d usually find it and the effects would be fleeting. I’d go home with cash in my pocket and shame in my heart. That shame followed me around, wrapped in it like a guilt woven wooby until I started to drink during the week, at lunch, before auditions – and especially at night at home. It’s no wonder I couldn’t book jobs. That I had an air of desperation wafting off me like day old sweat. That my marriage, already strained, fractured even more. On the flip side – I got to travel the world, meet fans, and make friendships that have lasted to this day (Love you Clare!).
I also got to see a lot of crazy shit. Share a ton of laughs – witnessing Andy Hallett and Mark Lutz do battling Paul Linde impressions brings a smile to my face even to this day, or auctioning off a 10 second grope of Anthony Stewart Head’s ass for charity “It’s for the children!!” Hearing the stories from fans about how the show helped them through tough times and how much it meant to them. Seeing the joy that this silly show has given people. Makes me think that it’s all been worth it. That I had to go through all the pain, all the pleasure, all the fear and heartache to get to this point so that I could truly understand that what I do matters. That even though I may only be a G-List Celebrity, who probably did more to fuck up his career then he ever did to further it, that it wasn’t all in vain.
I really don’t know how to end this rambling so I’ll end with what I hope is a funny story. I recently attended Dragon Con for the first time since 2007 (the last time I was there it was a debauched mess where I learned never to try and keep pace drinking with Canadians from hugely popular Sci-Fi shows – they will WRECK YOU).
I was very excited to be there, to still be on this crazy convention train years after I thought the wheels would have come flying off in flames – this time sober, present, and ready to experience the madness in all its glory. A chance to truly make it about the fans – ’cause that is who it is all about anyway – them. Not me. Do I get something out of it? Hell yeah I do. Only this time the high I get isn’t so fleeting or toxic.
It’s no secret that I have a huge man crush on Stephen Amell from the TV show Arrow. Sure, he’s dreamy and a good actor, but I LOVE the way he interacts with his fans and has built a Facebook presence unlike any I’ve seen – and how much he truly seems to love what he is doing, how appreciative he is for the opportunity and privilege to get to do what he does.
After having spent a decade on the circuit with actors from the past 40 years of genre film and TV and experienced more than a fair share of bitterness and anger from actors who felt above the roles they played, this is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Mr. Amell, being a huge star was obviously very busy for the 4 days of the convention (in fact I think he was only there for 2 or 3 days), and was even in his own special autograph room. Well, I know the gentleman who does the photo ops for Dragon Con pretty well (he may or may not have had something to do with the high ABV Canadian beer I mentioned at the beginning) and found out when Stephen was doing his photo ops and planned to sneak into the line to meet him and get one.
I arrived early, looking very dapper if I do say so myself, entered through the special “celebrity” photo op green room and hopped into line… and there he was – Oliver Queen himself (still wish he’d do the goatee). Let me preface this next bit by saying I’ve met, and been very cool and collected around, a lot of celebrities. A. Lot. People I look up to and admire. Hell, I sat in a Vegas bar with Billy fucking Joel drinking scotch and water and fending off end-of-shift hookers after doing a live stage show for Toyota. So, I’m no stranger (see what I did there? With the Billy Joel joke? The Stranger is his fifth album… Jokes are better when explained) to meeting famous people. But here is what happened as I walked up to all six feet one inches of blue eyed dream boat-ness that is Stephen Amell – I shook his hand and said “HI MY NAME IS JAMES LEARY, I WAS ON BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER AND I’M YOU’RE BIGGEST FAN!” Very quickly and very loudly. He nodded. Took the picture and subtly pushed me toward the exit. It wasn’t until I was in the green room that I realized what had happened.
Here is the product of that photo op, the look on my face says it all:
And ladies and gentlemen, there it is. Embarrassed? Hell yes. But you know what? That’s me. Just a kid who wanted to be Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones more than anything in the world who got to live his dream for a little bit, and regardless of everything that entailed – the success and failures, the joy and heartache, the stories and scars – I am, and will always and forever be grateful for the journey.
Featured Photo: credit via Karolina King Photography
Confessions of a G-list Celebrity: Part 2 – ‘Passed Out, Naked, in a Hotel Hallway’
I heard a very loud CLICK! The kind of click that a hotel door makes when it shuts – heavy, loud and very forceful. “Crap!” I thought. It was morning already, and I’d forgotten to put the “do not disturb” sign on my door; housekeeping was there to try and make some semblance of the hotel room that I had spent the previous two days turning into a damn disaster area. I opened my eyes and… was completely flummoxed. I wasn’t looking at a stuccoed ceiling, badly painted landscapes or even a television still playing the extremely overpriced yet decidedly underwhelming pornography I vaguely remember paying for the night before. Nope. I was looking at a hotel hallway.
Which was… odd. I don’t make a habit of sleeping in hotel hallways – not that I was laying down, mind you. I was standing in the middle of what was hopefully my hotel’s hallway, and…
I WAS BUCK ASS NAKED. Totally, completely, ball-shrinkingly nude.
I must be dreaming, I thought. Or… something… because WHY THE FUCK WAS I NAKED IN A HOTEL HALLWAY!? Surprisingly, I still had my watch on. I peered through bleary eyes to find it was 6:15 a.m. My booze-soaked synapses were misfiring and I couldn’t put together what was going on. I stood there, ‘Little Jimmy’ swinging in the breeze, for a good two minutes (which seemed like hours), trying to figure out what was going on.
This wasn’t how things were supposed to be.
