Sunday, February 26, 2012

Adventures of a Seat Filler

I didn't watch the beginning of the Oscars this year, but from what I can gather by looking at Twitter, someone said something about seat fillers.

I was once a seat filler.

For those of you who are unaware, awards shows hire seat fillers to sit in the theater seats whenever someone gets up to go to the bathroom or get an award or whatever.  Apparently, empty seats look bad on TV...or, at least, someone at some point thought that they did and nobody ever questioned the logic as the years went by.  I think it's silly, personally.

Anyway, this is an actual job: keeping a seat warm.  And I did it.

When The Hubby and I first moved to L.A. in 2000, we knew someone who knew someone who was in charge of staffing seat fillers.  Although the gig only paid $50, we had to dress the part, which meant that The Hubby needed a tux and I needed a fancy dress.  After a trip to Macy's (and a call by a sales person to increase our credit limit), we were all decked out and ready to part-ay.

Were were going to the Oscars?


The Grammys?


The SAG Awards?


We were assigned to fill seats at the American Comedy Awards.  Yes, this is a real awards show.  Or at least, it was.  I had never seen it televised before and I haven't seen it since, but for whatever reason it was on Comedy Central or some channel that year, so of course seat fillers were required.

The day arrived and we showed up in our formal wear, looking very fancy indeed.  Our first assignment was to sit in the bleachers on the side of the red carpet and cheer whenever people got out of their limos.  Each time a car pulled up, an announcer came over a loud speaker and told us who it was and we were expected to go crazy for everyone--be it Kate Hudson (who was actually there, but she wasn't really famous yet) or the guy from that one movie whose name you've never actually known.

After the important people were in the building, we peons were herded into a dark corner and given quick instructions:

1. don't talk to any of the real guests
2. move when someone taps you on the shoulder
3. don't talk to any of the real guests
4. don't do anything to draw attention to yourself

And then the lights went out entirely.  Pitch black.  It was very disorienting, especially when a woman with a flashlight came up to me and whispered, "are you free?" to which I said, "huh?" and then she proceeded to drag me by the arm through the dark crowd, all the way to the very front table, right next to the stage.  She pushed me down in a chair and left.

The lights came up, Steve Martin began his hosting duties, and I was sitting at a table with a bunch of famous people staring at me.  Ed McMahon looked particularly annoyed by my presence.

Who the f*ck does this chick think she is?

I was so confused.

A very handsome and friendly man seated next to me introduced himself as Al Joyner, the Olympic gold medalist.  He explained to me that he didn't have a date for the evening, and so that seat needed to be filled permanently for the entirety of the show.  He welcomed me and made me feel right at home, keeping a running commentary of who he thought would win each category and making small talk during the breaks.

He was dressed a bit more formally when we met.

So, basically, I was Al Joyner's date for the American Comedy Awards in 2000.

When the show was finally over, he turned to me and asked if I wanted to go with him to the after-party at The Comedy Store.  I explained that I was engaged and my fiancee was there with me, so it probably wasn't a good idea.  We said our goodbyes, he gave me a gift bag and the place card that said "guest of Al Joyner", and I set out to find The (future) Hubby in the chaos.

The Hubby had done the typical seat-filler duties, moving around from table to table and sitting next to a bunch of famous people.  He reported back that Kelsey Grammer has a HUGE head.

As the crowd was dispersing, I walked up to Joan Cusak and started a conversation about her pregnancy or something like that.  She was just lovely, and didn't seem to mind that I was 20 years old with a seat-filler bracelet on my wrist, distinguishing me from the important people.

We left the Shrine Auditorium giddy and amused by what we'd just been through.  Only in L.A.

We never did another stint as seat fillers, but we'll always have our stories from that night...and our formal wear:

circa 2004

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