It’s 2 a.m., and Becky just got called into the office. Well, sort of…Late night emails and writing jokes til sunrise are the norm when you’re a cast member of MTV’s Wild’n’Out, a fast-paced comedy sketch and improv show.
Becky is one of the newest on the Wild’n Out team, where she frequently shows off her improv skills in comedy and rap battles. And she usually finds out about what segments she’ll be performing the night before they tape.
This particular night’s call to action? “The Hating Game.” The 2 a.m. email informed her she’d be playing with Jay Leno. It’s a parody on the old game show “The Dating Game.” And Instead of giving Becky a role, the email simply said, “Becky, just do your characters.”
You may already know Becky without realizing it. Sometimes she wears a brunette, bull-cut wig as ‘Alan Ginsberg, the world’s youngest billionaire tech guru.’Or you may know ‘Deb, the androgynous tour guide,’ another of Becky’s most popular. During the election season, I watched Becky dressed as ‘Young Hillary Clinton’ twerking on stage with rapper Nelly on my Snapchat feed. That is not fake news. That actually happened.
So, being told to ‘do your characters’ wasn’t alarming. But the lack of direction certainly was.
Becky manically pours over her joke book til sunrise. She’s writing what she thinks the producers of the show would want her to write. Roasting jokes, you know, jokes about Jay’s chin, or his matching denim outfits. The normal stuff people bag on Leno for.
The following morning during rehearsal Becky starts delivering all of her roast jokes she prepared. They fall flat. Not even a chuckle. Nick Cannon and the Nile Evans, the executive producer, walk over to Becky and tell her jokes were too mean spirited. That they needed to make sure Jay didn’t feel bad.
“It was just the worst feeling… like, I had the worst pit in my stomach.”
The episode films in an hour, and Becky has to start from scratch.
On the verge of a panic attack, Becky throws the rules book out the window. She stopped writing what she thought the producers would think was funny and started writing what she thought was funny.
She transformed herself to “Ziggy,” a Southern woman who’s politically incorrect, racist rants would make Donald Trump blush. Armed with only a notebook of untested jokes and southern charm, Becky’s “Ziggy” was created just in the knick of time. The ink had hardly dried in her notebook when she was summoned to run jokes with Jay Leno.
“I just remember thinking, say the punchlines to him how you’re going to say them in the sketch, ya know? So that he gets the joke. So that he really gets what I’m trying to do with this character.”
Jay starts running lines for the sketch with questions for “The Hating Game.”
“What would you do to get me to fall in love?” Jay asks.
In her thickest Southern drawl, Becky croaks out, “Ohhh that’s easy. I’d bring you right on back to my trailer… Lay you down real soft like on my extra spring air mattress and boy, I’d make you $%& so hard that you’d have to put on a Nick Cannon movie to fall back asleep!”
Then, the shock wore off and an explosion of laughter hit the greenroom. Jay loves Ziggy! Each answer gets dirtier than the last, and soon it’s showtime.
Becky patiently waits backstage for the commercial break to end wearing her overalls and snug brunette bull cut wig. She is no longer Becky Robinson, she is ‘Ziggy.’ A fellow cast member sees her standing in the wings and says to her, “We don’t wear wigs on this show. You should take that off.”
“Shut up.” Becky quickly snapped backed.
“Shut. Your. Mouth. I am doing this, and this is what we’re doing! This is what we planned on doing! These are the jokes I’m doing! This is a character piece and God D***** I’m doing it as a f****** character piece! So, shut up.”
The lights come on, cameras start to roll and Becky’s performance proceeds to receive giant applause breaks. Laughter was crashing in like tidals waves. Even Lenoa hard time keeping it together.
Comedy isn’t one size fits all. It’s challenging, and tough to swallow sometimes. As a comedian, I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in worrisome thoughts like bombing. My suggestion? Be like Becky. Focus on your x-factor. Don’t try to squeeze into what you think other people want from you. What happens if you don’t bomb? What happens if that idea of yours is on the verge of something spectacular.
I’ll tell you what happens. You get a phone call from your management the next morning saying, “I don’t know what you did last night, but I’ve been getting phone calls all morning from agents and networks that all want to meet with you.” At least, that’s what happened to Becky.
Stay true to yourself. Don’t be afraid to be different... And for God’s sake, do your characters.