There are lots of lovely actor jokes; you might have already heard some of the better known ones. The punchlines are usually how I remember them:
‘Oh Mr Bargee, could we have a word about billing’
Actor: ‘What, Lionel Blair?’ Agent: ‘Yes’
‘Could you possibly launder this cheque?’
‘Eats the bones, fucks the other dogs and asks to go home early’
This is none of these.
There is one joke that in my humble opinion trumps them all. It’s less of a joke, more a shaggy dog story. I once made it last half an hour at a dinner party.
There is something about it that every actor can relate to, and, what’s more, I don’t know anyone from another profession who would find it funny. Which makes it a connoisseur’s joke. And one that any actor can embrace as theirs alone.
Tom and Tam are married and in their late twenties. He’s an actor. She’s a landscape gardener. Tom’s chunky, a little shorter than average, shaven head and goes to the gym when he remembers; Tam is slight and wiry with hair she can sit on and massive dimples when she smiles, which is often. He’s impulsive, driven, slightly scatty and noisy; she’s calm, wise, dry and quiet. They have cat called Lloyd. And they adore one another.
And they’re relatively happy, jogging along OK, not sure about kids yet, would love to have a bigger flat but waiting for Tom to get the call from Spielberg, or Tam to get the call from the Tuileries. But they’re FINE. For now.
Tom has worked steadily for the first six or seven years of his career, started In TIE, did a lot of theatre in Manchester when they both lived there, got a semi-regular on a moderately successful ITV sitcom, and they decided to move back home to London. Picked up a nice few weeks work on an action movie at Pinewood playing a member of a doomed space patrol, with very few lines but a lot of screen time and good money.
Tam goes from strength to strength – she’s been able to set up her own landscaping company with two friends, and after a sticky start, they’ve almost got more work than they can handle, mainly through word of mouth, to the extent that they can now advertise properly. And Tom helps out when they need some donkey work done, but he’s pretty busy himself.
Then Tom hits a bad patch. He’s going to meetings, but he’s not getting the jobs. He gets close to a couple, gets some pencils for ads, gets one HEAVY pencil, but loses out to an actor with more hair. He leaves Joan, the agent he’s been with since he started, goes to someone a bit flashier, but it doesn’t work out. He’s not going up for the right parts. He has a row with one of the agent’s assistants, is let go, and tail between his legs, goes back to Joan who has a long chat with him about his attitude in meetings, and they resolve to make a fresh start.
But it’s not working. He’s still going to meetings, but he’s still out of luck, and he’s spending more and more time up to his knees in mud helping Tam out, which is fine, but he’s not happy. He starts to get irritable. He’s drinking a little more. He screams ‘Get on the Phone’ at any one he sees on TV acting badly. Lloyd the cat no longer sits on his lap. Tam is sympathetic and understanding, and gives him space when he needs it, but when she asks him if he’ll help with a major garden excavation she’s doing, he explodes and they have the most serious row they’ve ever had.
Of course they kiss and make up,but things don’t get any better.
Three months later and Tom still hasn’t got a job, the drinking is starting to become a problem, and actually money is now starting to be in short supply. Tom starts to do some Minicab work but he hates it.
He has another long chat to Joan, because frankly he’s not even getting meetings now, and there is an air of desperation about him that means he doesn’t come off well in the few he does get.
One night, in bed, he bursts into tears. Tam holds him. Even Lloyd the cat comes for a family snuggle.
And so it’s been six months. Six months solid without a single sniff of acting work for Tom. He’s still helping Tam out occasionally and he’s still mini cabbing, so they’re making ends meet, but the light has gone from Tom’s eye.A nd when the Minicab firm ask him if he wants more shifts, he has a decision to make.
He talks to Tam.
He sleeps on it.
He needs to restore his own dignity, he needs to chip in more financially, his mind is made up. And right at that point, the phone rings.
