On Saturday June 2, 2012 at 3:44pm Carol Burnett called me. Let me rephrase that.
Thee C-A-R-O-L B-U-R-N-E-T-T called me, on the telephone.
I was driving along, five-year old in tow, and my cell phone rang. The number said, ‘BLOCKED’. I picked it up (admittedly without a headset on) thinking it was my son’s father and I’d quickly hand the phone to my boy in the back seat. It was not his dad. I put the phone on speaker and the familiar voice said, “Hello Rosemary? This is Carol Burnett.”
The world went into slow motion. (And this, children, is why you should never talk on your cell phone and drive!! Your idol might call you and you could freak out.)
But the weird part is, I knew why she was calling and, I was expecting it even though I was unprepared. A week or so earlier I had written a letter to Ms. Burnett at 2 am. I was unable to sleep that night and I started thinking about my life and how I had come to be doing mostly voiceovers for a living (albeit a rocky one). I thought about my childhood and the years I spent mimicking Carol Burnett and her vast characters. By 4:00 in the morning my letter to the legendary comedienne was complete. Writing it felt so satisfying and moved me to tears often as I got to revisit the closeness and heart-aching sensation I felt towards her as a little girl. I was certain back then that we knew each other from some other time on some other plane, but somehow she just didn’t know it yet!
I asked her in the letter if she would be interested in producing a variety-type show with me, and/or if she would mentor me. I told her about my website, and how profoundly grateful I was for the light that she gave the world and to me specifically. She changed my life in ways that she had no way of knowing and I wanted to tell her! Little did I know she was about to change my life again in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of.
The conversation went well. She spoke in English and I challenged her with my native gibberish sprinkled with muffled sobs, squeals and laughter.
She graciously pretended that I wasn’t acting like a moron and said, “I got your letter, and I just went to your website.” I began trying to suck air from the atmosphere. I told her I needed to pull-over. She felt badly….”Oh, you’re driving”. “No it’s okay.” I pulled into the strip mall. She continued to talk about my videos and singing and I think she said the words “you’re” and “amazing” or “terrific” together? I don’t quite remember but let’s just say adjectives were used and they sounded pretty good.
I choked out some words about my son being in the back seat and she immediately and tenderly asked me how old he was. I said five and a half. She said it was a great age and that she had a grandchild that age. Was Carol Burnett trying to have a conversation with me on the phone? What planet did I just land on? Should I ask her about her family? I didn’t know!
She asked me if I had an agent. “No”. Well, why didn’t I? she wondered aloud. Part of me was dying to say, ‘Because my life has been waiting for this moment, right now, with you”. Part of me wanted to pitifully wax on about ‘the business’ and how ridiculously hard it is to get people to look at your work, including family and friends with good connections! Part of me wanted to tell her about the bad career choices that I was responsible for. But all I kept thinking was that I didn’t want to take up her time!
I mumbled out a story quickly about a very recent rejection I had gotten from the owner of one of the top VO agencies in Hollywood. My friend Al said I could use his name as a reference. It didn’t matter. The owner clearly didn’t even bother with my stuff and even if I am wrong, his response was that he had enough voiceover actresses like me. (Specifically he wrote: there really isn’t any room to expand right now given your abilities and POV. Never did quite understand what he meant by my point of view? Was this a political statement?) Anyway, upon hearing this, Ms. Burnett said…“But you’re not just a voiceover artist. You just need to be in-front of the camera”. She then went on to say that she didn’t know Lorne Michaels personally but that she would contact him on my behalf.
Ok, I think with that statement my body was now hovering somewhere about 200 feet above the Jimbo’s market? I can’t be sure. All I know is that I was living the moment I had been visualizing without ceasing for months. (I was also hyper aware that my hungry child in the back had NEVER been so quiet or still as he was during that phone call. And I would give anything now to have a video of him watching me react so oddly to the nice sounding woman on the phone.) Ms. Burnett said more words in English while I switched to Pig Latin. She then ended our conversation with an incredibly sweet goodbye. The call lasted 5 minutes and 11 seconds.
As time passed that day, my elation turned into self-loathing. I was certain she understood that the REASON I didn’t have an agent was because I was a complete nut job who couldn’t communicate in full sentences.
Later that night, as I got into bed I bought her memoir on my Kindle. I only had enough energy to read one chapter. It was the only one I needed to read and the one I was meant to read. In it she told about the spiritual-like connection she felt as a child with her idol Jimmy Stewart. Later when she met him for the first time on a set, she made, what she thought, was a total fool of herself. Years later the two would become good friends which was all she needed to conclude the chapter with the words ‘dreams can come true’.
As fate would have it, Ms. Burnett did contact Lorne Michaels and it “just happened to be” right at the time when they were auditioning people for the new Saturday Night Live season starting tomorrow night. I was flown to NYC in July and did the standard SNL five-minute audition in front of LM and the other producers and writers. (If you’re wondering, you go on the stage, perform and get off. No chit chat. No introductions, no hellos.) For the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed doing an audition. I am a terrible auditioner, which is why I love voiceovers. But there’s something about having someone like Carol Burnett tell you you’re ‘okay’ that boosts a fella’s confidence. And I must have done okay because a few weeks later I got an email asking me to come out, not to perform, but just get to know some of the producers better. I did, and we had some wonderful meetings. The ‘vibe’ of the people on that show is truly something amazing. There is a very genuine air about the place and I know that comes from Lorne Michaels even though I haven’t spoken to him personally. I came back to California and felt pretty good about things until one night I woke up thinking, ‘I’m gonna have to go audition again.’ I checked my phone and there was a text asking me to come back in five days with some more “Hillary” as well as other new stuff. I was a bit surprised and feeling less confident now, but they assured me it was ‘normal’. And at every step on this journey I would email Ms. Burnett and her sweet assistant to tell them the latest development. They were both so encouraging. It would be my fourth trip actually back to the East Coast in 45 days.
I came up with completely new, untested characters for the second audition and was working on them up to the last minute. It was gutsy but I felt like I would do okay taking those risks. Physically, however, I was at the point of exhaustion on the day of the audition. Not because of the creative process but because of the travelling, the time changes, the stress and chronic bouts of insomnia that have hovered around me for eleven years.
I was near throwing up because of the fatigue. All I could think of the entire day, was not about the fun of getting a second chance to perform on the SNL stage!! but the relief I would get by going to bed immediately after the audition. I left NY the next day not quite in the happy place I had been in. As the season start date neared I would check ‘SNL news’ on the internet until one day this week I read about the young people they had hired from Chicago. I passed the info on to the Burnett camp just in case they didn’t know. And in truly awe-inspiring fashion, Carol Burnett called me again on my cell phone yesterday. This time when the word BLOCKED came up I knew it was her. She told me how sorry she was that I wasn’t selected. We continued to chat. And this time I spoke English. She told me about her upcoming trip to New York to do some TV appearances as her beloved variety show is coming out in a newly packaged DVD via Time-Life. She wished my son well and sent her love.
While getting a life-changing job like SNL would have been great for my bank account, I’m lucky enough to have a child to keep me grounded in the certainty that life is about love. The love I felt from my girlfriends who helped me with the logistics of having a small child and flying across the country on a moment’s notice is beyond words. The love I have felt from friends and family so hoping for my good fortune has been priceless and the love I have felt from THEE! Carol Burnett is truly a perfect way to end this chapter. Nothing bittersweet about it. Dreams do come true.