As crazy as the world has been, and continues to be, I personally went through a very strange and life-changing 2010. I have become a woman. No, that's not it -- but it felt freeing just to read that in print.
More than a year ago I was in Ukraine shooting a pilot for my yet-untitled television show for the A&E network. I was staying in Odessa, at a beautiful pre-war hotel not far from the Odessa Steps where we shot for a week. We were actually exploring the world of mail-order brides. The ratio of women to men in the Ukraine is three to one. The legal age of consent is "yes." The only sexual contact I made that week in Ukraine was with our cameraman, Tim. That's not true. His name is Martin. It was a moving trip. So many men in Ukraine left their women after the Cold War, so many died young. And I was there to try to get a pick up. Of a television series.
I came back from the Ukraine a changed man. But I came home not feeling great, and got diagnosed with pneumonia -- short story is, I took some meds, and it knocked it out. I was very lucky. It was a reality check, in every way. Appreciating my life here in the U.S., appreciating my health. Appreciating toilet paper. Amazing the number of people who have had it. Toliet paper. Apparently it comes in large rolls, some with thousands of sheets in each.
Once you tell someone you've had pneumonia you start to hear how prevalent it is. And how lucky we are to have to meds to fight it. Then a buddy of mine told me -- "Oh, I had pneumonia! That shit's harsh -- Took me a year to get over it -- It came back three times." It becomes competitive illness trumping. You hurt your knee and suddenly people come back with -- "Oh, I had mine replaced four times -- the tendon in my left knee was completely destroyed and they had to take tissue from my anus. When I bend my leg there's a fart sound." "Wanna see me pull a string back and forth through my nostrils? I have no cartilage in my nose."
I have learned that when a writer is out of ammunition they sometimes write, "But I digress." But I digress...
As the year unfolded I shot six episodes of Strange Days With Bob Saget, a show that allowed me to explore subcultures in America that I'd always had an interest in, but never experienced. We were going to call it Strange Days With Bryant Gumbel, but he was not available. This was my first journal -- my beginning bucket list. Oh wait, "bucket list" means "things you wanna do before you die..." I am in good health, so I think of this as my Nyquil-cup-size list of things I want to do before I get a cold...
So 2010 was spent traveling with a motorcycle club in a sidecar, searching for Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest, and most recently (and all these next four shows airing tomorrow night on A&E): going to a summer camp with 12-year-old boys, joining a frat at Cornell, hanging out with backyard wrestlers, Lucha Libre wrestlers, Dragon Gate wrestlers -- and wrestling with my devils in a Hunter Thompson Fear and Loathing-like Las Vegas with my comedian friend, Jeffrey Ross. All of this has brought me to now -- to proudly promote this comedy documentary show that we all made. A cocumentary. I've experienced people from stage, but this experience sent me into the audience metaphorically, spending 60 straight hours with each of these groups. And I was not violated in any way. That I can remember. My ass has lived to tell the tale. But I digress.
The progression of going from innocence to decadence is what has resonated with me. I never went to camp as a kid. They allowed me to spend a week with a cabin full of 12-year-old boys. I know, how could they, right? The camp director told me at the start, "We want Full House Bob, not 'HBO Bob,' okay? I figured, I can fuckin' do that... Why the F'in H not? "F" and "H," by the way, are the initials of Full House, a secret writer code perhaps...
I went to Temple University Film documentary school in Philadelphia. I was never in a frat. I became a standup when college started. That was my frat. And it still is. And yet, for reasons I still cannot comprehend, they let us shoot our show at Cornell University -- and I became an honorary member of the Seal and Serpent Society. I did not get hazed, drugged, or beaten about my buttocks with paddles. And I had been counting on all of the above. But I did get a pledge name... "Peppermill," named appropriately after a donkey that had been on Full House and gotten an erection onset. The name of Peppermill was derived from the fact that his unit looked like a peppermill at an Italian restaurant -- "Would you like any fresh ground pepper with that salad?" "No thank you," I always reply, "That looks like a donkey's giant erection from an episode of Full House."
And then I went into the world of wrestling... Backyard wrestling, which is kind of Johnny Knoxville style, where people throw themselves onto sheets of plywood in front of their mothers. I was touched the most by the Lucha Libre wrestlers, whose family heritage is to don the masks and carry on the family tradition of putting on a great show for their fans, and making sure forever, their fans have no idea what they look like. Then it was on to Dragon Gate wrestling, where men and women throw themselves down for thousands of fans, in hopes of making it to the bigger show, the WWE. It was compelling to be around it for a week, but also heartbreaking. The agony of a choreographed public groin hit is painful to me personally, having watched so many first hand in television infamy.
And befittingly, the last episode to air of these six is a special show to me -- going to the Mint 400 off the Las Vegas Strip, where Hunter S. Thompson dropped his drugs of choice and wrote an article intended for Rolling Stone, which was originally intended for Sports Illustrated. Hunter brought his attorney, Lazlo, and I brought my comedian friend, Jeffrey Ross. I went from the insanity of driving 80 mph in a dune buggy in the desert to roaming downtown Vegas at 2 a.m. with Jeff, in his search of a bachelorette party, to watching a lovely set of grandparents get remarried for the second time at The Little White Chapel on the Strip, while wearing clothes from the Renaissance. As a man, there's nothing quite as romantic than reciting your vows in "rented purple tights velour."
I got close with many of these people. Again, nothing physical. All mental. All real. It was the slice of life that one gets in filming people with noble intentions. The world we've created with Strange Days, is a world I'm proud to be associated with. And it's the world I saw through my eyes throughout 2010. A world that's not afraid to be around any group of people; okay, except a couple of the guys who believed Sasquatch was going to mount me, throw me into the forest and leave me for the coyotes to finish. And that was just the crew being hopeful.
I thank everyone involved in this great experience this year. It enriched my life, and I hope this work touched everyone's lives. As a professional wanting people to see his yearlong quest to make a good show would say, "We hope you enjoy four of our episodes which air tomorrow night, back-to-back on A&E, starting at 10 p.m., 9 p.m. Central Time. It's two straight hours of me. I apologize for both of these things -- but I guess you can tell, I am passionate about this show... it's a Bob-O-Thon, if you will. Starting with camp, going to frats, to wrestling, and to a Vegas we don't normally experience.
I hope you enjoy our shows and I wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday season and a meaningful 2011.
As the theme song to the show goes, "Strange Days... Strange Days... Seemed like a good idea at the time...." And it did. And it was.
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