In the 90â€™s, back before you were born, all of the Warner Bros. shows were cast out of this one little building on the Warner lot that I referred to as the Warner Bros. Casting Mall because, you know, all of the shows cast out of this little building. (It might have been Building 135? Anyone?) It was a mall. For casting.
Youâ€™d drive to the guard gate, who never had your name, turn around and park on the street, walk back to the guard gate who still didnâ€™t have your name, show him your audition sides and 8×10. Heâ€™d ask you if youâ€™d done anything substantial since Summer School and then, after muttering a half-assed explanation about a writers strike sinking everything, heâ€™d let you in. Youâ€™d sign in, wait for at least an hour because waiting around is good for people who are in their heads a lot, then, immediately after bumping into the ex girlfriend who broke you, theyâ€™d call your name and youâ€™d go tank your audition. Ask anyone. Same experience for everyone. EVERYONE!
The WB Casting Mall looked sort of like a medical waiting room, only a bit largerâ€¦ a couple benches, maybe 20 seats, which were filled with people talking to themselvesâ€¦ practicing how they were going to say their lines or trying to nail that hilarious joke, etc. Right off the waiting area were the mens & womenâ€™s restrooms. Sometimes, actors would go into the restroom to â€œrehearse.â€ Everyone in the waiting room could hear them and sort of compare the audition they had in their head to the poor sap in the bathroom trying to nail that hilarious joke, etc.
After a year or so of the WB Casting Mall, I came up with an idea: Iâ€™d enter the bathroom and then allowing enough time for me to ostensibly get to the urinal and begin doing what one does at the urinal, I would scream â€œOH SHIT, IT BURNS. IT BURNS SO FUCKING BAD!! GOD DAMN IT BURNS. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!â€ Thenâ€¦ Iâ€™d flush the urinal, mutter, loudly enough for people in the waiting room to still hear me, â€œ…another week of this and I go to the damned doctor… â€ and exit the bathroom as if nothing happened. The waiting room would get very, very quiet and very uncomfortable. Of course, if Stuart Fratkin was there, heâ€™d be laughing softly to himself.
If only I had been at least half as funny in any of the auditions. Ah well.
It gets very cool.
After the great career crash of â€™95, I ended up in Las Vegas, summer ’96, working as a singing wizard in a dinner show, literally singing “try the veal.” No, really. Caesars Magical Empire. Humbling, horrible and wildly fun. It turned out to one be the best things that ever happened to me. (Well, booking the role of Chandler on Friends or Lewis on the Drew Carey Show mightâ€™ve been better. The juryâ€™s still out.)
I became close friends with Penn Jillette, ended up living in a spare bedroom at his amazing home, the The Slammer, and met and fell in with an eclectic group of wonderful and fascinating people. Colin Summers, who designed the The Slammer is still a close friend.
Another of these folks was Rob Pike. Rob Pike had been on the team that developed Unix and engineered some other software that made the internet work for us mortals.Â
He had co-authored a great book about programming cleverly titled The Practice of Programming. At the time, he was working at Bell Labs doing stuff I didnâ€™t understand. Now, heâ€™s at The Google and travels around the world with his bride, an astonishing artist, Renee French.
Soâ€¦ over dinner I mention the fun I had in the bathroom at the Casting Mall. It was also fun to be at any urinal at all and, while doing what one does at a urinal, softly mutter â€œow ow owâ€¦ oh man it burnsâ€¦ damn it.â€ Rob thought this to be super funny (mainly because it is) and upon returning to Bell Labs, began doing the same thing whenever he was at a urinal at Bell Labs.
It caught on and escalated as these things do.
To sum it up: For a bright, shining moment in the late 90â€™s, walking down a hallway at Bell Labs, one would often hear the echoes of men screaming about molten fire-urine from the restrooms.Â
I did that.