This was not where I saw myself just a short year or so earlier when I attended my first con – The Almighty San Diego Comic Con in 2002. Long story short someone at some point in time said, “Hey, you should do, like, those Star Trek conventions or something,” and I may have asked James Marsters about it and bada-boom bada-bing – I had a table in the Celebrity Autograph area of the Comic Con of all Comic Cons.
I remember being so nervous. I had a hastily printed banner that I “designed” myself using Microsoft Word 2000, a box full of my headshots, and a god awful picture of me in makeup taken with too much flash on a crap digital camera. I was sure I wouldn’t sign a single autograph. That no one would know who I was… or worse… that they would know and NO ONE WOULD CARE. That, once again, I would be that shy kid everyone ignored. The kid who would hole up in his bedroom with X-Men comics and dreams about playing Obi-Wan Kenobi when George Lucas finally made the much rumored “Star Wars” prequels (I still dream of this because, as far as I am concerned, those three movies never happened). But, I swallowed the fear, set my stuff up, got out my gold paint pens, and sat down, looking out over the sea of people letting their nerd flags fly, and held my breath. And sure enough… people started to come up to the table.
They’d see my banner, do a double take, look from me, to my Clem picture, then back at me. “You’re Clem? I LOVED you last season!” And they wanted an autograph, and to pose for a picture with me, and for me to sign their DVD or poster or whatnot. It was like standing on stage at the end of a play as the audience claps — the same buzz, only, I didn’t have to do the play. I thought, man, I could get used to this, this is awesome. And in true addict fashion, if a little is good, well then, a lot must be FUCKING GREAT! I ended up booking 14 cons in 12 months. Which brings us back to…
‘Little Jimmy’ dangling in the wee hours of the morning in a hotel hallway (Sacramento? Pittsburg?).
Finally, my flight-or-fight response kicked in and my self-preservation lizard brain screamed at me “GET BACK IN YOUR ROOM YOU IDIOT!” I turned around and yanked on the door handle so hard I nearly fell over. But it was too late – that loud click I heard was my own hotel room door closing behind me. And seeing how my key-card was sitting on the dresser inside and not tucked in my butt crack (I checked), the door did not open.
I’m pretty sure this was when I started to hyperventilate. I turned back around, mind spinning, and tried to think of a way out of this. Because my thought wasn’t, “Hey man, you might want to ease off the booze and bad behavior,” it was, “Shit, I’m going to get caught and not be able to do this anymore… oh, and my life will probably be ruined. But mostly, I won’t be able to do this anymore.” And by “this” I meant – come to cons, get totally and completely drunk on free booze and adulation; act like a spoiled, self-centered, self-involved, jerk who cared only about his own needs and not those of anyone else around him or those back at home.
I HAD to figure out a way back into my room.
People were going to start waking up soon and heading down to get coffee or breakfast – running into a disheveled naked dude who reeked of Jameson and Miller Light in the hallway or elevator would probably be frowned upon. I darted into the stairwell – figuring I’d be safe there for a little bit, just to buy myself time to think. When you find yourself in a situation like this, butt naked, hungover, in a stairwell, there is really only one question that buzzes around in your cloudy, alcohol befuddled brain…
HOW IN THE ROYAL FUCK DID I GET HERE?!
As I mentioned at the end of Part 1 – I’ve wanted to be an actor for as long as I could remember.
When I was 5 or 6, my mother, uncle and one of my uncle’s friends took me to see a little movie called Star Wars. It was probably the 1979 re-release, but it’s the first memory I have of seeing a movie in the theater. We went at night (which I thought was awesome) and I fell asleep before the end. I remember sitting in the dark theater, with the smell of buttered popcorn in the air and the sweet taste of Coca-Cola on my tongue, watching that Imperial Star Destroyer chase the Rebel Cruiser across, what seemed like, an endless expanse of space. And I was ENTHRALLED.
I was transported in a way that I had never known possible. That moment of awe and wonder and excitement would shape my life for the next 30 years. It would instill a love of movies and, specifically, going to the movies. For a little kid whose life was turned topsy-turvy a few times with divorce, moves, remarriages and severe geographic relocations, it was the one place I would always go to travel to a different time and place and live an adventure.
The second time I experienced that strong a feeling was a few years later, when I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was 8 going on 9, and it hit on a different level — still full of awe and wonder, but this time, there was a dose of mayhem and mischief. A fire began to light way down in my gut — a slow burn that spread warmth up to my heart. It was joy and pain and excitement and fear as an idea — a crazy, insane, never-happen-in-a-million-years idea — took hold.
I was going to be an actor. I had no idea how, but dammit if I wasn’t going to try.
Then came middle school. Three hellacious years filled with teasing, bullying, insecurity and an almost overwhelming desire to be anyone but me on any given day. Like the day of the eighth-grade church dance.
It was my first dance. My mother purchased a brand-new outfit from TJ Maxx, and I was super excited. It was through church and not school, so none of these kids knew me as dorky “Jimmy” Leary, the kid with last year’s fashions and a bad feathered haircut who was terrible at football. I went in with dreams of slow dancing to “Why Can’t This Be Love” by Van Halen with some acid-wash-jeans clad, crimped-haired, 10 Swatch-Watch wearing cutie.
In reality? I couldn’t get a single girl to dance with me. Not one. I sat in a corner, dejected, until one of the moms came over to see what was wrong. Stupidly, I told her. She then marched over to a group of 13-year-old girls; and although I couldn’t hear what she was saying I knew she was talking about me, given that she pointed right at me. The girls turned, looked and started laughing. Just typing it brings a flush of red-hot embarrassment to my cheeks. I made a decision in that moment that if I was going to be laughed at, I was going to be the one in charge of it. It was going to be on my terms.
