Reading Patton Oswalt’s book reminded me of one of his stand-up albums, where he talks about hosting an open mic in which a random heroin addict inadvertently performed a routine that was more brilliant than some professional comedians. That reminded me of this story:
My freshman year of college was in Manhattan, so I’d spend almost all of my free time wandering around the most touristy parts of the city, taking pictures. One day I was walking past a theater near Times Square — I’m guessing now it was the Ed Sullivan Theater? — and they were calling out to passersby to come in and be part of the studio audience for a television show. I was exactly their target demographic of “hapless layabout with nothing better to do,” so I went inside.
It turned out the show was the sitcom Kate & Allie, and the seats for non-ticketed people wandering by the theater were all up in the balcony. When I got up to the balcony, there were around a dozen people already seated, but strangely, almost nobody was in the two front rows. The balcony seat with the best view of the action, dead center in the front row, was taken by one man sitting calmly and quietly. All around him was empty seats. I quietly took my seat a few rows back.
Before long, it became evident why the other people in the audience were giving this guy his space: during recording, he was perfectly silent, but as soon as the director ended a shot, the man would start talking in a non-stop apparent stream-of-consciousness, randomly emphasizing certain words. As soon as recording started again, he would instantly go back to sitting calmly and silently.
I knew even less about mental illness then than I do now, so I wasn’t sure what was the best course of action apart from just leaving him alone. He was inside, safe from the cold, and didn’t seem to be bothering anyone, so I figured, like everyone else had, that there was no point in making it an issue. (I’d lived in New York long enough to learn that the standard operating procedure there is to just ignore anyone who’s not directly getting in your business).
The scene in this episode of Kate and Allie had the irrepressible young boy trying to save time during breakfast by putting all of his food into a blender and mixing it up, God bless ‘im. But there was a technical issue keeping the gag from working. The blender was supposed to spray food hilariously all over the kitchen, but it kept getting stuck in take after take.
The technicians on hand seemed to think that the bacon was the problem. (This caused the man in the front row to start punctuating his non-stop sentences with “bacon” in increasing intensity). The crew tried a few different approaches to fixing it, but seeing as how it was 1989 and CGI wasn’t available to family sitcoms at the time, none of their practical approaches were working.
Finally, one of the crew members said, “We need to find something that’s like bacon, but not bacon.” As if on cue, the man in the front row shouted out, “SIZZLEAN!”
I left the taping not long after that, without even seeing the rest of the episode. No offense to the writers of Kate & Allie, but I am 100% certain that there was no joke in the entire script that was half as good as that man’s spontaneous outburst.