I am always trying to get on TV. Not because I can act, but because being on TV is a gateway to infinite riches.
It is my theory that if I become a TV star everything else will follow. My books will be published, my clothing line produced and my Troll Museum Bar will finally open. (Currently, the Troll Museum has no liquor license and is in my apartment, which is inconvenient to say the least.)
But really I just want to get published. At present I am so unknown as a writer that I feel like de Sade writing in prison. You’d think the fact that my books are great would be enough to justify their publication, but quality no longer matters. What matters is whether or not you have ever combated an overflowing dishwasher on The Real World or eaten un-shelled partially formed duck fetus on Survivor.
The simple fact is that people are prejudiced against people who aren’t famous. Thus, we have cable access, a television network devoted to programs made by regular people. For years I’ve done a cable access show called The Adventures of Electra Elf, a superhero comedy where I battle evil in a spandex leotard and gold go-go boots. You’d think this would be the perfect launching pad for fame, but no such luck.
So I was thrilled when Mark Kostabi asked me to appear on his cable access show, Paint That Naming, a game show where art critics and celebrities compete to title Kostabi paintings for cash rewards. It used to be called Name that Painting, but was changed after the Name that Tune people informed Kostabi that they owned the phrase "name that." The same thing happened to my live show, The Lower East Side Price Is Right, whose name had to be changed to The Lower East Side Price Is Wrong after I got a cease and desist from CBS. Who could have imagined game show executives were keeping a watchful eye on the art world?
Since I am not an art critic or a celebrity, Mark asked me to be Paint That Naming’s "money giver" -- the person who hands out the cash prizes to the winners. This role is usually reserved for his niece, but she was unavailable so I was called in. I seem to have a natural talent for getting rid of money so I was a good choice for the part. Plus, I am good at waving and smiling -- I’m raw spokesmodel material. With practice, I could become the Vanna White of the art world.
This week, the panel of celebrity judges included painter Nicole Eisenman, film director Michel Gondry and Randy Jones, the original cowboy from the Village People. I looked forward to meeting an actual Village Person as a magical encounter akin to meeting a live unicorn.
When I was a kid, I knew of only three cowboys: John Wayne, the Marlboro Man and the Cowboy from the Village People. In 1978 I was six years old and I loved disco, to such a great extent that disco lyrics still consume a large part of my brain. I can’t add or subtract, but I can recite Macho Man word for word.
Perhaps I prophesied meeting Randy Jones last month when a friend gave me two Village People albums. (My original Village People albums met the same fate as my Donny and Marie dolls -- they mysteriously vanished during the ‘80s.) Upon receiving my new albums, I exclaimed, "Now I have to get these autographed!"
And now I would, I thought, carefully packing a sharpie into my bag before leaving for Kostabi World.
I arrived, ready for my close-up, in a pastel getup worthy of Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In. There was just enough time to snag a cookie from craft services before I was handed a wad of cash and told where to stand. The hardest thing about being the money giver is making sure the overhead camera doesn’t hit you in the head. Other than that, it’s the easiest spokesmodel gig around. There’s no flipping of heavy vowels required.
The celebrity panel struck me as being the most incongruous group of people ever assembled, not unlike the time when Mrs. C from Happy Days was on The Love Boat with Andy Warhol. In addition to the jury, Kostabi’s television studio includes a rockin’ live band (that included members of the She-Wolves) and a studio audience that votes on the titles put forth by the celebrity panel. Mark was hosting from Rome via a computer feed, which made the whole thing feel vaguely space-age. It was like taking directions from Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
"Let’s look at the first painting," Mark suggested, drawing attention to a canvas featuring two figures -- a woman stretched out on a bed and a man sitting at the foot of the bed with his hands on his head. Wasn’t too hard to figure out what was going on there. Glam punk priestess Judy Nylon, who was in the audience, suggested the painting was about fear of exposure.
Armed with this penetrating observation, the luminaries offered up titles. Nicole Eisenman proposed Association-Disassociation while Michel Gondry came up with I Forgot How to Do It and Randy suggested Final Indictment.
The audience voted using paddles marked with green cash registers on one side and red plungers on the other. Association-Disassociation garnered the most cash registers, so I pulled a $20 bill out of my bundle and handed it to Nicole.
The next painting, an image of a woman touching a man in his chest causing a centrifugal vortex, was a small one. Mark instructed me to pick it up and walk it over to the celebrity panel. My hands shook with nervousness as I ventured closer to the Village Person. Nicole said she was so "distracted" by me she could "barely see the painting." And Randy proclaimed he was "afraid of" me. I managed to hold it together long enough for Randy to come up with the winning title, Touch Me Here.
The next painting was of a woman dragging a man up a flight of stairs. Nicole observed that the male figure was green, perhaps sick either with nausea or envy and that the woman was lifting him up, maybe healing him. Her title: Stairwellness.
I hate puns but the audience felt differently, unanimously voting for this title, which brought Nicole $40. The prize money is doubled when the audience votes unanimously. Nicole, sensing a pattern, titled the next painting, Eye Think I Like You, which won. She was quickly becoming the "Ken Jennings" of Paint That Naming. It was beginning to seem like a person could even make a living by appearing on this show. But soft-spoken Michel broke her winning streak with his next title, Listening to Fingertips.
Zany music began to play and I was told it was time for the $50 round. I grabbed the special $50 sign and twirled it around, doing a dance. An assistant brought out a canvas depicting Liz Taylor with two Kostabi figures floating in the foreground.
Randy Jones asked us all to honor and observe the fact that it was just Liz Taylor’s 75th birthday. Nicole suggested the reverential Liz Taylor Godhead, but it was Randy’s title, Tabloid Dreams, that took home half a chip, as the ganstas say.
This was followed by a few other paintings and some bonus art history questions for which audience members and panelists could win money. Considering the only thing I remember from art school is that a 40-ounce of King Cobra malt liquor cost $1.64, I didn’t get any of the answers right.
I did, however, get to cut a rug to an unexpected performance -- Randy Jones singing Rhinestone Cowboy with Michel Gondry on drums. I felt inspired by the lyrics. "There'll be a load of compromisin' on the road to my horizon/but I'm gonna be where the lights are shinin' on me." And I was even more inspired by Randy Jones doing a squat dance move without splitting his jeans.
When it was time for the taping to end, I was told to stand in front of two large fans disguised as cash registers and release $100 in singles, which the fans blow up into the air above the audience. I worried about my hair getting stuck in one of the fans as I bent down and peeled off the bills. The audience fought for the cash like bachelorettes at a bouquet toss. It was hard to unfurl the money fast enough or to get them to fly anywhere but to the front row. (Tip: If you are ever in this audience, the front row is where you want to be.) So a cameraman helped me out until they were all dispersed.
Once the first taping was over, I whipped out my sharpie and my Village People albums and approached Randy Jones.
"Do you think I could get your autograph?" I asked.
"I’d be delighted," he said.
I turned the album over and pointed out the fact that he’d had me dancing to a song called Sodom and Gomorrah at the age of six.
He signed both sides with personalized messages and gave me a copy of his new album, Ticket to the World, along with his business card.
Dazedly I thanked him and walked away, staring at the albums.
"Keep it up," he’d written on one of them.
Suddenly I felt like the young man from YMCA -- encouraged by a Village Person to pick myself off the ground. There was no need to be unhappy. And I knew, as I left Kostabi World that afternoon, that I really could make my dreams come true.
REVEREND JEN is an art star, urban elf, troll museum founder and up-and-coming celebrity personality. She is the author of Reverend Jen’s Really Cool Neighborhood and Sex Symbol for the Insane.