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April 02, 2008

Another True, Humiliating Story From What Passes As My Career

Several months after my son was born in 2001 or  2002, I got a very exciting telephone call. Would I be interested in being in the new Pixar movie? Since I was not yet fully immersed in the world of children's entertainment, I was not really aware of Pixar products. All I knew was that every time a new Pixar movie came out, it was a big deal and made hundreds of millions of dollars, which to an actor translates to large royalty checks. I did not know how much money one could stand to make in residuals from something like that but a friend of a friend was in some successful animated movie or another, and I can remember that he routinely received checks for tens of thousands of dollars. So that sounded pretty good. Also, animated movies take a long time to put together. I figured that by the time this was done, my son would just be old enough so that I could take him to the movies, point to whatever animated creature I was portraying and say "That's Daddy!" in a voice just loud enough so that several other surrounding fathers could hear. As a new father, I was constantly trying to figure out ways to make my son love me since just being his father was obviously not enough. Even at six months, he was already contemptuous of me.

So I quickly accept the job and reported to work at a small recording studio in midtown Manhattan. When I got there, I was greeted by some lovely people from the Pixar corporation who walked me through the storyboards of this particular movie, entitled "Finding Nemo." My character was a sea turtle called Crush, and the director Andrew told me they were looking for a "Keanu Reeves from'Point Break' type voice," and that they immediately thought of me for the part. My first thought at the time was, "Why?" Meaning: if you are looking for a Keanu Reeves type voice, am I really the guy that comes to mind? I was confused and seriously considered the possibility that they had mistaken me for somebody else. Perhaps another State member? Maybe one of the Kids in the Hall? Because when I think of myself, I certainly don't think Keanu Reeves in "Point Break." I don't even think Keanu Reeves in "Feeling Minnesota." Honestly, I never put me and Keanu Reeves in the same mental image at all except when telling this story. So I was confused but game. After all, I was doing this for my son. And for money.

They put me in a little booth and we went line by line through my part of the script. The director was in Los Angeles, and I could see him on a little video screen they had set up. He had me do each line several different ways, and often acted the lines out himself so that I could get a clearer sense of what he wanted. For example, there was a part where Crush goes, "You were like, 'Whoa,' then I was like, 'Whoa,' and then it was like, 'Whoa.'" He had a very specific way he wanted each "Whoa," and I was having kind of a hard time doing it, so he demonstrated exactly what he wanted. When he did it, I remember thinking, "That's pretty good. You should do this part," but I didn't say that because I didn't want him to have the same thought.

He was a very nice man, and I would say it took about two hours for me to record Crush. Afterwards my throat hurt and I was sweating. As I left, they handed me a "Finding Nemo" giftbag, which included a stuffed Nemo and a limited edition lithograph of a character study of Nemo. Very nice of them, and I thought to myself, "Hey, if this movie is a hit, this will be a great collector's item. I can get it framed and give it to my son and he will have a treasured memento from the movie in which his heroic father starred."

As I walked back to my car, I remember that I felt good about the session, good about the fact that I was going to be in a Pixar movie, fantasizing that maybe this would open a whole new avenue in my career, that maybe I could get more voice work, maybe end up like Hank Azaria on "The Simpsons." Then I got to my car and saw there was a parking ticket on my windshield, which maybe I should have taken as an omen. But I didn't. Because I am stupid.

A couple months later, I heard from the Pixar people again. Bad news. Unfortunately, the character of Crush is no longer going to be in the movie. Crush isn't working and they are going to cut Crush. No more Crush. I was, to use the obvious turn of phrase, "crushed." But what can you do? Characters get cut from movies all the time. It's not anybody's fault. It just is what it is. I didn't know what happened. All I knew was that I was no longer going to be in a Pixar movie, no longer going to receive tens of thousands of dollars in the mail, and worst of all, no longer going to be anything more to my son than a continuing source of irritation and resentment.

Now, perhaps you've seen "Finding Nemo." If you have, and BILLIONS of people have, considering it is the number one grossing animated movie of all time, you probably remember a rather lengthy sequence featuring a Keanu Reeves-sounding surfer sea turtle called Crush. Apparently, the problem wasn't Crush. Apparently the problem, as is so often the case, was me. 

Fast forward a year and a half or so. Now trailers are coming out for "Finding Nemo." Featured prominently in these trailers is a sea turtle that sounds a lot like somebody doing a fairly bad Keanu Reeves imitation. It's Crush! CRUSH IS BACK!!! I'm listening to Crush in the trailer. I'm listening and listening, and what I'm wondering is, "Is that MY bad Keanu Reeves imitation or somebody else's?" And I honestly can't tell. To my ears, it sounds just like me. It sounds Just. Like. Me. Is it me?

No. It is not.

This is what I think happened: in an effort to save my feelings, they told me Crush was cut from the film. Crush was never cut from the film. What happened was that the director apparently had the same thought I was desperately trying to will him not to have when I was recording the part, namely that he sounded pretty good as Crush. Yes, the nice director from that tiny video screen decided that he was better at Crush than me and so cast himself in the part. The part that I was told no longer existed. The part which became one of the most popular characters in the film, and which DWARFS the two main characters on the video box.

As the opening date approached, "Finding Nemo" commercials were everywhere. Crush was everywhere.T Was it painful? Very. When the movie finally came out, my kids, of course, wanted to see it, and could not understand why daddy started yelling every time they asked. I think it took me three years to finally sit down with my children and watch the stupid movie, and endure my son saying things like, "Surf's up, dude!" in the voice of Crush.

