Friday, January 31, 2014

My 15 Minutes Of Shame

I have been listening to the Howard Stern Show since 1997, when my brother-in-law turned me on to him. My first career choice, radio, came about because of the Howard Stern Show and his movie, Private Parts. I joined twitter simply because Howard joined twitter. I started watching America's Got Talent simply because Howard was a judge on the show. I get irrationally angry when I hear people criticizing Stern, or the show. I immediately take a liking to anyone who is a fan of the show.

So for me to say that I wanted tickets to his upcoming Birthday Bash at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York is an understatement.

I really, REALLY wanted tickets.

I can't remember the last thing I've wanted as much as I wanted tickets for the Birthday Bash. Hearing Howard talk about it day after day, hearing the acts that would be appearing, the famous people who would be there just as fans...I WANTED tickets. The day the online sweepstakes was announced, I entered. When I got an error message, I tracked down Sirius' support twitter handle to find out what the issue was and make sure that my entry was good to go. Every chance there was to sign up for tickets, I took it. I knew it was a longshot that I would be successful, and it was, because I wasn't. But I also knew that there was another way: Howard was giving away tickets on his show, a pair each day. So I hatched a plan.

For the three weeks leading up to the bash, I was going to wake up at 5:30am and call in before the show started, hoping for a chance to play for tickets. I had a topic in mind that I thought was interesting ("I" being the operative term - see the note at the bottom of the page), so I was ready to go. Day one of my plan, I start calling at 5:40am and finally get through at 5:56am. I gave my name and location, "Trevor from Linden, NJ," and the call-screener (Steve Brandano) said, "hey, Trevor Linden!" Me being the comedic genius I am, I hit him back with "yeah, you got it." So he knows I'm going to be radio gold.

I learned a valuable lesson on that first day, which was NOT to call in using your home phone. When I had to leave for work, I had to hang up and call back on my cell phone. And it is not easy to get back on hold. But approximately 30 calls later, I finally get through again, and I say, "Hey it's Trevor Linden again" (remember, I'm a comedic genius who's going to be radio gold). The call screener (Steve Brandano) had no idea what I was talking about and I was forced to go back to "Trevor in Linden, N.J." with the topic I wanted to discuss.

So this went on for two weeks. Sometimes I got through, sometimes I didn't. Those times I got through, I was kept on hold for the entire show as Howard kept giving other people opportunities to play for tickets. There was also the time I got through and immediately hung up on myself, not to get through again that day.

Then, quickly, too quickly, we get to the final week. Three more shows before the Birthday Bash. Three more chances to get tickets. I call in on Monday morning at 5:40 am and finally get through at 5:55 am. I give my name and location and topic. The call screener (Steve Brandano) asks me, "you sticking with that topic?" "Excuse me?" I ask. "I've been putting you up with that topic for two weeks now and Howard hasn't picked up on you," he replies. "Well I do have another question for him, if you think that would be better," I say. "What's that?" he asks me. (On an aside - a very cool move by him. He could have put me on hold with the same dopey topic, but he went out of his way to give me a better chance.) I give him topic number two, he seems to think it's better, he puts me on hold.

On hold is where I still am after the show ends, with nary a sniff at being on air. Tuesday is the same story. On hold at 5:55am, still on hold when the show ends.

So we get to Wednesday. Last live show until the Birthday Bash. Last chance for tickets. Comedian/Actor/Producer Jeff Garlin was a guest on Tuesday's show, and he was terrific. Really, one of the best guests ever. It was his first time on the Stern Show and I was blown away by how funny and interesting he was. So I decide to change it up and I tell the screener (Steve Brandano) that I want to talk about how good a guest Garlin was. The screener (Steve Brandano) puts me on hold.

At around 6:10am, Howard takes a caller who talks about how good a guest Garlin was. "That's it," I say to myself. "No chance Howard picks up on me now that he's already covered that particular topic." Howard lets the guy play for tickets, he wins, and Howard starts to discuss something not Jeff Garlin. I resign myself to two facts: 1) I will not be getting tickets to the Birthday Bash, and b) I will be on hold for another four hours without getting on the air.