I started doing voices. I memorized all of Robin Williams’ “Live at the Met.” I fell in love with Monty Python, Jack Tripper and Steve Martin. Lo and behold, it worked. I found out I could make people laugh. If they were laughing, they couldn’t beat me up. If they were laughing, they couldn’t make fun of me, because I beat them to the punch (line). If they were laughing with me, they weren’t laughing at me.
In high school, I discovered theater. I finally found something I was good at, that I really liked doing. I found friends. A place to belong. It didn’t hurt so much when the “cool” kids called me a “Theater Nerd” or “Drama Fag” because I stopped taking those as insults – now they were a badge of belonging. My road to Hollywood wasn’t forged immediately – I had lots of trial and error, giving up theater in college to get a real degree, until I finally pursued my dreams and was living life as a working actor.
Until the year in which I wasn’t.
In 2002, I went from having the best year of my career (at that point) to not booking a single job for nearly a year. Not one.
I had done a highly acclaimed Spanish-language sitcom (we were nominated for two GLAAD awards but lost both years to Will & Grace – award hogs!), a major Coors Light campaign (directed by David Dobkin of Wedding Crashers fame), and six episodes of a very popular TV show about a stake-wielding high school student. Shoot, I even worked during the Great Commercial Strike of 2000 – doing an industrial film for Toyota (same one that I would later do the live stage for and “hang” with Billy Joel) that co-starred Greg Kinnear. Kinnear, by the way, was none too pleased about it. “Well, boys,” he said “Ain’t this the golden cup?” A direct line from him during our shoot. It also featured Cheri Oteri, Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey (one of the funniest, nicest, and most manic people I have ever met), and Jack ‘motherfucking’ Palance. Once when the director asked him to do another take – “but this time, smile,” Palance replied with a steely, gravelly whisper: “I am smiling.”
Now I couldn’t book work. Nothing. Nada. Zero.
It took a toll – on my ego, my wallet, my relationship at home and, mostly, on my love for the job. It was the first time since I’d started my journey that I didn’t like what I was doing. Sure, there were lots of doubts and insecurities, but until that year, I had still loved the work. That year was something different, however. To go from making the most money I’d ever made as an adult – much less, as an actor – to not working for more than a year was devastating.
Thankfully, there were conventions. They were a salve for everything I was feeling – a cooked-up, super-charged main-line spike of love, acceptance and attention. I was on top again when I was at conventions. I wasn’t rejected. I was the life of the party. The nice guy. The approachable guy. The funny guy. Up until…
I was the drunk guy standing in a hotel stairwell at 6 in the morning in Cleveland (Or Memphis? … or maybe Tampa? Whatever…) completely naked. Adrenaline and last night’s cocktails were battling it out for who got to control my logic center which basically made me useless. I think I stood in that stairwell, cupping my junk in one hand and rubbing my quickly aching head with the other for a good 10 minutes. I went up a floor and peeked out – saw a USA Today in front of a room and darted out of the stairwell to grab it to use as some form of meager covering. I was starting to hear people move about, doors slamming, talking; I wouldn’t be able to hide much longer.
When I went back to my floor I noticed (Oh, thank you Jesus!) an open linen closet and no housekeeper in sight. I ran to it, grabbed a sheet and wrapped it around my body like some low rent chorus member in a Greek Tragedy. And… that was where my brain just ran out. I stood in the hall half way between my room and the elevator, draped in a clean white sheet, just… waiting. For what? I have no clue, but my brain was done. It had left the building. Thankfully, it was just at that time that some people I actually knew walked by. The conversation was awkward. And weird. And cringe-worthy. But they were able to go down to the front desk and actually get me a key to my room. I made them promise not to tell anyone (I’m pretty sure they promptly told everyone – thank god this was before the days of social media), got into my room, showered, chugged some double brewed coffee, and got dressed for my photo ops. My nude adventure had gone mostly unnoticed. I didn’t get “caught,” and I continued to act like an idiot at conventions for many more years to come.
I’d like to say that was the last time I ended up locked out of my room, standing in a hallway, in some form of undress… I’d like to say that. But I can’t. ‘Cause it wasn’t.
Now, you’re probably saying to yourself “Jesus Christ dude, really? What the fuck? Get your shit together!” And, you’d be right. But try as I might, I just couldn’t do it. Something about the attention lured me in every time, like a neglected and needy child. Because back home – I couldn’t get fucking arrested (well, back then anyway – metaphorically. Years later I’d have no problem getting arrested in a Chili’s parking lot at 4 in the afternoon).
The one thing I loved doing more than anything else, acting, was now the one thing that caused me the most stress and heartache. Every audition took on epic proportions. Instead of it being “man this commercial would be fun to do” it was “HOLY HELL I HAVE TO GET THIS HEMORRHOID CREAM COMMERCIAL OR MY LIFE IS OVER!” And, I never really recovered from that.
By the time I left LA some 8 years later I was bitter, battered, broken (boozed) and pretty much done with Hollywood, acting, and just giving a crap in general. For the first time since I could remember I had no dream. No aspirations. No spark. I tried to pull my shit together so many times I lost count, and the only thing that seemed to offer any comfort whatsoever lay at the bottom of an empty bottle. And then that turned on me too. Now, I’m not trying to throw some huge pity party because the reality was (and is) I was the manufacturer of 99.9% of my own misery, it just took a while for me to actually own up to that.