“Hi Tom,it’s Joan…”
“Now listen Tom,this is rather interesting,I think. It’s a meeting for a feature film…”
“Script by Charlie Kauffman, Scorcese directing, Spielberg producing…”
“Wait, wait, Joan this isn’t even funny…”
“Tom, I Am Deadly Serious! This is a massive project, I’ve known about it some time; they put out a casting call about 2 months ago. They’re looking for a complete unknown to play the lead in this movie. Ellen Lewis saw your photo, you fit the bill perfectly and she wants her assistant to put you on tape…”
“Well probably her assistant’s assistant if the truth be known, now listen,t here’s no script to give out, it’s all top secret, they just want you to talk on tape…..”
And she gives him the time and place for the meeting.
Tom sits there in a daze. Tam is working in someone’s garden, but Lloyd slinks over and sits in front of Tom, trying to judge his mood. And Tom is struggling. Not because this is the most exciting acting news he’s EVER had, (although it is) but because he feels rusty, unused, out of sorts and he needs to be right up on his game for this. And he’s immediately starting to get anxious – even though he has nothing to learn, nothing to read, he just has to sit on a chair and chat to the casting director’s assistant’s assistant and BE HIMSELF.
He makes a decision, he rings the Minicab company and says no, he doesn’t want to take on extra work JUST YET, but he knows, deep in his heart, that if he doesn’t get this job, he’ll be ringing them again for more work and, and more importantly, and, and crucially, and(say it quiet) he might give up on acting – whoof – there it is, lying in front of him like a turd on the carpet. Even Lloyd can see it.
So Tam comes home and he tells her and she hugs him and they go out for a celebratory curry, but deep inside Tam is a little conflicted – much as she loves him, she can’t bear the thought of what he’ll become if this meeting goes badly, and she’s not going to say anything to spoil his mood, but he senses it in her, he knows her so well, and she tells him, and she qualifies it with how supportive she’s going to be, but she tells him her fears, and he nods and smiles and says ‘I know’.
And the day of the meeting comes.
Tam is at home doing some admin when Tom comes back. She turns and sees him standing in the doorway, grinning.
“Well… it went… pretty well, you know…”
“Oh my God…”
” It really did, I mean it’s nothing, it’s a chat, she asked me questions about, I dunno, my life, and you and me, and football, and sausages, and Donald Trump, and I just sat there and chatted to her and we laughed a bit, and got serious, and I didn’t wank on, and I think I was… I was… I dunno… I think I was… what I’m normally like…
“Oh fucking Jesus,you’ve blown it then!”
And they laugh and hug and kiss and end up having great sex, and Lloyd scratches at the door.
The next few days are of course agony.
Tom is hiding it well, but he can’t stop thinking about it. He drives the Minicab, he digs a ditch in one of Tam’s gardens, he loses (as Hartlepool) in the Champions League Final on Football Manager, but his mind is on ONE THING.
Two days later the phone rings,and Tom DIVES for it. He’s got a call-back. With Ellen Lewis (MARTIN SCORSESE’S casting director). The script is still hush hush, so he’ll go to the meeting, be given ten minutes to look at a few pages of the secret script, then go on tape having learnt as much as is possible in ten minutes, give the script pages back, and come home for another few days of worrying.
“That’s fantas…” Tam starts to say, but Tom interrupts her – let’s be realistic, he’s got down from four hundred Auditionees to two hundred so let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. And they kiss and have another curry, and decide what sort of villa they’ll buy with the film money, and Tom plays it down, and Tam worries a bit inside about what this might do to Tom if it goes much further.
And for the next few days, Tom keeps it together, he’s calm, he’s in focus, just occasionally something will pierce the carapace he’s built around himself – a sudden car horn, Lloyd scratching him accidentally, something inane on TV.
On the day of the second meeting, Tam comes home from a hard day’s digging, to find Tom sitting quietly at the kitchen table. She says hi. He looks at her and grins.
