Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Coolest Thing I've Ever Done

I've been blessed to do a lot of cool stuff in my life.

But today is the 10 year anniversary of the coolest thing I've ever done (HOW CAN IT BE TEN YEARS ALREADY??).

On October 28, 1999 at 9:00 p.m., I stepped out onto a dark stage to the roar of a packed crowd - and with absolutely NO exaggeration - my life changed forever.

I think that's what puts it over the top. While I've certainly do a lot of other cool things, nothing has so impacted the rest of my existence the way that it did that night.

One thing still jumps out at me about the whole process:

The absolute confidence/arrogance we had to pull it off.

My buddy Jon and I started that semester of college off with a game plan. We were both sophomores who had transferred into Christopher Newport University from other colleges, so we didn't really know anything about the school or anyone other than our buddy Matt (from high school) and his buddy Jesse.

I think it was during the first week of classes that we walked into the Student Life office and requested to speak with someone, anyone, in charge.

Phyllis Ayers took us into her office and we just straight out told her we wanted to do a Saturday Night Live type of comedy show on campus.

The one thing I'll never figure out is why she believed in us immediately.

But she did.

She said the school couldn't help us fund it or advertise for it, but she would put us in touch with scheduling and we could even request the University's main auditorium (at the time) if the times worked out.

That was all we needed. We just needed that one person in charge to believe in us and we were set.

From there Jon, Jesse, Matt and I started writing sketches and Matt started introducing us to everyone he knew so that Jon and I could find our cast.

We never held one audition, we just started talking to people. Our two main criteria was (1) who was naturally funny and (2) who was popular (so they would be an instant draw for an audience).

To this day, I've never been that sociable.

The cast fell together pretty easy, the scripts were actually pretty good, we just needed to get people to the show.

Phyllis had told us in that first meeting that since CNU was still pretty much a commuter school, that students really didn't come out for events. She told us to expect 50 people at most. The auditorium held 300. 50 people in a 300 seat auditorium would have been murder for a comedy show. We knew we had to pack it out.

I still think the advertising scheme Jon and I came up with is the best I've ever seen.

About a month out from the show, we started hanging neon orange fliers and posters ALL OVER CAMPUS. Each one had a different joke or witty phrase (basically just bumper sticker humor) and then we had the date 10.28.99 on the bottom of the poster.

Each week, we would hang a different batch of jokes and add a little more information. I think the 2nd week, we had the time and the date, the third week we had the time, date, and place, and then the week of we just advertised it as the show, "CNU TONIGHT, Gaines Theater, 9:00 p.m., 10.28.99."

The night before the show, Jon and I went to EVERY DORM room in Santaro Hall (there was only one dorm at CNU at the time) and hung up a neon orange post-it note on every door in the building with the show information on it.

We had no idea if it was going to work, but we knew we had to try it.

We were all back stage and hear a lot of people, but we just didn't know how many. The first sketch started with me walking out and setting up the skit and when I walked out, I couldn't see because of the lights shining down on me.

For the rest of me life, I will get chills when I think about the sound I heard (I'm getting them now as I type).

Just a roar of applause and cheers and laughs - and I hadn't said a word.

As my eyes adjusted, I could see the place was packed. Not only was every seat filled, but people were sitting in the aisles and standing along the back and side walls.

It was SO LOUD, I literally couldn't speak and hear myself for three full minutes. I even stopped trying for a while and looked to Jon who was standing out of sight on the side and we just laughed at each other.

We knew we had done it.

The show ended and the dean of students stopped up as asked us to meet her in the office the next day. She wanted to book us for two more shows in the spring semester.

We all know where it goes from there.

Jon and I started the Campus Activity Board, I got to do the Letterman internship, and I even moved out the Los Angeles for a day to be a TV writer.

But it's not those things that are the direct result from doing CNU Tonight that I'm proud of.

It's the attitude that I now know that I can do anything I really work towards.

It gave me the push to do Letterman, drive to L.A., drive home, go back to school, try the magazine, move to Denver without a job, get married, etc., etc., etc.

I've now failed more times than I've succeeded, but here's the catch: I'm not afraid to fail. THAT'S what I got from doing that little show in Newport News, Virginia.

That's what makes it the coolest thing I've ever done. It changed who I am in a way nothing else has or could.

Special credit needs to go out to:

- Colin Castelow, who served as a mentor and advisor during our run with the show, AND originally had the idea when I was a senior in high school. When he brought up that day, I never could get it out of my head.

- Chris Rice who we handed the show over and kept it going for the rest of his time at CNU. If we didn't have him, the show would have died immediately (I don't know if the show is still going now - I know it was as recent as two years ago, but I can't find anything about it now on the CNU website).

- That original cast. I've lost touch with most of them, but Jesse, Matt, Jon and I are still solid friends. It really was a great blend of different personalities that brought so much to the table. I always appreciated their devotion and commitment. That's what got the plane off the ground for sure.

- Obviously Phyllis in Student Life made our lives so easy and gave us whatever we wanted (within reason of course) and Ryan in scheduling. Those were our girls!

- My dad. I still love the logo he designed (featured at the top of this post) and the t-shirts he helped me create. I saw one of those of t-shirts in downtown Norfolk about four years ago and it was a pretty cool feeling that something we had come up with together was still being worn. In fact, I'm wearing my show t-shirt right now.

- And of course Jon. I've had other really, really good friends in the time since, but I've never had a BEST friend since him in the CNU Tonight days. He's married with two kids in Maine (my gosh, when did we get old enough to have two kids) and I'm married out here in Colorardo. We don't talk nearly enough and life has certainly taken us in different directions. We've talked about it many times, but for some reason Jon never got enough of the credit in regards to the show or even the CAB transition. He knows I know this: NONE OF IT would have ever happened without him.

I called him this morning and wished him a happy anniversary. I don't know what he - or the rest of the original cast - have going on today or if they even remember what we did 10 years ago.

But I do know that I'll be seeing you tonight...


Kevin said...

I was there and loved that night..I just remember the dancing girls with the chairs and the look on Mama Mahler's face..priceless.

Anonymous said...

AWESOME!!!!!! i canNOT believe it's been ten years!!! holy!

thank you for sharing this with me. i loved being a part of opening that first show with you! i can't believe we packed that place out! hahaha!

Mike D. said...

Wow...10 years already! That was definitely one of the coolest things I've ever done. I will never forget the feeling of being backstage and peeking out from behind the curtain to see a packed house and my stomach hitting the floor!!! LOL! But, that experience was unforgettable. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the great cast and making history @ the great CNU! Damarris and I still talk about that night to this day.

Chris Rice said...

CNU TONiGHT...What a great time of our lives. I look back at every single minute of it and I can instantly go back to the way I feel the first time I stepped on stage.

Thanks Josh and Jon for starting this. I did my best to keep it going and to keep it like you all wanted. I believe that the show is still going on, it's just not the same.

I would like to officially start a push for some sort of reunion next homecoming. Mark your calendars people, i'm going to work.

I will close with this:

Why do so many murders go unsolved in West Virginia?

Because the DNA is all the same and there are no dental records.

Sam K. said...

That's amazing!!! Thank you for sharing Josh! That night was certainly unforgettable!