Voices In My Head.

I knew I’d get some flak for not having watched Friends, and I was glad to get it. I’m not a TV snob, and Friends is a cultural touchstone that I somehow completely missed, and yet its cancellation inspired one of the goofiest things I’ve ever done, although friends may argue that I’ve done much goofier things. Anyway it’s a thing that’s just kind of stuck with me.

It was May of 2004 and I read something about the NBC network having a crisis because its two most popular shows, Frasier and Friends, which had boosted its ratings for most of a decade, were ending. And for reasons that are now lost to the mists of time I called up a couple of friends and got their answering machine.

So naturally I started making up promos for NBC’s fall season. Hey, who hasn’t done that?

It all started with a generic announcer voice:

You may have heard that Frasier and Friends, two of the NBC network’s biggest shows, are coming to their end. But don’t worry! Stay tuned! Keep watching NBC! We’ve got big things planned for the fall! Or we will, anyway. Seriously, we’re going to figure out something you’ll want to watch. Hey, Frasier was a spinoff. What if we did a spinoff of it? You know, ‘Marty’s Place’ or something like that, about Frasier’s dad opening his own bar. Coming this fall to NBC, because we’ve got to find some way to fill all this space.

It wasn’t great, but it seemed to contain the germ of an idea, so about half an hour later I called my friends again and, luckily—or not—they still weren’t home. Cue Mr. Generic Announcer again.

Coming this fall to NBC: If you like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart you’ll love NBC’s new take on the news of the world: The World Today With Paul Reiser.

There was a brief pause and then I launched into my Paul Reiser impersonation:

So I’m riding the subway and reading about this thing going on in Sudan, trying to wrap my head around it, and this guy across from me starts coughing. He doesn’t put his hand over his mouth or anything and then a thing…it’s like an almond, but it’s soft, and it comes flyin’ outta his mouth, across the subway car, it bounces off the window next to me, flies all the way back, hits the opposite window, and sticks to the back of his head. And he doesn’t even notice. So anyway that’s how my day started.

Then back to Mr. Generic Announcer:

Yes, that’s In The News With Paul Reiser, coming this fall to NBC…because we’re dying over here.

Fifteen minutes later I had another idea, and my friends were still not home. Mr. Generic Announcer led the way.

Coming this fall to NBC: a very special tribute to one of the most beloved movies of all time. NBC will be presenting an all new musical remake of The Wizard of Oz. Starring Natalie Portman as Dorothy, Drew Carey as the Cowardly Lion, Hugh Laurie as The Tin Woodman, and Snoop Dogg as The Scarecrow.

There was a brief pause and then singing:

Oh I’d be feelin’ fizzle

And that’d be fo’shizzle

If I only had a brizzle!

And then back to Mr. Generic Announcer:

Yes, coming this fall to NBC, because…you think you can do better? Well? Do you?

The problem is this joke was out of date almost before my friends could listen to their messages, which is the problem. George Carlin said he didn’t do topical political humor “because I hate to throw anything away”.

That was neither the first nor last time I left multiple bizarre messages on friends’ answering machines. It’s a habit I’ve since outgrown, mostly because voicemail is so much more personal and comes with caller ID. With an answering machine people had no idea what was coming when they pressed the button. With voicemail people get a preview of their messages and they’ll say, “Oh, look, Chris called and I bet he’s doing his Gilbert Gottfried impersonation, so I’m just gonna delete that without listening.”

Even at the time I knew the bits had a shorter shelf-life than homemade mayonnaise, but I hate to throw anything away.

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  1. Chuck Baudelaire

    I loved last year’s live production of The Wiz, but I also would watch the hell out of a version with your casting choices. Especially if Christopher Walken played the Wizard.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I loved The Wiz too and it was so fun to watch it live. And anything with Christopher Walken is worth watching. Heck, I almost watched that production of Peter Pan with him as Captain Hook. Almost.

  2. BarbaraM

    I loved all the varieties of the peacock tail – especially the one in (supposedly) slow motion. It always amazes me that you can find all of these obscure videos!

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I have an odd memory for the weirdest things. This particular peacock animation, for instance, is known to me because it was done by Jon Kricfalusi–the mad genius behind Ren & Stimpy. I felt there should be some genius included to balance out my madness.

  3. Spoken Like A True Nut

    Amusing answering machine messages are the only thing I miss about having a landline. Prank calls. Nervous people put on the spot by having to leave a message and ending up rambling on stream-of-consciousness style until their time ran out.

    We once came home to a message from an old woman calling to wish her granddaughter Amanda a happy birthday. This being back in the primitive age of cassette recorders and rotary phones, we had no way to call her back and let her know she had the wrong number. I still wonder sometimes if Amanda spent her birthday thinking Granny forgot about her. Or did she even notice, or care? I’ll never know.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Sometimes I would call friends’ answering machines and leave long, rambling messages just to fill up the tape. Maybe they missed legitimate calls because of me, but who knew? There was also the time my friends and I wrote a “leave a message” rap and recorded it on my parents’ answering machine. My mother was not impressed.
      People who called the wrong number and left a message anyway always made me feel kind of bad but also confused. Did they not listen to the message? Did the fact that we gave our names not make it sufficiently clear that Gladys doesn’t live here?

  4. Arionis

    LOL! They should hire you on the spot for programming. You can leave funny messages on my answering machine any time. Just let me get it out of the attic and dust it off first.

    Back in the day I used to screen calls so I would set it to answer after one ring and say something like, “I’m screening calls, leave a message.” I ended up moving and my new phone number happened to be one number off of a local country radio station request line. Every now and then people would leave requests on my machine. One of them sticks out in my memory. An obviously inebriated cowboy left a request, “Hey y’all! It’s muh ole lady’s birthday and she wants to hear the boot sootin’ boogie ruhealll bad.” Hope she wasn’t too disappointed.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I should have saved a tape of those messages and used it for auditions for voice and improv work.
      And did people not realize when they heard the message that they didn’t have the number for the country station? I guess if that cowboy was drunk enough he didn’t notice anything.

  5. Ann Koplow

    I always enjoy the voices in your head, Chris, and I wish somebody would leave messages like yours on my voicemail.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I hope comments will suffice in the absence of voicemail.


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