In the summer of 2012 I took a little 33 day vacation in beautiful Buda, Texas; otherwise known as rehab. While there a man came to talk to us about his journey in recovery. This guy had done Improv in Chicago, had lived in LA, knew a ton of the same people I knew, and just happened to run a local Improv theater here in Austin. Well, it took a few more tries, I still had some drinking left in me after getting out apparently, but in 2013 I took a refresher Improv class at that same theater. In January of 2014 I performed on stage for the first time in 9 years, and last year I co-created and starred in a sold out, award nominated Improv show.
Now I act and do improv because I WANT to. Not because I have something to prove, or to live out some lonely 8 year old’s fantasy, but because I LOVE it. It’s who I am. Same thing with cons. I do them now for the love of doing them. I wake up in the bed, with a clear head and knowing exactly where my pants are.
Confessions of a G-list Celebrity: Part 3 – ‘He’s Got Nathan Fillion’s Eyes’
I wanted to strangle Felicia Day.
Now, let me say, I adore Felicia. She is one of the most sincere, funny, intelligent and driven people I have ever had the pleasure to meet and work with. But at that particular moment, sitting on a crowded airplane, sweating profusely, and desperately needing sleep, I wanted to throttle the life from her… in a good way.
I had been up for roughly 36 hours – and drinking for probably 24 of those hours. I had spent a two-and-a-half-hour van ride attempting to catch ‘a little sleep’ as a Stella Artois hangover slowly crept into my skull like some kind of sneaky, Belgian asshole animal. I had dealt with the madness that is Heathrow Airport and I was now 45 minutes into a roughly 10-hour flight home to Los Angeles. Oh, and I was massively dehydrated.
Felicia? She was being, well, Felicia: friendly, cheery and talkative.
See, unlike yours truly (and two female Buffy actors who shall remain nameless), Felicia had gone to bed at a perfectly reasonable hour the night before after the closing ceremonies of a rather large convention in Blackpool, England. She did not close the hotel bar, hang out in the lobby after hours drinking until 4 in the morning. She did not, in brilliant drunk fashion, decide to say “Hey, fuck it, our van leaves in 4 hours – LET’S JUST STAY UP!” She also, did not, make a pact with same ‘said nameless female actors’ to go to each other’s rooms to help each other pack so no one would fall asleep.
No. Felicia didn’t do any of that, therefore, Felicia felt fine and was in a perfectly good mood. And that was why I wanted to strangle her as I attempted to “dry out” on the flight and somehow get some of the “snack” that had just been served in Virgin’s Business Class.
You’ve probably gotten a good feel over the last two (Part 1 & Part 2) installments that American conventions are a bit crazy. That they can take an actor who played a small recurring character on eight episodes of a TV show and turn him into a George Clooney party animal celebrity for three days. Well, British conventions can take an actor who played a small recurring character on eight episodes of a TV show and turn him into…
ROBERT GOD-DAMN “I AM A GOLDEN GOD” PLANT!
My first UK con was in the summer of 2003. I’d only been doing conventions for about a year at that point, and I was really excited to go overseas (I’d never been). Plus, I was getting an honest-to-goodness appearance fee! I was being paid just to show up, with a business-class ticket (they served wine and beer — for FREE!); put up in a posh (to use the local lingo) London hotel. While there we saw Clay Aiken, that’s how posh.
I knew I was in for something different when we were all introduced at the opening ceremonies. I walked out onto stage and a room full of roughly 2,500 people went bonkers. It was a roar like I had never heard in my life. There was screaming, hollering, yelling — I even saw a few people crying. For me. Not James Marsters (I was used to seeing that), but… for me. It’s the closest I think I’ve ever come to knowing how a rock star feels. It was awesome. I met more actors from the show, hung out with old friends and pretty much had a great time…
…Until the last day when the promoter absconded with a ton of money and didn’t pay our rather exorbitant hotel bills. It made for a very tense 12 hours, which I used to get properly shit-faced drinking scotch with the ever-affable and amazing Robin Sachs (I think at one point, I actually said the words, “I love you, man. You get me.”) My wife (now ex-wife… shocking. I know) was none too happy when I passed out in our hotel room with the only room key while she was still out in the hall (apparently, hotel room doors are my arch nemesis).
Anyway, this, as it turns out, was the flip side to foreign conventions — the scam factor. No less than one week later several of the same actors and I were supposed to attend a convention in Paris… until all of our checks bounced. That particular adventure ended with a 6 a.m. phone call from our convention booking manager saying, “They didn’t pay the hotel — get out now!”
We all packed as fast as we could (as most of us were on the hook for a very pricey London High Street hotel bill) and we also didn’t want to pay for an even pricier Champs-Élysées hotel. So we staged our luggage on the second-floor landing because the elevators weren’t big enough for two people and one bag! Ah, Paris.
There we were, Danny Strong, Tom Lenk, Bailey Chase, Robia La Morte and myself (and significant others), hands full of luggage, making a beeline through the hotel lobby, out into the street where we threw said bags into a waiting Citroen (driven by the friend of our booking manager) and made our way as fast as possible to the nearest Underground station. Once we were in the clear and the adrenaline started to wear off Danny turned to us, and in typical Danny fashion said, “Huh, weird, a Jew fleeing Paris… bet that never happened before.” And we all cracked up laughing at the utter ridiculousness of the situation.
