Last October I shot a commercial for the New Era Football cap. Yes—I know, even the thought of me shilling for anything with the word “football” in it is utterly ridiculous, but work is work, right? Besides, the concept was less related to sports than to sports attire, which I have no problem with (unless we’re talking about men over 30 wearing baseball caps backwards—that I have a problem with). In the spot, I played a scientist, which is one of the four things I seem to get auditions for, the other three things being playing an office nerd, effete hotel managers, or anthropomorphic food.
To be frank, the whole day was a bit confusing. Of course I know nothing about sports in general—let alone football specifically; I’ve never actually seen a game in its entirety. That may seem strange but growing up with four brothers and one television set, the sound of a ball game was the sound of neglect, of me being outvoted and not being able to watch something good, like Bewitched or the ABC Sunday Night Movie so my brothers could watch a game in a congealed clump of cheering testosterone. Even today I can’t bear to so much as hear the sound of a sporting event—even in the next room—without having an instant Pavlovian response of sadness and regret. Here is a good example of the kind of quality television I typically had to forsake as a gay adolescent in a hetero domicile because of the pesty persistence of unchecked televised sports infestation in our home:
I was bewildered on the day of the New Era football cap commercial shoot not just because of my lack of familiarity with football in general but also because I’d never heard of a football cap, only helmets. I thought caps were for baseball but, to be completely transparent, my association to a football helmet wasn’t so good in the first place either, primarily due to a childhood trauma. You see, in eighth grade I had to share a bedroom with my younger brother Jonathan for a year—which was bad enough to begin with—but much worse the day he attempted to hang a New York Jets helmet on the wall as decor! Can you imagine? “You can’t put a fucking football helmet up on the wall of my bedroom!” I screamed at my brother, and proceeded to seek asylum in the basement until the offending plastic dome was removed from view a day or two later. Why, I can still see that green and white helmet hanging on the wall like it was yesterday—mocking me—reminding me that I had no private space where I could retreat when outvoted in the TV room.
Perhaps for this reason, no one was more surprised than I when I was cast in this New Era spot. I showed up good-naturedly at the crack of dawn at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where they have all kinds of scientific-seeming things that look like they came straight out of a 1950s science fiction movie. I was used in two sequences: the first was a mad scientist set-up where my arm was used to reach across the screen as the camera panned in to a close up of a mad scientist’s eye magnified abnormally. I completed the scene without incident beyond being somewhat envious that they were using my arm instead of a part of me that someone might recognize, like, say, my face. I comforted myself by rationalizing rather insensitively that the guy whose face they did use—well, at least one of his eyes— looked like a Gerald Scarfe illustration from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or a drawing I myself made in the same vein in 1981:
I wasn’t that concerned about them only using my arm anonymously in the first set up because they said I was going to be featured later on in the day. This made me happy. After the first shot and several hours of waiting around they called all of us scientists into a huddle. To be honest, we weren’t a very attractive bunch, really a rather motley crew of overweight geeks and emaciated guys with blotchy skin and big glasses. Oh, and a few Asians, naturally. I felt a bit better when the P.A. asked for me personally and said, “we have something special for you.” “Really?” I answered eagerly. “Yeah, you’re the scientist whose gonna have the 20 gallon Gatorade dump,” he added with a laugh. “Wow, that’s great,” I said with convincing enthusiasm, proving that my acting ain’t too shabby because I had absolutely no idea what he meant by a 20-gallon Gatorade dump, but since it suggested that more than my arm would make it into the commercial, I was placated temporarily and returned to my book about Sammy Davis Jr. with a detached air of quiet contentment.
An hour later I was being escorted to the middle of a track field in the cold October wind by another P.A. “So could you explain the shot to me?” I asked, as if I were looking for some Actor’s Studio way into the character. “It’s not that complicated,” he replied somewhat tersely. “You’re going to stand under that contraption we built and we’re going to dump 2o gallons of blue Gatorade on you.” With that he pointed to this thing in the middle of the field that looked like a square jungle gym. “Oh,” I said, as mystified as ever, but unwilling to risk the consequences of further questioning.
When I got to the center of the field the crew spent about 30 minutes filling up a huge cauldron with blue Gatorade. I was so bewildered I finally became determined to solve the mystery of what dumping gallons of blue Gatorade on a scientist has to do with a football helmet (I mean cap). I decided to ask a burly grip who seemed like he would know. “Excuse me,” I began. “I’m a bit confused. Can you explain to me what the point is?” “What’s the point of what?” he rejoined. “I just don’t really understand why you’re going to pour the Gatorade on me,” I continued. At this he paused, perhaps unsure of the meaning of my question. “Well, we have to pour it on someone, I guess you’re just the lucky guy,” at this, he began to laugh demonically like Uncle Joey Nichols in Annie Hall. ” No, I mean what is the significance of the Gatorade in the first place…I don’t get it,” I said. Now the grip really thought this was funny. “Ain’t you never watched a football game?” he prodded. “Honestly, not since the 1970s and it wasn’t an entire game,” I shared, fairly proudly, for when it comes to meaningful ways to use my leisure time, I often quote Martin Scorcese, who’s fond of saying “nothing with a ball!” My grip friend thought this was hysterical and turned away to share the big news: “Jimmy this guy’s never seen a football game! The one who’s gonna get the dump is askin’ me ‘what’s the Gatorade for?'” Turning back to me he sniffed pedantically and said, “in a football game the winning coach gets a bucket of Gatorade dumped on him!” That’s it? I said and told him perfunctorily “that explains a lot because the last time I watched a part of a football game I don’t think Gatorade was invented!” With that I spun on my heels and headed to my mark under the cauldron.
Now that I knew what the point of my big scene was I could say with complete confidence that I couldn’t think of anything less interesting. We did the scene about four of five times, with a huge sheet of cold, blue liquid completely submerging me until the director was satisfied that he got what he wanted. What I wanted was a fun commercial with something I could use for my reel. Unfortunately after a year of waiting, I was told by an intern that my big scene might be available for an Internet-only excerpt but that the scene with my arm was the only one to make the spot that would air on TV.
And so, with great disappointment and no fanfare whatsoever (in fact I feel like Rodney Dangerfield in the respect department) I present my national commercial for the New Era Football cap, featuring my arm at the six second mark.