Wednesday, July 18, 2018

When It's Best To Be Heard And Not Seen (At All)

by Alex Dezen (writer), Living out my exile in Sherman Oaks, December 18, 2007


My life in Radio: I’m the young male, 20-30, who, after spending all his money Christmas shopping, is looking for something “Macho” to eat, whatever that means.

It’s true. I was a Toys R Us kid. Like, on TV.

Only, I wasn’t actually on TV. No. No. I was spared that humiliation. I never would have made it through high school. It was, in industry speak, a Voice Over. The spot I booked: “Toys R Us Rap.” And rap I did, along with three other freaks who probably also used the money, like I did, to pay for college, or maybe to buy their first home, or bail themselves out of jail. It was good money. Great money. And, best of all, it was easy work that was basically performed in secret. No one ever saw your face, other than the director, engineer, and other Voice Over-ists, and there was no way the MIT professor with an unusually high voice, or the tortured artist with a paint slathered KMFDM shirt, or the pregnant teenager was going to rat me out. We shared an unspoken covenant. We all had our useless, vain images to protect. I was the third guitar player in a fourth-rate punk band at the time, with a Mohawk. How my punk-rocker, 40oz drinking, “Burn Down the Fucking School” chanting, graffiti writing, and permanent-marker-tattoo-wearing friends would have vilified me if they knew I was working for the Man. The betrayal!

So, for the first time in fifteen years, I was back in the Voice Over booth today. No Mohawk this time, just some overdue, past-due, and collection notices to pay off like anyone else who’s been holding out for the end to justify the means.

An old friend got me an in at a big agency in the city.

“You can make like sixty, even eighty grand a year from a few national spots,” she explained while we waited in the reception area with a handful of people, all reading their one-sheet copy, talking to themselves in hushed, affected voices.

In comes the only guy in the building wearing a suit. It’s one of the Man’s minions. The Agent.

“Did your son have a good Hanukah?” my friend asked.

“I think so,” he said.

My friend recently converted to Judaism when she got married. “I love being Jewish!” she told my wife and I over dinner last week. “So much better than Greek Orthodox.”


My friend introduced me to the suited man and he handed me a sheet of paper with bolded lines of text.

“Have a look and we’ll have you come on in and read,” he said.

The spot was for Del Taco.

I went in to use the bathroom at the one on Highland a few years ago and haven’t been back since. I only saw it for a second, but I’m pretty sure every brand of human excrement was duly represented on and around the toilet. I had to pay a quarter to open the door. I peed in the sink.

My friend was reading for some other fast-food chain. The short description at the top read: “Sexy woman’s voice reading over images of delicious cheese melting on camera.”

“These are pretty much the ones they always give me,” she said. “I guess I’m typecast.”

“Could be worse,” I said, though not sure if I really meant it. “At least you don’t have to be on camera in a bikini, covered in some weird, fake cheese or something. It’s just your voice.”

“Right. But if it was on camera, I’d probably make a ton more money.”

I looked over my lines for the Del Taco spot and tried to block the horrific images out of my head. Could it all have come from one person? That bathroom was like something out of a Roger Corman movie. Vomit, feces. I’m not sure, but I think there was blood, too. I’d hit the trifecta of human debris and it only cost me twenty-five cents.

“Alex Dezen?” A woman called, slightly fumbling my last name. (It’s pronounced DEEZEN.) She looked nice, kind, not at all like someone who would stick me in a bathroom with the remnants of a dysentery outbreak.

“Hello,” I said, awkwardly, opting for the whole word instead of a simple hi or hey like normal people do who don’t have incredibly vile images playing in their heads.

She led me back to a recording booth where a young, Asian girl stood waiting before a music stand and microphone, earphones fastened to her head, quietly mouthing her part as the “Feed the Beast Emergency Hotline Operator.” I’m the young male, 20-30, who, after spending all his money Christmas shopping, is looking for something “Macho” to eat, whatever that means. She’s the woman with a sexy voice—also 20-30—who has come to my rescue with the delicious and valuable selections from the Macho Value Menu. She’s also blind. Not the character. The Voice Over-ist = blind. Her copy is written out in Braille on the music stand in front of her.

“You wanna run it once?” she asks.

“Sure. Yeah. Let’s do it,” I say, overshooting the act casual marker by a mile or so, like I always do in the presence of someone with a disability. I once held the door to a Starbucks open in the middle of winter for someone in a wheelchair who was still waiting on the other side of the street for the light to change. It was a one way, and the light was about to change.

I don’t think my latte was decaffeinated that day.

The girl starts reading. I watch her fingers glide over the Braille cells, her voice sensual and rich as she speaks her lines. I realize she’s done this before. It’s her typecast role and she’s very good at it. A little too good. Am I getting aroused? No. No way.

“Sooooooo,” the woman in the control room says over the talkback, staring at me through the soundproof glass, “whenever you’re ready.”

I had completely forgotten to read my part. The blind girl starts giggling, but this is no you’re cute little chuckle that I expect when I look at her, it’s more of a derisive, you’re an amateur snicker than anything else.

I’m no amateur! I was a Toys R Us kid!

My friend was waiting for me in the reception area when I finished. I got through the spot on the third or fourth time. Macho Value Menu really had my tongue in a knot. You try saying it with bloody afterbirth images stuck in your head and a blind, Asian girl who sounds like Charlize Theron whispering in your ear.

“It went well,” I told her.

“Good. Great,” she said. “Let’s get some lunch.”

“You know? I’m not real hungry.”

About the Writer

Alex Dezen is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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6 comments on When It's Best To Be Heard And Not Seen (At All)

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By Annonymous on December 18, 2007 at 03:10 pm
This is hysterical. I wish I'd written it.
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By Ivan Homeless on December 18, 2007 at 06:12 pm
Ah, voice over work - I love voice-over actors, I know quite a few. It's a hobby of mine picking out voices and trying to figure out the face. Though it's kind of startling when you are playing a video game and you hear a friend's voice shouting orders. This is really funny, and I think you may have put me off Del Taco forever!
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By Alex Dezen on December 18, 2007 at 08:42 pm
FYI - "Del Taco" and "the Devil" have the same number of syllables. I'm just saying...
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By D. E. Carson on December 19, 2007 at 10:21 pm
Alex: I got two words: HIL ARIOUS! I actually found myself laughing at the vivid descriptions of the john. I'll not be able to sleep tonight (thanks to an overly vivid imagination -- or memory of actually experiencing the same thing -- I'm not sure which and I prefer to keep it that way 'cause I'd rather not know) but at least I'll be laughing about it all night. Now, if only *I* could get voice-over work...
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By D. E. Carson on December 19, 2007 at 10:21 pm
Oh, and I liked the Gary Owens photograph....
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By Angela on December 22, 2007 at 05:56 pm
Ugh, I will never look at delicious cheese the same way again. Freaking hilarious!
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