I always assumed that when Howard picked up on a caller, there is be some sort of click to alert the caller to the fact that they are on the air. But when the voice in my phone said: "Trevor in Linden, New Jersey," it took me half a second to realize that that was me, and that I was on the air. I'm still not sure how I was able to start speaking right away, because my brain slowed to a crawl while my heart sped up to a mile a minute. I was sure that they would be able to hear my heart beating on the air, that's how loud it felt to me.

But somehow, someway, I knew that I had to speak. I went with my first thought, which was to say "Hey Howard, how are you," which is actually a mistake, because Howard doesn't like when callers waste time with small talk. I realize this as soon as the "you" comes out of my mouth and after a brief awkward pause, I launch into why Jeff Garlin reminded me of Howard (in a good way), and how great a guest he was. (In my mind, I'm speaking a mile a minute and no one can understand me. Listening back to my few minutes on the air, I sounded almost normal.) Howard and I have a brief discussion about how good a guest Garlin was, and then I realize it's my time to ask for a chance for birthday tickets. Howard says he isn't sure if he has any to give away (I'm fairly certain he knew full well he had tickets to give away), but I point out that they didn't give any away on Tuesday. Gary chimes in to say that these are the LAST PAIR OF TICKETS TO GIVE AWAY.

The game: they gave Beetlejuice (this guy) a line from a commonly-known song with a few words missing, and he has to fill in the missing words. The line: the wheels on the bus go ____ __ ____. Of course, the answer is "round and round," or anything with the word "round." "He knows it," I say. I'm pretty confident with this answer - Beetlejuice has shown in the past that he knows children's songs. But I ask to poll the room anyway. Fred thinks he knows it, Robin thinks he doesn't, and Howard isn't sure. I say I'm going with he knows it. But Howard won't let that be my final answer. He keeps talking about what Beetle knows and what he doesn't know, and how he knows what he knows, and how the odds are higher that Beetle doesn't know, and how it's rare for Beetle to get the right answer twice in the same game. THAT'S the line that gets to me. THAT'S the line that makes me change my answer.

To make a long story longer, Beetle knew the answer was round and round. Howard teased Robin for changing my mind, but I did it to myself. I made the classic mistake of not sticking with my first instinct. Howard asked Judge JD (one of the Stern staffers) if I should get a second chance, but JD said no. And I understood. I probably wouldn't give me a second chance either, if I were in his shoes. Howard hung up on me as I was saying "no problem, I understand." I stood their in my kitchen for a minute or two, before I went upstairs to give my wife the good bad news.

After three weeks of waking up at 5:30 am, after hours spent calling and calling, after hours spent on hold, I finally got my chance to play for tickets, I got the answer right, and then I got the answer wrong. I will not be going to the Birthday Bash.

I know there are many cool things about my story. For one, I got to speak to Howard. For two...well, ok, there's only really one cool thing about my story. And to be honest, even going into the final day, there was a part of me that hoped that Howard would not pick up on me, because I had heard multiple people get the answer wrong when they played and I didn't want to get a chance to screw up my one opportunity at tickets.

But I did get my chance, and I did screw it up, and I wouldn't change it for anything.

Except winning the tickets. I would change it for that.

To put a nice big bow on this therapy session that hopefully will help me move past the fact that I had Birthday Tickets in my hand and gave them away (something I've been kicking myself for non-stop since it happened), here are the topics I went with during those first two+ weeks of calling. One was based off of Howard's joke that he can bench 95 pounds 10 times. I was going to give him an easy way to increase his benchpress by not bringing the bar down all the way to your chest. It totally works. I don't want to brag, but over the summer my 14-year-old niece told me I had big pecs. In retrospect, a pretty boring topic and a smart move on Howard's part not to pick up on me. My second topic was to ask him if his dad is or was a sports fan. Ben Stern always strikes me as someone who would at least follow baseball, perhaps not as a die-hard fan but with a mild interest. Howard is NOT a sports fan, so I was curious if his dad ever talked with him about sports while he was growing up.

Both topics were legit, in the sense that they were things I really did want to discuss with Howard, but the end goal was always to play for tickets. It could be that on that Wednesday morning at 6:20am, Howard really wanted to talk about Jeff Garlin again (not as likely) or it could be that he had seen me on hold multiple times and decided to give me a chance (much more likely).

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