July 30, 2010
Ed. Note – On Monday, my friend and fellow comedian, Nick Milton, asked if I would be in a photo shoot for his comedy album. If this is how photo shoots normally go, then I truly pity the lives of supermodels.
The buildings of Pittsburgh’s skyline are backlit as I walk down Carson Street. The city sky is pink and orange around 8:30 during this clear summer night. The air smells good. It’s fresh and busy. It’s the type of air that makes you take in a deep, savory breath just for a change of pace. The type of air that when you exhale, you smile just because you know there’s a whole lot more where that came from.
I’m on my way to meet Nick Milton, an expatriated Pittsburgh comic now residing in New York. He is back in town and has asked me if I would be an actor in a photo shoot for his album cover. “You’re going to be a police officer,” he said. “You’ll be like tossing me out of a bar.”
I’m perfect for the role. I’m white, I part my hair officiously to one side, and I can go on massive, tazer-filled, power trips if my ego is left unchecked.
I meet him outside the Smiling Moose, a bar that caters to death metal enthusiasts and aging hipsters. Nick is standing outside the bar, talking to the photographer, Paul, who also happens to be the doorman. “We have to wait until it gets a little darker,” Nick says. “I need some cigarettes. You want to take a walk?”
We walk down the Southside sidewalks gently poking fun at the vast array of people. Emo college students waiting in line to see a Dashboard Confessionals concert, drunken construction workers, and a group of sweaty Yoga students all receive a bit of attention. One of the Hot Yoga participants takes off her sweat soaked tank top and wrings out the watery contents right onto the sidewalk in front of us. The air begins to smell a little less sweet.
“See, to me that’s worse than barfing on the sidewalk,” I say through a scrunched face.
“Yeah,” Nick replies. “At least barfing is involuntary. She knew what she was doing.”
We return to the Moose and begin to set up. I put on a black button-down T-shirt that says Police on the sleeve. Nick applies some special effects make up to make it seem like he was in a bar fight.
“OK,” the photographer says. “Let’s get you guys outside on the sidewalk and do this.”
After a bit of camera positioning, the two of us were ready to go. However, there’s something about setting up professional photography equipment in a crowded place that just tends to attract on-lookers. Our group of two slowly becomes a crowd of gap-mouthed onlookers. A drunken woman stumbles out from the Moose and begins critiquing our every move.
“You’re not angry enough,” she slurs at me as Nick and I pose. Click-flash. “You need to get angrier.” Click-flash. “You’re too nice-looking.” Click-flash.
“I want him to look stoic,” Nick interrupts. “Like a cop that doesn’t think kicking someone out of a bar is a big deal.” The photographer nods his head in agreement.
“Yeah, definitely stoic,” she replies. “He definitely has to be stoic. But he has to be really angry too.”
“God-damn it!” I burst out. “Is it angry or stoic? It can’t be both!”
“Get angry,” she whispers. Click-flash.
“Believe me, I’m getting there,” I say through gritted teeth.
“You are a really terrible actor,” she trails off. Click-flash.
More people are gathering around now. They all have got some advice on what I’m doing wrong. I’m holding Nick by the collar, still posing as though I’m tossing him out of the bar. A guy who is way too old to be wearing canvas shoes slides up beside me.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” he asks.
“What’s her name?” Click-flash.
“Jarie,” I respond. I’m thinking that this guy knows my girlfriend’s parents. Maybe I’ve seen him at a picnic or a funeral somewhere. Nick is looking at me with an incredulous face.
“What the hell is going on?” he says through the side of his mouth. “Who is this guy?”
“You’re still not angry…”
“How long have you been dating Jarie?” the man probes further. Click-flash.
“A year and a half.”
“Do you love her?” Click-flash.
That’s enough of that. If he’s going to continue this line of creepy Hannibal Lecter questioning, then I’m going to be the one wearing his skin for a sports jacket. “Who the hell are you?” I yell. “Do I know you? Does my girlfriend know you?”
“No, you don’t understand,” the middle-aged man says. He smiles in a way that makes me want to rip his lips off and FedEx them to the Sun. “I’m a director. I’ve directed films. I’m trying to get you motivated.”
“He’s not angry enough…” Click-flash.
“You’re a big-shot director, huh?” Nick interjects. “Why the hell are you standing outside of one of the crappiest bars in Pittsburgh on a Monday night?”
Finally, someone in the group has the social intelligence to understand when they aren’t wanted. He leaves. Drunk Idiot Girl Who I Really Don’t Like stays though.
Second shot. Nick is squatting on the ground and I’m giving him a ticket. I’ve got a notepad that I’m writing in.
“Lay down on the ground,” says the drunk girl.
“He can’t do that, “ the photographer objects. “Otherwise, I’ll have to set-up the camera in the middle of the street to get the right angle.”
“Be drunk. Make a drunk face. I’d love it!”
“I’d really love it if a car jumped that curb and took you out,” Nick says.
We wrap up and the shots look pretty good. Nick and I are trying to relax over a beer after the tense shoot.
“That girl was annoying,” I say as I take a long gulp.
“Who was worse? Her or the girl wringing out her nasty sweat rag on the sidewalk?”
“Sweat rag,” I reply. “The difference is that she knew what she was doing.”