A year later, I would meet quite possibly the most charismatic person in the world: Nathan Fillion (along with some other Firefly people, and maybe even Clare Kramer for the first time, but, whatever… Nathan Fillion). He is one of the few people my then-wife went gaga over (the other being Bailey Chase — the only person I’ve ever seen her get an autograph from). I watched Nathan work a crowd with charm and wit like no other (I stole a bunch of his bits from then on). And later, when we all went out to dinner, he enthralled us with tales of shooting Saving Private Ryan in his sort-of Canadian accent. At one point, I found myself actually sitting with my elbows resting on the table and my chin propped on my hands, like a cheerleader talking to the popular quarterback in some 80′s John Hughes film. And I was totally fine with it. I’m here to tell you, Nathan is really ruggedly handsome. And it was very surreal having him over to dinner months later — he brought my son Spider-Man toys.
Through my misadventures I’ve gotten to meet and hang out with people (like Nathan) and so many others whom I watched in movies and on TV as a kid — people who inspired me to do what I do. The first time I met Lou Ferrigno (I have no clue where — Dragon Con? Fan Expo in Canada?) I was in nerd-boy heaven. As a small child, I made my mother cut up “perfectly good clothes” so that I could run around the house and — in slow motion, of course — tear them from my skinny 6-year-old frame as I grunted and roared like the Incredible Hulk.
Sam Jones was another — I loved Flash Gordon and the short-lived but post-apocalyptically awesome The Highwayman. Sitting in between Yvonne Craig and Laurette Spang at a con in Detroit was my inner 7-year-old’s prepubescent dream.
I guess what I’m trying to get at, in my rambling, all-over-the-map fashion, is that the other actors I met and got to hang out with at cons became sort of this traveling road-show family. A quirky, weird, sometimes dysfunctional, never boring family. And that is something I never would have expected. So when I started doing cons again back in 2013, I was really nervous for a number of reasons:
1. I was newly sober and terrified that I would fall back into old bad habits (thankfully, I was smart enough to bring along a trusted “sober” companion).
2. Would anyone still give a shit that I had been on a show that ended a decade prior?
3. Would people whom I considered friends still want to have anything to do with me?
My last few years of cons before my “semi-retirement” were an absolute mess. In the beginning, I would be able to hold it together to do all my signings, make it to my photo ops on time, and spend at least one day of the con somewhat sober. But starting around 2007? Man, things got bad. I almost threw up during a panel at NYCC in 2007 (there is a reason bars in normal cities close at 2 a.m. – nothing good happens between 2 and 4 a.m.!) — in fact, the second it was over, I bolted from the panel room and barely made it to a trashcan before hurling up the vendor hot dogs that had been hastily purchased at 5 a.m. the evening prior. All in front of about 300 people.
Or there was the last time I was in England — I managed to be over an hour late to my photo ops and was so sick I couldn’t even sit at my table and sign autographs because the room was spinning like a fucking madhouse merry-go-round (I also believe someone, whose name I could not remember at the time, had to return my clothes from the night before. Keepin’ it classy, Leary). So getting back onto the circuit has been a little bit of an uphill battle, and I’ve struggled with guilt, embarrassment and flat-out shame when seeing people who haven’t seen me since I was a whirling dervish of distilled spirits and super-charged ego.
the thing about family – con or otherwise: They are always there for you. The hug I got from Clare Kramer at Comicpalooza in Houston, being able to make amends to a former manager, or chatting with Felicia Day in the back of a van that made several wrong turns on the way to Dragon Con have let me know that the past is the past. And while I can’t forget it, I certainly don’t have to dwell on it – ironic, considering I’m doing a series of articles all about it, right? What can I say, I’m a mercurial man of contradiction. What I do now, in this moment, is what truly matters.
… and Nathan Fillion’s eyes. What I do now – and Nathan Fillion’s eyes – are what truly matter.
Confessions of a G-List Celebrity: Part 4 – ‘I Am No Brad Pitt’
I was wearing nothing but a Speedo, a cowboy hat and a pair of ill-fitting pointy toed cowboy boots, surrounded by bronzed, oiled-up, male bodybuilders who were square dancing. A massive blond Austrian international bodybuilder was on stage, calling out square-dancing moves in an accent so thick it made Arnold sound like a Valley Girl. I was cold, my feet hurt and I had no idea what I was doing here.
I imagine you’re probably saying to yourself “Good GOD, Leary! How many of these stories do you have?!”
But, this one is actually legit — I was stone-cold sober and had been hired to be there. It was a commercial way back in 1999 or 2000, for some regional cell phone carrier (remember back when they were all regional? Cingular, Primeco, Nextel) that I had auditioned for and booked. I was now on set and “in costume.” Pretty sure this was going to ruin whatever career I had managed to eek out.
The concept of the spot had something to do with me and another “schlubby guy” (that’s how it was described in the breakdown for the part) being wallflowers at a body-builder square dance. I always thought there would be male and female bodybuilders. I thought wrong. Very, very wrong.
But hey, I was getting paid, and if the commercial ran regionally I could expect a decent chunk of change for the next 13 to 26 weeks. As the morning wore on that regional commercial idea slid away faster than the baby-oiled muscles boot-scooting across the dance floor. I could see the look on the client’s face as he reviewed the footage in the monitor. Then the panicked looks on the ad execs’ faces as they realized that the concept they had in their head — and had spent a couple hundred thousand dollars on — WAS NOT happening in reality. It was reading less as a wacky cell phone commercial, and more like… well, an ad for Country and Western Night in West Hollywood.
There was lots of yelling at one point, a chair may have been thrown, and we wrapped early. Thankfully, I don’t think the spot ever saw the light of day – hopefully, the undeveloped footage is sitting in a storage vault somewhere in central Florida. Just one more adventure in the life of a working commercial actor.
