One of the steps to becoming an art star is to carry through on even the craziest ideas. You might be sitting at a bar with a friend, discussing Teletubbies, and say, "I think you need to get drunk and put on a Teletubby costume and visit toy stores." And then your friend might reply, "I have another idea! You should dress as a pregnant Virgin Mary and go to fancy hotels on Christmas Eve and try to get a free room."
A true art star doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. But following through on every concept, no matter how insane, can turn an art star’s life into a fiasco. Case in point is my latest effort -- a live action version of the television game show, The Price Is Right.
We decided to call our version The Lower East Side Price Is Right and stage it at Mo Pitkin’s, a venue located conveniently in downtown Manhattan. At least it’s convenient if you live in the neighborhood.
Now, during a brief stint of unemployment (eight months), I watched The Price Is Right almost every day. It became the only thing that guaranteed I’d get out of bed before 11 am. For those with limited daytime TV options -- that is, no cable -- Price Is Right is vastly superior to mean-spirited shows like The People’s Court and Dr. Phil.
Judge Judy and Dr. Phil do a lot of finger wagging. Price Is Right gives prizes to its guests. Whereas Maury badgers his teenage subjects about their paternity tests, Bob Barker delights in giving them new cars. (So what if people say he dry-humps the spokesmodels backstage -- no one is perfect.)
CBS refers to Price Is Right as "television’s most exciting hour of fabulous prizes," but given the wild-eyed participants, I prefer to think of it as the longest-running performance art piece of all time. Bob has been hosting it since 1972, which is the year I was born. (It’s also the year Watergate broke, but I’m not sure how that relates.)
When I turn on the Price Is Right, I am comforted by the fact that the set hasn’t changed in 34 years. It’s like it is still 1972 on Price Is Right, which could explain why everyone’s having fun.
I knew that to produce such a groovy sensibility in the apocalyptic new millennium would be a challenge. Luckily, several art stars offered to help me out. Jesse, a carpenter, constructed our very own "Big Wheel," which I decorated with cheap paint and nail glitter. We planned to sell the spectacular wheel after the show, a la Matthew Barney and his plastic casts of that whaling boat.
Several of my art-star acquaintances coveted the role of spokesmodel or "Barker’s Beauty," whose job is to pose gracefully and point at prizes. Several very attractive people auditioned, hoping to become the "Holly Hallstrom of the avant-garde," but they didn’t get the job. Instead, I cast two unlikely models: Angry Bob, an extremely large, vociferous performer willing to go on stage in drag as "Bobbie"; and "Jamie Kuss," a disturbing character created by performer Tanya O’Debra. Jamie, an 11-year-old dork, is mustachioed, covered in red pockmarks and prone to fits of crying.
I had a wheel, a venue and two beauties, now I needed prizes. On the CBS Price Is Right, the prizes are donated to the show. I wasn’t so lucky. I had to buy the prizes myself, which is why most of them cost 99 cents or were found lying around my apartment.
Mo Pitkin’s is a far cry from CBS Television City -- it seats only 55 people, and has a stage the size of a nursery school theater. But when show time arrived, the place was packed with people angling to be contestants, some wisely wearing t-shirts that read, "Rev. Jen Is All Right." The club doesn’t have aisles, so when contestants were told to "come on down" they had to weave in and out of the café tables, being careful not to knock over drinks.
I based our games on real Price Is Right games, altering them slightly for the counterculture. The first contestant was a guy named Roger, who claimed to be an Electrolux vacuum cleaner salesman from the Midwest. He guessed the exact price of the first item, something called "Pet Rat Gummi Candy," which cost $1.99.
Then Roger played the famous "Hi-Lo" game, in which contestants have to guess the correct prices of everyday grocery items. On The Lower East Side Price is Right, "Hi-Lo" took on its own special meaning, as the items included a copy of High Times, a marijuana-scented car freshener and a terrycloth wristband in the colors of the Rastafarian flag. Unfortunately for Roger, he failed the test.
As he left the stage empty handed, I noticed my beauty, Bobbie, swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniels.
"You ruined my life!" she screamed at me. Apparently, Bobbie had created a subplot in which I’d had an affair with her and ruined her life. She had subsequently turned to drink.
The next contestant, Liz, played "Hole in One," a mini-golf game that is normally played on CBS for a new car. At Mo Pitkins, however, the prize was a brand new Doc Johnson butt plug. Liz proved to be a regular Tiger Woods, sinking the ball from the furthest putting line.
The show proceeded apace, with one contestant winning a new car (a toy missing a wheel), and another spinning the big wheel to win a place in an upcoming talent showcase. As we prepared to start the second half, Bobbie announced that she wasn’t feeling well and wandered backstage. Moments later she reappeared, her face and shirt covered in split pea soup. The crowd gasped in horror.
Things only got worse when Bobbie swiped the Gummi Rat from Roger and bit its head off.
The next contestant, who is named Moonshine, successfully placed three fancy bodega products in order from least expensive to most expensive and won the grand prize -- a 64-ounce vat of petroleum jelly valued at $6.99.
The final contestant, Abraham, cannily guessed the value of a combo shower curtain and "swag" set at 99 cents -- everyone else thought it had to cost more, since it was called "swag" (it really means, for all you home decorators out there, that the curtain has a little fringe at top to hide the curtain rod). Abraham then got to play "Drinko," a game based on "Plinko." In Plinko, contestants drop chips on a pegged board and can win up to $25,000 in cash. In Drinko people win drinks at the bar. Abraham aced the contest, and got a pint of Miller, a "bartender’s choice" and a Mojito.
The first installment of The Lower East Side Price Is Right ended with the presentation of the special showcase of prizes, where contestants try to guess the dollar value of the prize without going over.
Showcase One was mostly comprised of books I read while working as a sex columnist for Nerve – guides to tantric sex and the G-Spot -- that were collecting dust in my apartment. Along with a set of ear plugs (for living downtown), an eight pack of eight-ounce Budweisers and a gift certificate to Two Boots pizza (donated by Two Boots), this showcase was hard to pass up. Roger decided to lowball it and guess a mere $25.
Showcase Two featured an array of amazing prizes guaranteed to turn the winner into a badass. Included were "Just Like Dad" candy cigarettes, Pop Rocks candy paired with a can of coke (reputed to send you into orbit if combined), a "Magna Stud" magnetic nose stud, a temporary tattoo of a skull and dragon and a few more dusty books from my shelves. Abraham put in a conservative guess of $20.50.
Actual retail value of showcase One was a whopping $53. But showcase two cost only $29, making Abraham the big winner. The two shared a manly hug and were soon joined by Bobbie in a split-pea-soaked embrace.
I, on the other hand, still had work to do. I had to clean up the space, which looked like the Vienna Actionists had been playing the Nickelodeon kid’s game Double Dare. And, I had an important announcement to make.
"If anyone wants showcase one, please take it -- I really don’t feel like carrying it home."
REVEREND JEN is a New York artist.