My children have become addicted to America’s Funniest Home Videos, or AFV to the cognoscenti. I’m not sure where the H went.
On the one hand, the endless litany of pratfalls, Darwin Award entries and psychotic pets, combined with a level of melodramatic overacting on the part of the host that would have seemed excessive in the silent movie era, can be tough to take.
On the other hand, it’s kind of fun to watch, in a guilty sort of way.
Plus, I have scored major Dad points with my offspring because once upon a time I was there, in the audience.
It was my first year of graduate school at Iowa and a bitterly cold winter that kept most of us locked indoors where in theory we were being productive little students but in practice we were mostly bored. My first day of classes that semester it was 24 degrees below zero with a wind chill of 70 below. That’s Fahrenheit. I have no idea what that translates to in centigrade beyond “brass monkey cold.” We were the only institution in the state that was open for business, and I had a mile-long walk to my first class. We didn’t see a temperature with a real square root for over two weeks. We stayed in.
Around this time my friend Bonnie somehow came into the possession of a number of tickets for the satellite studio audience of AFV that was to be held in Cedar Rapids, and a group of us decided that yes, that sounded like a good idea.
I blame the weather.
Dave drove us up there that Saturday morning. Dave was a big, pale guy, quiet and polite, who had an ability to drop offhand bombshells into conversations that I have seldom seen equaled. He was always genuinely surprised at our reactions, too, since to him it was just another observation on par with anything we might say about our last seminar. Thus we discovered that the traffic congestion we encountered getting out of Iowa City wasn’t so bad compared with the traffic in Lagos, Nigeria.
Cedar Rapids on a Saturday morning is a ghost town.
The studio was located on a three-lane one-way street that might as well have been neutron bombed, since there were a great many buildings and parked cars but as far as we could tell nobody living but us. We stood in the street for nearly fifteen minutes at one point just to see if there would be any traffic. For all that happened we could still be standing there.
A door opened and we went inside, and eventually this repeated itself enough to fill the bleachers that had been put up in a large square room.
They had set things up so that we were facing a small stage with a large central monitor placed directly in front of us and a couple of smaller ones off to the side. The smaller ones were for us to see the other satellite audiences like us, and the middle one was so we could see the host, Bob Saget, who was safe and warm in Los Angeles.
Bob has since moved on to greener pastures. And good for him. The new guy these days seems to enjoy himself more than Bob ever did.
They herded us onto the bleachers and then some poor harried associate producer came out to explain to us the ground rules. We were to cheer when asked to cheer. We were to laugh at Bob’s jokes, if possible, or stay quiet if not. And if we could react visibly to the videos there was a better chance that we’d make it onto the broadcast.
And then he threw candy at us.
That turned out to be a running theme, actually. Every time there was a pause in the action, which was surprisingly often, some flunky (the associate producer only took the first round) would come out with a big bag of candy and spray it at us. It was kind of fun, surprisingly enough. Festive.
Eventually the show started.
I really don’t remember the videos. I assume that there were a few cats in need of medication and at least one guy getting whacked in the cojones, and if there were any fewer than half a dozen videos of people falling off of things they shouldn’t have been standing on to begin with, well, that would be a first.
What I do remember is that it usually took Bob two takes to get his introductions down the way they wanted him to, and that during the breaks in between takes – we could still see and hear him – he would spend his time telling fart jokes.
When the videos were over and the candy bag was empty, they sent us out into the deserted streets of Cedar Rapids, which were ever so much less problematic that way than the streets of Lagos. We ended up finding dinner on the way home – a buffet, as I recall, one that probably regretted letting in a crowd of hungry graduate students who descended like locusts on their neatly arranged food and left nothing but one empty spinning plate on the floor, but so it goes.
I am an AFV veteran.