For most of my 12 years in the City of Angels, commercial work was my “bread and butter.” I added it up once, and I think I may have done somewhere between 25-35 commercials. To put it bluntly, commercial work is weird. I’ve portrayed a drunk clown, a terrified man in a glass coffin, a creepy groom, gotten beat up by a bird, had an igloo dropped on me, and walked around a busy office with a porn-stache yelling “I Feel Great.” And gigs that included everything in between.
It was good work. Fun work. But it was not the work I moved to L.A. to do. If you had told 10-year-old Jimmy Leary running around the woods pretending he was on the forest moon of Endor – with dreams of being in the movies – that he would one day end up shilling light beer and praying he got that Abreva spot because it shot in the Bahamas and paid triple scale (‘cause your face would be associated with having herpes); 10-year-old Jimmy would have crashed his imaginary speeder bike into a tree.
I know how entitled that sounds. At the end of the day, I was still getting paid to make believe, and I tried to make the most out of every job – mostly, because you never knew when the next job was going to roll around. The life of a “working” actor, unless you are a Hemsworth, is not all limo rides, mocha soy-chai-lattes-no-foam-light-whip, and after-hour parties at Leo DiCaprio’s house (I did attend a Super Bowl party with Mario Lopez once, though). The life of a “working” actor in Hollywood is, well, basically… auditioning.
Over and over and over again.
Spending 2 hours in traffic (to go 17 miles) to make it to an audition in Santa Monica at 4:30, only to have it run an hour behind and make you late for your 6:45 audition in the valley is par for the course. At first, this part of the life was exciting. It was full of endless opportunity. Every day was something a little bit different. One day, you’re dressing up like a Leprechaun; the next, you’re doing your best Dr. Evil impression because a decade after Austin Powers came out ad copywriters freaking loved Dr. Evil so every audition called for a Dr. Evil-esque actor (Riiiigggghhhttt, still not funny). After a while, it becomes a grind.
I’d say on average, if you’re lucky, an actor who is half-way decent will book maybe one job for every 100 auditions. And you’re probably saying, hey, that’s like 1%, that’s horrible! Yes. Yes it is. Imagine if 99% of your job was going to look for other jobs. And jobs where it really didn’t matter how qualified you were or what you could bring as far as experience, but most of the time depended on how well you looked in plaid, or being six inches taller, or not looking like the asshole ex-boyfriend of the client or casting director. Your job is basically getting rejected 99 times before getting one yes. And that’s just for commercials.
Hollywood is a very weird place, and with the benefit of hindsight, being an actor facing judgement, ridicule and rejection on a daily basis was probably not the best career for a formerly shy kid who desperately wanted everyone to like him. The 14-year-old who thought if he wore the right pair of Reebok sneakers, the appropriate Polo shirt with flipped collar, and the day-glow Wayfarer shades that the “popular” kids would accept him. That if he made the right jokes, the pretty girl would notice him. That getting a room full of complete strangers to laugh and clap would somehow make up for the emotionally abusive stepdad at home. That kid who never felt comfortable in his own skin and wished so many times that he was anyone BUT himself, yet finally felt at home on the stage — just wanted that feeling to last.
Hollywood is also a very cruel place. I found that out pretty early on, after I had done a staged reading of a short screenplay at UCLA. It was a funny role, with way-over-the-top comedy — my milieu. I was still fairly new to L.A., but in my short time I had managed to book a national commercial, and a series-regular role on a Spanish-language sitcom that had just gotten picked up to series. I was feeling pretty damn good about myself.
We did the staged reading at the Kirk Douglas theater (I actually got to meet Kirk Douglas — he was old, and shorter than I expected but had a handshake that was like grasping vibrating steel). At the little after-party reception, this woman comes up to me and tells me how hysterical I was, how she was a manager, and here was her card, and to send her my demo! If you’ve seen the show Friends, she was a shorter, heavier version of Estelle Leonard, Joey’s chain-smoking agent. I’m pretty sure that by the time she came up to me, she had taken full advantage of both the free wine and mushroom caps. But hey, a Hollywood manager was interested in me.
So I sent in my demo reel, which consisted mostly of student films from Chicago and a Daft Punk video that aired a few times on MTV2 but was huge in Singapore, and waited for her to call. She didn’t.
I gave it a week longer than I wanted to before I finally bit the bullet and called her. After leaving two messages, she finally called me back. “Well, James, thanks for sending me your tape,” she said. “But let’s face it: You’re no Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp. Good luck.”
I was blindsided. I had no idea if this woman was a good manager or a shitty manager, but I had gotten my hopes up and thought, “Hey, she saw me, liked what I did and wanted to help me build a career. Shit — she came up to me!” Then, to have the tables turned, and have everything about me as an actor summed up in “you aren’t good-looking enough for me to spend my time on you”? It was the girls at the eighth-grade church dance all over again — except she was 65 and smelled of box wine and garlic.
I would spend the next decade trying to fit myself into whatever little box I thought they – agents, managers, casting associates, casting directors, etc. – wanted me in, instead of trusting my gut and doing what I believed in. No amount of success ever seemed enough to make up for all the times I wasn’t good-looking enough, or that my eyes were too big, or I wasn’t thin enough, or that I had a slight lisp — and if I just fixed that, I would work more. I became frustrated at the fact that while I had spent two years on an award-winning sitcom, to the mainstream industry, it didn’t matter because it was Spanish-language.
Sidebar: I don’t speak a word of Spanish, except for mas cerveza por favor and donde esta el bano and did the whole thing phonetically — again, THAT whole story is for another post.
