Eavesdropping

Fred Stoller Versus the VHS Demo Tape

The Brooklyn comedian hilariously recalls a neurotic adventure from his memoir involving a demo tape, the U.S. postal system, and his obsessive tendencies.

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Image courtesy of Fred Stoller.

If you’ve ever watched TV, chances are you’ve seen comedian Fred Stoller in action. He’s had roles on series like “Scrubs,” “Friends,” and “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which led to the very self-aware title of his memoir, “Maybe We’ll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial TV Guest Star.”

Stoller, who was also a staff writer on “Seinfeld,” shares the true story of how his obsessive tendencies turned the simple task of mailing a demo tape… into an ordeal.  Listen above to hear him tell the tale off-the-cuff, or read on for the prose version:

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In Los Angeles, people hardly ever walk the streets. It’s just not really done. The town is massively spread out and it’s rare that the three things you need to do are within a four-block radius. People think you’re a mental patient if you’re over thirty five and walking by yourself in L.A. A woman from one of my former acting classes used to wait tables at a restaurant by my apartment. Once when I was walking by she came out and had to say something.

Maybe We'll Have You Back 9781620877067“Hey, um, I see you walking by all the time. What’s wrong?”

But I like to walk. I like to find the places where others might be so I can feel I’m interacting. I’ll find a mall. If you’re walking around a mall, you can pretend you’re shopping and seemingly have a purpose. And when I walk, I hope something might happen that will change my life. It’s the same hope as when I check my voicemail or email messages. I just hope that getting out of my house will lead to some miraculous chance encounter.

Perhaps that’s why I put so much pressure on my demo reel when I bumped into film director Amy Heckerling at the Beverly Connection mall. Her daughter had recognized me from “Seinfeld” and that started a little conversation. Amy Hecklerling was the director of such films as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Look Who’s Talking,” and “Clueless.” She had actually seen me twenty years earlier when I first started out as a comedian in New York City. After our friendly talk, she asked who my agent was. I mentioned them and not to my surprise, she had never heard of them. Then being a bit brave, I asked if I could send her my tape. (I suppose I learned nothing from my harsh initiation to Hollywood when Billy Crystal slammed me for asking if I could send him one.)

Apparently I didn’t “push it” too far with her and she said to call her office and her assistant would give me her home address for me to send it. I was excited. I thought she’d watch it and maybe have me in mind for something she was working on.

I brought the tape to the post office after anxiously deciding what my cover letter should say. I called a friend and he said the simpler, the better. It was two lines: “It was great bumping into you last week. I hope you enjoy the tape.”

I put that note and tape into a padded envelope, but was still a little nervous. Even though I had checked it seven times, I was worried I might have put a porno tape by accident in with a cover letter cursing her out. Of course that was impossible because at the time I didn’t own any porno films. I was nervous, but no, I would fight my OCD and not reopen the envelope. I’d be brave and trust my feelings that I checked it well enough.

At the post office, I put the envelope through the bulletproof case enclosure and told them I wanted to send it first class. The postal worker then, to my horror, stamped it “First Class.” Well, actually in my scared mind she came down full force on the package smashing it as if she were killing a bug.

I went home and called my friend asking him whether stamping the package breaks the video. He said probably not, but I should have sent it in a cardboard box instead of just a paper envelope. Now I really was nervous.

“But it wasn’t just paper. It was lined with that bubble protective stuff.”

“It probably will be fine. But I’m just saying that when you ship a video out, it’s better to put it in those cardboard boxes because they throw things around from the bin to the truck and you want the best protection.”

Now I was picturing her getting the package, opening it up, and either seeing it in little bits or finding out it didn’t work. I would feel so stupid. I’d probably never get a second chance to send another tape. My friend said it wasn’t a long trip so chances were it wouldn’t get tossed around that much in the truck. But I had to hang up and reassure myself.

I took another demo reel I had and put it into another identical envelope and sealed it. Then I smashed down on it pretending I was the postal worker stamping it first class. I even stamped it a little harder. Then I threw it aside on my floor in my imaginary bin and then around my room as if that’s what it might have gone through on its tumultuous one-day journey from Los Angeles to Beverly Hills.

I then opened the package, put the videotape in my machine, and then the moment of reassurance–it worked! A week later I got a call from Amy Heckerling saying thanks for the tape and that she and her family enjoyed it. To this day, nothing has happened for my career as a result of that, but at least she didn’t put something in that didn’t work because of a stupid envelope.