It’s 8 a.m., and Kim and I are standing in line at a hotel in Midtown Manhattan waiting to see a taping of The Maury Show. Why? Well, a lot of reasons. We thought it would be a fun thing to do on a random Tuesday. And there’s an awfully short waiting list for tickets, and they don’t even cost anything! Also, since I write books for teenagers and Kim’s a dominatrix, we both tend to have our early mornings free.
We stand there chatting. Twenty minutes pass. And then another 20. And then 20 more. We are led up the stairs to a waiting room, where those lucky enough to get a seat perch on some plastic chairs. Everyone is getting antsy, but we’re sure it can’t be much longer.
But another 10 minutes pass, and then another 15. Another 35. Maury’s first lesson of the day: If only we’d all woken up that morning thinking we were on our way to get our wisdom teeth removed or receive a series of rabies shots, this would have seemed like a very enjoyable alternative. The problem, of course, was that we’d all been expecting this to be fun.
Two hours after arriving to stand in the waiting line, we are led into the Maury studio, where we wait for another 45 minutes. Finally, just before 11 a.m., a man marches into the room and stands on the stage. We don’t know who he is, but we can tell he’s someone official because he’s wearing a headset. So we let out a cheer! We know something is about to happen. And this time we’re right!
He tells us the show that’s being taped today is mostly composed of a bunch of different video clips. At this point we are not entirely sure what this means, although it later becomes clear that we will essentially be the studio audience for what seems like an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos, only instead of clips of people accidentally knocking over their own wedding cakes, we will be shown little video segments of people’s arms getting knocked out of their sockets during trampoline accidents and cheating couples punching each other in the face (but more on that later). At this point, the audience coordinator tells us that because this particular type of episode is “all about audience reaction!” we must practice reacting. “Ready?” he asks us. “A car crashes into a brick wall!” We all sit there, confused. Someone lets out a weak shout, and we shout along with him. The audience coordinator is disappointed. We try it again. “A car crashes into a brick wall!” he says. “Scream!!!” And this time, we do.
Then the audience coordinator asks if there are any “brave girls who want to come up and dance for Maury.” And when a few girls go up, we all whoop and holler as though watching a bunch of 19-year-olds girls mentally preparing themselves to dance for a 70-year-old man is something we’d been waiting our whole lives to see.
It is then that Maury World bestows upon me another lesson: If you lower expectations enough, you can make people happy with pretty much anything.
By the time Maury actually comes out on stage, we all go absolutely insane. We could not have screamed any louder were he the Barackster
Maury dances with the girls who’d been waiting onstage (luckily they dance “with” him, not “for” him, which is at least marginally less creepy).
Then Maury does his intro, a video-clip presenter comes out to introduce the clips, and they begin: A kid gets punched while riding a school bus; a deer gets hit by a car; a woman is pole-dancing in what appears to be her garage, and the pole detaches from the ceiling and she falls on the floor.
While all of this is going on, a second audience coordinator is standing off to the side coaching our reactions just in case we forget how people are supposed to feel about things. She suggests an “OOOO!” for this and “AWWWW!” for that. She keeps telling us that we’re doing great, as though we’re little kids who have just learned to use the potty.
But at a certain point, the audience takes over, and the line between what we’re being coached to do, and what we’re coaching one another to do becomes blurred. We are all egging one another on now. After 20 minutes of reacting on command, it actually becomes a little hard to tell where my fake feelings stop and the real ones begin. As we watch clip after clip after clip, the third lesson of the day rises through the muck like the message in a Magic 8 Ball — if you pretend to feel something long enough, you might actually trick yourself into feeling it. It is only when I remind myself that I actually find the idea of a woman catching her husband cheating with her very own sister, and then responding by smacking her sister in the face, pretty depressing, and not in fact inspiring of “WOOO!”s and excited laughter that I realize I’ve fallen under some sort of scary Maury spell, and it’s time to pull myself out.
We finish watching the rest of the clips. A few random guests come on for a couple minutes each. And then the taping is over. Maury poses for pictures with some of the audience members, and then we are sent back in to the waiting room where a production assistant passes out limp slices of pizza. Moments later, Kim and I are back outside.
And it is then, when I am walking down the street back toward the subway, that I truly understand the final lesson of the day: The best things in life are free … and so is a lot of kinda crappy stuff. •