Even though I became a recurring character on a popular TV show, that because I was in full makeup, no one took it seriously so it didn’t count; an agent actually told me that. A lot of the successful actors I know were able to brush stuff like this off. To ‘not’ take it personally. To ‘not’ let it get under their skin. To remain true to themselves in the face of that judgement.
I was not one of them. It paralyzed me. Took away whatever creative spark I had and I’m sure made me tame, boring, and uninspired.
So in 2010, with a bloodied, broken, beat-to-shit self-image, amidst foreclosure, a severe health crisis and simmering addiction, I packed up the family and headed to Austin, Texas. Why Austin? Well, two reasons:
I grew up in Dallas, but after getting in countless political arguments on Facebook with people I went to high school with, I figured that probably wasn’t the best choice.
We had a free place to live.
After slogging away waiting tables and bar-tending– great profession for an alcoholic, by the way… Spoiler: I got fired. Just like, hey, let’s give the pyromaniac a Zippo and a gallon of gasoline, what could go wrong?
…For a few months, I found myself at an interview for an internship at a video game company, doing my damndest to convince them to hire me. Despite the fact that the only video game experience I had was staying up till 4 a.m. playing HALO or Max Payne (I could “bullet time” like a BOSS!), somehow I got the job. There were growing pains, to be sure. This was the first full-time “real” job I’d had since 1996, when I worked for a plumbing supply warehouse in Worth, Ill. (I got fired from that job for going to my first audition at Steppenwolf Theater), so getting used to being at a desk for nine hours a day took some time.
But that itch to perform was still there. I tried to scratch it with 12-packs of craft-brewed IPAs and the occasional Four Loco (by occasional, I mean daily — SHUDDER, that stuff is disgusting), but it was persistent. As I mentioned in Part 2, after getting sober I realized that being a performer wasn’t something I “did”, it was part of who I was as much as having blue eyes or inheriting my father’s bald spot. I started doing improv again, and through that got asked to be a part of a few local Web series (check out #Atown and Server Life — yes, that’s a shameless plug). Do I miss Hollywood? At times. When I see someone I know get an Emmy, I know two, or a part I think I would have been perfect for on The Walking Dead. Or when I’m watching John Boyega’s amazing reaction to seeing himself in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer. I get a tinge of jealousy and a whisper of sadness for a fantasy I no longer get to dream about. And by whisper I mean I had tears streaming down my face watching that. He’s living the dream I’ve had since I was 5 years old, and the joy on his face made me remember that feeling of pure imagination and wonder, and that sometimes impossible dreams do come true — shit! Now I’m crying again — thanks, Boyega, ya Jedi jerk!
I do not miss the soul crushing work of getting work. I don’t miss that at all (although I do a pretty damn good Dr. Evil).
These days, however, I get to scratch the itch without the danger and humiliation of being neck-deep in oiled-up body builders like some kind of twisted Spartacus: Blood and Sand LARP…
Which, now that I think about it, gives me a great idea for an improv show.
Confessions of a G-List Celebrity: Part 5 — ‘Rick James Was Right’
It was 11am on a beautiful Saturday in Century City, California, I was sitting at a table surrounded by several adoring Scottish Buffy fans. My mother was sitting next to me, beaming with pride as her son basked in his brush with celebrity. I smiled. I laughed. I tried with all my might NOT to vomit in my mother’s lap.
Twelve hours earlier I had decided that it would be a good idea to try cocaine for the first time. In case you were wondering, it was not a good idea. At all. In any way, shape, or white powdered form.
If you haven’t been able to tell from the previous four posts (Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4), I am not a man of moderation. My mantra, especially at that time, was “hey, if a little bit is good… then a metric shit-ton must be AWESOME!!!” That applied to booze, attention, women, and apparently, Bolivian Booger Sugar. The night had started off just like any other night at a con, only this one was WAY different. It was actually being held in Los Angeles. At a very swanky hotel. I remember rubbing elbows with Alexis Denishof and Drew Goddard, I think I actually met Christina Hendricks who, you know, wasn’t CHRISTINA HENDRICKS yet… she was just another Whedon alum hanging out sipping free drinks at a cocktail party. I remember getting into a conversation about drugs… mostly, how I hadn’t really done any. Which most people found odd considering my ability to double fist alcohol at a rate that made both my Irish AND German ancestry proud.
But aside from trying pot a few times in my 20’s and having JUST done ecstasy for the first time a month prior, I had never really done any drugs. Booze was just easier. I remember a time in college that some friends and I had decided we were going to get high for the first time. We called every “stoner” we knew, which was like, four. I went to Texas A&M University in the first half of the 1990s – it was, and is, a notoriously conservative school. I knew an ass load of professional binge drinkers but very few stoners. We couldn’t find any pot! So… we drank Old Milwaukee Light until we passed out while watching “90210”. Good times.
Anyway, during this conversation I mentioned that I thought it would be a super BAD idea for me to do cocaine. I was already “high strung” enough as it was. “Could you imagine me on cocaine?!” To which the people I was talking to laughed and shook their heads. A few minutes later one of them asked “Hey, you wanna’ do some cocaine?”
“YES I DO!”
Ten minutes later I was in a hotel room with a fellow Buffy actor, another actor’s manager and a pile of cocaine. I was nervous, but just drunk enough that it didn’t matter. See, for me, when I drink, I have what I call my “Fuck It Switch” – this imaginary red cartoon switch in the rational portion of my brain that, when in the off position, allows me to make perfectly reasonable decisions.
“You wanna’ do some cocaine?”
“No thank you. My mother, wife and child will be here in the morning to hang out with me all day. That would be a very bad idea. Thank you for a wonderful conversation, I’m going to drink some water and go to bed now.”
