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What I Learned on the Set of America’s Funniest Home Videos

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When I was in second grade, I asked my parents what the Vice President did. They told me that the second most important person in the country didn’t have any responsibilities whatsoever. For the next five years, I told people that when I grew up, I wanted to be the Vice President.

So when Tom Bergeron announced he was stepping down as the host of ABC’s America’s Funniest Home Videos (AFV) after 14 years, I applied. I could be on network TV every week, introducing a few clip packages while making tons of money and getting invited to lots of parties–many of which, admittedly, would have guest lists consisting of cats or men with ice packs on their groins.

I walked onto the AFV stage feeling surprisingly nervous, so I asked Bergeron for advice on how to be funny when hosting a family show. “Relax, have fun and remember your role is to service the videos. Which sounds dirtier than I intended,” he said. In other words: make jokes that sound edgy but are actually safe because they don’t make sense.

To prepare, I watched Bergeron tape a show, during which I noticed many surprising details, like the fact that the show is an hour long. It turns out I’d never actually seen America’s Funniest Home Videos, which made me even more anxious. When the show ended, I walked out to great applause, which–along with the bright lights and my loud, distracting heartbeat–made it hard to remember which cameras to look at, though I’m pretty sure there wasn’t one in my shoes. Then I brought two audience members up for a game called “Pick the Real Video!” in which I asked them if I was about to show a clip of a housefly stuck to a frozen hot dog, a penguin swimming in a hotel fountain or a leprechaun falling down an escalator. One of the contestants picked the leprechaun. The show is not called America’s Smartest Home Video Watchers.

Vin Di Bona, the show’s creator and executive producer, told me he’s leaning toward hiring someone famous and talented. Still, he said, while I was unpolished, I had some of that Bergeron magic, compared with the blunter skills of previous host Bob Saget. “He had to have laughter to know it was right,” he said. “You didn’t need that. You just presented and moved on.” Yes. That is exactly what I was trying to do. I was not just being quiet because all the jokes I could think of with a fly, a penguin and a leprechaun were racist.

Di Bona, however, thought I might be a better fit as a writer. So a few weeks later I spent an afternoon working for head writer Todd Thicke, who has been with the show since 1989. He has the same good looks and deep voice as his brother Alan Thicke and nephew Robin Thicke and, I’m guessing, other Thickes. I sat at a table with three other writers, looking at walls covered with index cards, on which were written things like “A boy comments on how to impress the ladies in the car. Then suddenly screams in a panic when he sees a spider” and “A dog shows its teeth and growls while a woman rubs its butt with her foot indoors.” This was going to be easy.

We stared at a screen and watched the very best 10% of submitted videos, as culled by screeners who I’m assuming work in Chinese prison camps. And they were still insanely boring–just cute pets, cute babies and uncute tweens dancing in their bedrooms. It took 90 minutes before we saw the first guy get hit in the testicles, which was the first time we laughed. “It’s weird,” I said. “As soon as someone gets hurt, people laugh.” Writer Mike Palleschi looked around the room and said, “I think that’s our fault.”

The writers had an amazing ability to predict, within just a few seconds, what would happen in the clips we watched, all of which provided me with valuable life lessons: don’t wear socks on kitchen tile; don’t run near the buttocks of an obese woman; use extreme caution when weight lifting at home alone; don’t leave flour in an area accessible to toddlers. Since AFV is a family show, the writers can’t use a lot of the best stuff, like a baby smiling widely after tasting a beer. “You can barely give a monkey a cigarette, no less a baby a beer,” said Erik Lohla. “The world has changed,” agreed Jordan Schatz.

So to make the clips seem more exciting, they combine them using clever frames like “Failed football entrances vs. babies knocked over by sneezes.” Thicke also set us to work creating alternative meanings for NSFW besides “not safe for work” that he could print below clips. At first I tried to write for clips we’d seen, such as “nice sprinkler fart, wanker” for the guy with the sprinkler stuck in his pants and “new style feline wevenge” for the cat who attacked a dog, but the other writers simply searched for new topics in their 25-year database of clips. They found me lots of guys falling off stripper poles for “never strip for women,” but Thicke thought that it wasn’t in great taste. And they didn’t seem excited about my suggestion that we take absolutely any clip anyone submitted and just write “no sense from within.”

It’s been several months, and I haven’t heard back about either job. Luckily, I have some pretty adorable footage of my son that I’m sure will win $10,000.

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