My Drug Addicted Boss Once Tried to Teach Me Acting
In his defense, he had a point, but still...
I am not a particularly cocky person...
At least, not anymore.
Admittedly, I used to be a very cocky person. In my first summer away from college, having studied "the art of acting" for two whole semesters, I re-joined a summer stock program for the second year in a row. And let me tell you, I thought I was the shit. Turns out, I was just a piece of shit.
I uttered -- publicly, out-loud -- such gems as:
"I don't want to help move the sets, if I hurt myself, that's it. As an actor, you have to protect yourself."
"A frog would stand like this, not like a normal person."
And the worst:
"I have a few notes, may I...?"
I felt like I had some kind of leg up on most of the actors there. You see, they were all mostly there to "have fun." I was there to do the work. This would have been fine, except this wasn't a pre-Broadway regional theatre run of a show. It was an extension of the local children's theatre program for 15-18 year-olds and I was playing Frog in the musical A Year with Frog and Toad. We were all there with the express purpose of having fun, but this year I somehow missed the memo.
Jackassery infected the air around all of us and by summer's end, a scene partner and trusted friend at the time put me in my place. "Oh, you have to 'protect yourself?' You sound like an asshole, and I mean that as a friend. Stop."
From that moment on, I kept daily track of my britches if ever they began to feel a bit snug.
My Useless Degree
I always said if I didn't meet my future wife or my current closest friends in college, it would have been for nothing. A virtually for-profit acting academy that not-so-secretly let pretty much everyone who auditioned in. If you auditioned and didn't get in, then they're doing you a favor and maybe you should pursue that pharmaceutical degree after all.
The only reason I ever decided to major in Acting was because I thought I wanted to be a film auteur and thought, Why study the technical aspects of filmmaking when I could get to the heart of it? After all, Clint Eastwood was an actor and look at him!
While I learned everything I'd ever need to know about acting technique, after graduating with a BFA in Acting, it dawned on me. I didn't really want to do this. In fact, I think I wanted to be a playwright and a novelist -- you know, those moneymaking endeavors. Thankfully I am a good writer too, because I managed to start a career in marketing based solely on my skills as a cover letter writer. It's an art, really.
That being said, if you need an acting lesson, these techniques were pounded into me so much so that I could give you a complete Acting 101 course off the top of my head if I wanted to. Not that I want to. But if I had to, then I would.
But I won't. Unless you pay me.
I won't give you the name of my boss who tried to teach me acting, but I will tell you all about him and where I worked.
At the time, I was fresh out of my first real job in Los Angeles and onto what I thought was something greater. What happened was I was desperate to break the monotony of a job I spent 6 years at, so I took the first offer that came my way, which was working for a hilarious marketing genius at a direct marketing company that basically sold brain pills to old people on infomercials.
However, there were a lot of shake-ups at the company and they were looking to bring in a consultant who was not so secretly going to take my boss's job. So, she did the right thing and left. Suddenly, the place was not so interesting anymore. At least not until the new boss got there. We'll call him The Donkey.
The Donkey was an interesting man. An ex-marine who found himself deep in the direct marketing industry, he made his bones moving up the ladder at a rival direct marketing firm who hawked the same kind of pills and fake supplements we did.
However, my soon-to-be-former boss found herself at a convention when she ran into his former colleagues who warned her The Donkey was, in fact, a fraud. But these warnings ultimately fell on deaf ears as The Donkey went from Director of Digital Marketing to a VP in no time.
That's all well and good, except for one glaring fact no one wanted to face: He was clearly a raging drug addict who could not manage the stress of his workload or run a team to save his life.
His teeth were rotted, his eyes were sunken. He often wiped his face when talking to you. His office was not an office but a essentially a giant dumpster for mounds and mounds of fast food wrappers and cups.
His work was often behind. He had a lot of great ideas but never followed through. He knew how to talk about things like copywriting or product launches (he loved to drop names like Gary Halbert and Jeff Walker when he could) but he never able to deliver.
His assistant and I become work friends, would often eat lunch together and gossip, and one day, she told me a story...
BUT WAIT! THIS FIRST!
Did you know I don't share my fiction on Vocal? I do share it in my newsletter, however... I am also going to share a lot more you won't find here.
Car Rides & Dr. Appointments
The prevailing theory was she got fired because he heard she told some of us about the things he had do. He never seemed to have a car. He claimed to own one, but he never seemed to have it on him. It was in the shop or he wanted to take the bus and enjoy the company of people. Whatever the excuse, he often needed a ride home after work. At this point, he was already a Vice President, by the way.
He needed a ride from his assistant, yet again, but this time he told her she could not take him home. He needed to go to a friend's. So, she pulled up to the apartment complex and he ran inside. She had to wait there for him.
Almost 20 minutes later, he returned with a brown paper bag in hand, only to tell her it was okay, she could leave. He looked jovial, like he could have been floating. Obviously high, she was pissed he made her wait for nothing. These things happened all the time and for some reason, he got a fucking promotion.
Like J. Pierpont Finch in the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, he rose to the top almost entirely by faking his abilities.
He called out constantly and yet was praised by the other VPs.
He once called out sick for a doctor appointment but that day, four of us saw him wandering the streets, disheveled and tired, when the rest of us decided to go to lunch at a kosher spot in Sherman Oaks.
He would tell me insanely inappropriate Anthony Jeselnik (or comedians like him) jokes that made me feel weird. I can handle those jokes, don't get me wrong, but in that setting with someone who made me feel like he did? No thanks.
"Look, he's the best of the best, Andrew," I was condescendingly told when I voiced my concerns. Whatever spell he had over the executive team could not be broken, at least not while I was there.
One day, an email series I wrote and submitted was not doing it for him, at least not copy-wise.
"You see, sales is a lot like acting."
He took me into a conference room and played this video for me.
While he had a point, sales is acting, at least mechanically, it still felt very condescending. Knowing all I knew and feeling confident about what I assumed when it came to whatever was going on with him, I felt like my time was being wasted.
Now, I'm not one to shame someone for obvious addiction or, hell, even just wanting to aspire to more, even if it was more than they can handle.
What I resented was the fact that he walked around the office, a hot mess whose shit did not stink to the rest of the executives. Someone who got everything he wanted without any of the effort, only to then tell me, who spent years of his life studying, what he fuck acting was. I had gotten into this profession to get away from that one.
There was some comfort, however, that in the back of my mind, I could get up on the conference room table and recite a monologue from Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out or, maybe more recognizably, Henry V and crush them both. Like, hard.
Why Tell This Story?
A few reasons:
You never know who you really work with. The executive lurking in the Zoom call might be a total fraud. And that impostor syndrome you're feeling probably means nothing, especially since they are the real impostor. At least, there's a chance they are.
Some people just kind of get everything they want, despite the clear red flags. They see an opportunity -- in this case a company in worse shape than he was -- and leveraged enough textbook knowledge to get his way. In a strange way, it's kind of admirable.
But instead of dealing with whatever was eating away at him, he tried to outclimb his demons on the ladder to success.
The Donkey might still be out there. In fact, he, or a donkey like him, might be your next boss.
Just do me a favor: When he shows you that clip of Anthony Hopkins, tell him you've already seen it.
Thank you for reading.
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Also, one last thing. If you want to watch Anthony Hopkins truly act, watch his King Lear on Amazon Prime Video. That's all you'll ever need to watch in order to understand acting, I promise. And remember, I actually studied that shit.