“Marty likes my work”
“MARTY LIKES MY WORK!”
And he jumps up, picks Tam up by the waist and the words come tumbling out of him. He had ten minutes with the script pages which had his name printed through them, he learnt what he could, there wasn’t much, the other person had all the lines, he was largely reactive, then he was ushered into a room and Ellen was GREAT and they did the scene, and he found he already knew most of it,and she asked him to do it a couple of different ways, and she laughed and he had to hand the pages back to a man in a suit who looked like a security guard,and he can’t talk about the script, he’s had to sign a secrets thing, but basically it’s a take on the seven circles of hell, a modern take on how shitty the world is, and the central character, HIS character is this innocent who meets all these people on a picaresque journey into the heart of darkness, and the central character is played by an unknown, and everybody else will be a household name, and as he left, Ellen touched him on the shoulder and said.. and said “You know, Marty likes your work.”
And from that moment on, things accelerate.
He sees more of the script
He meets Marty.
He meets Stephen.
He does a screen test.
He does another screen test.
He does a third screen test doing a scene with BRIE LARSEN!!!
And it appears… it seems… it would seem that… it’s down to TWO!!
And Tom is just about holding it together, Tam gives him a wide berth, gives him his space, and she’s terrified, mortified about what might happen if he doesn’t get the job. And he sits her down and he looks her in the eye and he says that hey, in the end, who cares if I get it, we’re here, we’re happy, Lloyd’s the coolest cat ever, all this has been good, it’s awakened my appetite, I feel I’m on a level with these guys, and if this doesn’t happen, something else will and I’m out of my funk.
But she’s not convinced. She talks to her mother, she talks to her friends, she talks to all HIS friends, and they all link hands to form a massive safety net in case the unthinkable happens and he doesn’t get it.
The phone goes.
The next few weeks pass in a blur, meetings, phone calls,negotiating (FUCK, the amount of money they’re offering is IMMENSE!) Tom and Tam (and Lloyd) grab what time they can together and convince themselves that this is Not going to change them, it’s NOT, except that life may be a little more crazy, and intense, and luxurious, and actually BETTER from now on.
The day comes for the table read. Tom leaves the house buzzing. Tam gives Lloyd an extra cuddle and after a reasonably easy day’s work (picking up some rocks for a water feature), she waits for Tom to come home.
At just after 4 he’s here, grinning like a Halloween Pumpkin ,carrying a huge pile of scripts and schedules and travel documents to fill in, and health forms, and insurance things.
He sits Tam down
And he starts.
“It was… AMAZING!… it was at the Groucho, the fucking read through was at the GROUCHO
and they all came in, and Jesus, Tam, I was the only person in the room I didn’t recognise – DeNiro, Hanks, Keitel, Blanchett, Winslet. It was fucking mad. De Niro said, ‘Nice to meet you,Tom’ and DeCaprio passed me a coffee, and Brie (listen to me,’BRIE!’) treated me like an old friend and we read the script and it was SENFUCKINGSATIONAL and I got some laughs, and someone asked me what sort of TRAILER I wanted, and what sort of food I wanted in the FRIDGE in the trailer and what sort of LIMO I wanted, or did I just want a Town Car, and some of it’s going to be in London, Pinewood for the studio stuff, couple of weeks in LA, a week in Vancouver -it was just……Brilliant! And Amazing! And like a Dream! And like that thing you imagined acting would be if you were really, really good and really, really, lucky.
And what’s more
And what’s more
What’s really great is
The best thing of all is
I’ve got tomorrow off.”
Series 2 is here! And you can now ENTER THE BIG SERIES TWO GIVEAWAY, with prizes including a Spotlight annual membership, headshots with Ori Jones, a digital subscription to The Stage and a £50 TodayTix voucher.
Like it? Please share it with your friends and followers on social media. Have something to say? Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below. Have an idea for an article of your own? Find out more about writing for The Honest Actors’ Blog here.