To make matters worse, it's a great movie. 

I still have that lithograph tightly rolled in the original tube in which it was presented to me. It's buried in the back of my son's closet behind boxes of outgrown shoes and forgotten toys. He doesn't even know it's there. 

Once in a while, when I feel the need for a little extra self-flagellation, I take it out and look at it and think about how I was almost part of something that people know and love, something that doesn't even involve dildos or necrophilia. Of course, you may think to yourself, "Serves you right for trying to buy your children's love through shallow career accomplishments." You would be right to think that, but when you consider how little else I have to offer them, shallow career accomplishments are about the best I'm going to do.

I keep waiting for the Pixar people to call again. I keep waiting for a lot of things.

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Nick

from the fist paragraph to the last sentence, my jaw was hanging open. reading this was like witnessing a bad car crash, i knew what was going to happen, but i couldn't look away

brody

I heart you Michael Ian Black. If I had the money, I would pay you tens of thousands of dollars to record my phone message. If I ever watch Finding Nemo again, during the scenes with Crush, I will hit mute, stand with my back to the TV, raise a fist in the air, and yell your name.

Therese

That's a tragic, tragic tale.

I remember reading an interview you did for BB gun magazine, in which you said that you'd been dropped from the movie for calling CGI animation 'gay'...

Either way, you were robbed. I'm guessing the recent raspy voice gave a flashback associated with the hoarseness experienced at the recording.

Pixar will call again.

Never do anything to buy your kids' love. It'll always end up with you losing out. Mainly on your wealth.

Cam

Aww...you are a favorite of so many.
I doubt you're a continuing source of irritation and resentment to your kids. I also doubt they're going to judge you on career accomplishments.That's God's job;)

kelsey

Pixar will cast Larry the Cable Guy, but not you? I don't know if you really want to be involved with company like that.

Susanna

Michael, Michael, Michael...you just never give yourself enough credit for all of the wonderful things you have accomplished thus far in your life! You have legions of faithful fans who hang on your every word and performance. We love you and think everything you do is amazing. Pixar, Shmixar, I say. You'll get plenty of other opportunities to shine where people can actually see your face and not just hear your voice (*cough* REAPER *cough*).

I'm quite sure your children adore you and would never judge you on your career accomplishments, so never doubt that. They will, however, judge you on how much ice cream you give them, so you better step that up just in case. ;-)

Cam

ooh...good Susanna! Maybe throw in a few good farts(real or armpit) at inappropriate times. Kids of all ages love that.

Reen

What a courageous blog entry. These "Here's where I've been, here's who I am..." stories always make an impact.

Very few people have the depth of character and articulate ability to honestly express pain. I've seen you do this with your comedy and your creative writing, and it's impressive.

Many of us can relate to feeling inadequate, at times, in our chosen careers, parenting skills, or personal lives. Thanks for using your gifts to reach people on these issues, and so many others.

You know, I'm not sure you really "get" that truth. That through your comedic views and heartfelt written word, you've created a lot of joy and validation out there. I wish there was a way to hand that over to you, have you accept it, and more importantly, believe it.

Shameless

If it makes you feel better, while assistant directing a scene from a play we're doing at my college, I told someone that they needed to make their objective way more important. Like, historic. I told them, "This is like the holy grail for you. I don't know what that means for you, but for me, that would be like having Michael Ian Black's baby." And the words just came out so naturally, like I was discovering what I really wanted for the first time in my life. And the person replied, "That would be mine, too." So, in other words, we love you, Michael.

Zane

Good story.
Judging from the responses elicited here, perhaps selling your sperm could be a viable option. Ebay. "The first-draft performer of Crush from Nemo. $$$."

Therese

Nothing dampens a love-fest like talk of marketing the recipient's gametes. I guess some folks still can't appreciate what's north of the pants.

Ethereal Zoe

Aside from agreeing with the great comments already made, I'll just add that what that director asked you to do seems pretty asinine to me anyway.

If you're going to hire a comedian to do a voice in a movie, I would think having a character based on that person's actual persona would be much funnier than trying to make him channel a random actor's performance in a movie that's over 10 years old at the time. It's basically tantamount to hiring Whoopi Goldberg and asking her to do an impression of Jon Cryer from Pretty In Pink. She could try, sure, but what a waste of talent.

Not that I didn't love Duckie, mind you. I'm just sayin'.

Ben

I had too had a similar experience. After performing a bit part in Stars Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace - I was shocked to discover they recast my part with a computer animation called Jar Jar Binks.

Nicola Malcolm

My heart broke a little bit for you after reading that. I guess you really do need thick skin in the entertainment industry, as they say. I think you're great, and I think for anyone to have accomplished the stuff you have is pretty special. You should be proud! PS. Come perform in Tempe, Arizona. We have a great comedy venue, the Tempe Improv. You'd be impressed. :)

C. Baines

I was reading somewhere that people out here can not say no, but just find some way to dance around it without giving you an offical answer.

Milo

dude MIA ur amazing, keep being amazing

Milo

dude MIA ur amazing, keep being amazing

Jenny

aww, my heart hurt reading that. :(

do not be so down on yourself. look at it this way: the director thought he was better at sounding like a stupid stereotype that you couldn't, in your good taste and pride of character, bring yourself to do.

:/ chin up.

Girl

Awe....I'm sorry. :(

That seriously made me sad.

On another note....I absolutely love your posts. If it weren't for these posts of yours I don't think I would do much laughing.

airsoft guns

I enjoyed reading the story..Thanks for sharing it..

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