But when in the “on” position, boy, there was no telling the amount of bad idea, jack-assery I could accomplish. Back then it was tripped after, oh, about 4 or 5 beers… or two shots. Or 6 beers and a shot. Or 3 shots and a couple of pints. Or a Jager Bomb and a… you get the point. And once in the “on” position, my “Fuck It Switch” was dangerous, and nearly impossible to flip back. Hence, me ignoring all common sense and using a rolled up twenty dollar bill to inhale lines of white powder stimulant into my nasal passages. In the words of Ron Burgundy “It stings the nostrils.” And then… well… the night kinda’ turned into this weird funhouse of images, almost like watching a DVD on x8 fast forward.
image3I remember a tremendous amount of talking. LOTS more drinking. Running up and down the halls of this massive hotel – going from one room party where I would pound beers, then running back to the other room to do more cocaine like some kind of twisted, .gif loop. A shower with two members of the opposite sex was involved, as was running into a crowded room party, buck naked, to grab condoms off the coffee table. Then everything just spinning and spinning and spinning…
Until I was woken up by a friend at 8:30am. Somehow I’d managed to actually make it back to my room. And my friend brought me a croissant, some coffee and helped me shower and get dressed so I could meet my family in the lobby by 9:30.
I remember standing at the bar, which thankfully was open, and sucking down a double cranberry and vodka to quiet my trembling hands and silence the incessant pounding behind my eyes, and having a vague feeling that I had crossed a line of no return. An imaginary Rubicon in my mind from which I could no longer pull back. Up until then, while my behavior had been pretty shitty at cons, I had always been able to pull it together when I got home. To dry out, get back to normal, and go about my life in a somewhat respectable fashion. And, I always managed to somehow justify to myself by saying “Well, you were out of town. At least you don’t do this stuff at home. It’s special circumstances.” (drunks are very good at justifying selfish behavior). After that particular night the slope of my decline got gradually steeper. My “Fuck It Switch” seemed perpetually at half mast – ready to be flipped at the slightest provocation. Fight with the wife? Fuck it. Don’t book a commercial? Fuck it. Book a commercial? Fuck it. Get stuck at too many red lights? Fuck it. Getting closer and closer together until it was all just one big “Fuck It” for the next 8 years until I found myself at the bottom of a very deep, dark hole that “Fuck It” was all to happy to help dig.
I was in the middle of a painful divorce, I was 40lbs overweight, drinking myself into blackout sleep every night, racking up debt faster than a Bush/Cheney war, and I couldn’t see how it was ever going to stop. I was depressed and full of self pity and anger. As I’ve written about before, I had my last drink on August 30th, 2013 and after the first two weeks of withdrawal hell was over I was finally able to see where I was (and WHO I was). And I didn’t like who I was one teeny tiny bit. Surprisingly, the depression wasn’t there anymore — drunks love to talk about how they drink ‘cause they are depressed — shocking how fast depression clears up when you stop consuming gallons of a central nervous system depressant on a daily basis. Drunks (myself included) drink ‘cause they are drunks. Period. But the self-pity and anger hadn’t gone anywhere and I now no longer had my coping mechanism to deal with it. Two things happened at this time. I took an improv class, and… I got invited to a convention. Again, I’ve written about how important improv and performing has been to my recovery… but, equally so, has been getting back out onto the convention circuit.
My first show “back” was Alamo City Comic Con in 2013. I put “back” in quotations because, I never really took an official hiatus from cons. I was a guest at Wizard World in Austin in 2010, Wizard World New Orleans 2011 (good god, I was a train wreck at that show), and Wizard World Austin again in 2011 – where I judged a costume competition so drunk that the MC had to pull me aside because I was being an ASSHOLE. If you were at that competition, especially as a contestant, I’d like to officially say how sorry I am; there is a fine line between funny and mean – and I jumped all the way the fuck over it. And there was Wizard World New Orleans again in 2012 – I was an even bigger train wreck, but trying to hide it… and failed – so, I really didn’t take that much time “off.” But it felt like I had been away for a decade.
I was scared and nervous and excited all at the same time. I was scared because I was barely 3 months sober and very worried that the con would be a trigger (I brought a trusted friend with me who was by my side 24/7), nervous because would anyone still care that I had done 8 episodes of a show that had been off the air for a decade (I didn’t want to be the guy hawking pictures of himself from 15 years ago like some kind of used car salesman), and excited because… sometimes you get a chance to do it right, to try and make up for all the craziness and self indulgent man-child posturing and flat out horrible behavior, and this was my chance. It was a great weekend. I reconnected with old friends. Met new fans. And, while it was not the hectic madhouse of say a con in 2004, I signed some autographs and posed for some pictures. People did indeed still care.
My most recent convention was just a few weeks ago in Lafayette, Louisiana. My Friday night consisted of me eating a gloriously mediocre ribeye steak at The Cracker Barrell by myself and taking ridiculous selfies with various ‘tchotchkes’ in their gift shop. I then bought a pint of over priced Haggen Daas ice cream in the hotel which I ate while watching “Forensics Files” until 1am. Then I got up, had a wacky Uber ride to go do CrossFit where I tried to keep up with a bunch of muscle bound 20 year olds and hurt my shoulder. Even sober, my ego kicks my ass. Finally, I spent the weekend meeting appreciative fans who were just happy to have a “celebrity” (G-List or otherwise) come to their city.
The only regret I had was NOT eating more gumbo… and THAT is a regret I can live with. Damn, now I want gumbo… ALL OF THE GUMBO.