"A Very Special Diary Entry"
by Tony Lagarto
September 15-17, 2000
Ever since my March 15 th visit to the SWC office in New York, when I first met Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, I had anticipated a return trip so I could actually tour the set and maybe watch part of an episode being filmed. When I heard that Comedy Central (or, as I refer to them now, "that network") wouldn't be ordering any more new episodes of SWC I knew that I had to coordinate quickly. I contacted the show's Additional Writer, Matthew Lappin, and picked Friday, September
When I realized that 3:00pm was approaching I started to walk back to the Felician campus on Montross Avenue. My timing was really good because right after I entered the lobby I saw Paul Dinello (Geoffrey Jellineck) walking down the familiar flight of school stairs with his mother. This was her first trip to New York and she had literally just arrived from the airport.
I turned to the left and recognized the school hallway lined with lockers, but it had obviously gone through a dramatic transformation. For the final episode, which was being referred to by one of its themes "Popularity", the corridor had been made to look like it had been through a devastating holocaust. In the story, Flatpoint High School is being turned into a strip mall and so, rather than allow this to transpire, faculty and students come together to destroy the place. I asked Paul to show me Jerri's locker so we stepped through the rubble, around the overturned trophy case, over the smashed Concrete Donkey, and made a mini pilgrimage to locker #15, the former home of Shelly, Klausen, Leslie, Suki, Gregory, and an assortment of male and female nudie photos (remember, Jerri Blank likes "the pole and the hole").
Paul and his mother left me so I continued exploring the set on my own. The small row of lockers, which includes Jerri's, is flanked by two classroom doors. Jellineck's art class is to the left and Noblet's history class is to the right. I stepped into the art class and marveled at all of the portraits of Flatpoint High's stentorian dictatorial leader, Principal Onyx Blackman. There were so many familiar pictures, among them: the Warhol-inspired quad, the bean & pebble mosaic, and the hypnotic photo with the speaker in the forehead, all from "Blank Stare".
I went outside to see if Matt Lappin had arrived. Dylan showed me to the dressing room in the adjoining castle-like building and he asked Paul Dinello if Matt had arrived yet. Paul said that Matt and Stephen Colbert were driving in together and were expected to arrive momentarily, which they did. I had been looking forward to meeting Stephen Colbert in person, we had only spoken on the phone a couple of times, so I went to introduce myself. I walked up to him and said my first name and Stephen knew exactly who I was, just as Dylan had. He told me how much he loves my web pages and that he and the crew have really appreciated all the work that I've done. I responded by telling him how much I've loved and appreciated what he and the crew have done. Stephen thought it was really funny when I told him that being there on the set for the last day of filming was like a "Trekkie" being invited to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. He may have thought that I was exaggerating, but I really wasn't. Stephen said that he had to head off to the dressing room to prepare for the first scene so I told him that I'd would be hanging around the set throughout the day. I was taken aback in disbelief when he asked if I'd like to be in the closing credits dance sequence. "Uh... Yeah!!!" What an exciting and unexpected thought.
Before long, the stars were on the set of the first scene to be shot, which would actually be the last scene of the show. They had to film the last scene first because it was an exterior shot and they had to take advantage of the daylight while they could. The scene would take place in the back of the building, in the same spot where Jellineck, Noblet, and Blackman had captured Jerri in a burlap sack and proceeded to beat her silly, in "Blank Stare, part 2". I watched the action from the sidelines with Mrs. Dinello.
In the final scene, Principal Onyx Blackman, Chuck Noblet, Geoffrey Jellineck, and Jerri Blank are standing on the hill behind the school. The most popular girl in school (played by Winona Ryder, in a rare TV appearance) had recently taken Jerri under her wing and had given her a complete make-over, but Jerri's moment in the bright sun of popularity is short lived. The faculty and students have just wreaked havoc and destruction on Flatpoint High and may have even killed some people in retaliation for their school building being turned into a strip mall (I wonder if the folks at "that network" will recognize the symbolism). Principal Blackman lights his cigar and recites the line, "I love the smell of flaming Sticky Buns in the morning." Then they realize that their reign of terror will probably land them in prison, until Jerri reveals her plan for the four of them to seek refuge in the seedy underbelly of society. They'll go back to Jerri's old stomping grounds, the streets, where they'll forage for food like dogs and sell their bodies for smack. Principal Blackman says, "Lead on, you junkie whore." When they hear the sound of approaching police sirens they run off into the sunset, with Noblet and Jellineck carrying Jerri because she can't run in her new heels.
I had met a few more crew members while the scene was being filmed who had heard of me and my web pages, one of whom was Lisa Terezakis, Amy Sedaris's stand-in and occasional extra. She had seen my "UConn Huskies" cap and told me that she used to live in Connecticut, too, and she had friends who went to UConn. She, like everyone else, treated me like a long-lost friend. After this scene was completed I snapped a few photos of the stars. Amy said to me, "It's so nice of you to be here", and I told her that I wouldn't have missed it for the world. What an honor and privilege for a devoted fan!
I decided to take a break and go for dinner in East Rutherford, then rest in my hotel room for a while. I knew that it would be a long night so I planned on returning to the set at 11:00pm.
(Friday, 9/15/00, 11:00pm - 4:00am)
When I returned to the set at 11:00pm the director, Juan Campanella, was setting up to shoot a Sticky Bunnery scene featuring Janeane Garofalo (Cassie Pines) and a very pregnant Sarah Thyre (Coach Wolf). This area of the set was pretty small so I hovered around the periphery and listened to the proceedings. I actually ended up spending most of the night in the Prop Room leafing through signs and posters ("Cheerleader Tryouts", invitations to Orlando and Melissa's parties, etc.) and strolling down Flatpoint's Memory Lane with some of the cast, extras, and crew. Teresa Mastropierro, the Production Designer, told me how she and Dylan would come up with some of their creations. For instance, the Clap's Chocolate Scabies cereal box evolved after they were told to create a food item related to the episode's theme. They were told that it would be breakfast and the theme was STD's, thus, "The Delicious Taste of VD in a Fun-to-Crunch Cereal" was born.
Not long after I began exploring the treasure trove of props, the Fagan siblings had arrived. Matt (Spiro), Liz, and Tim Fagan have been extras on the show for all three seasons. Even their father, Neil, had gotten into the act, playing Mr. Faganocoulos in "A Price Too High For Riches". For the last few months I had been in frequent email communication with Liz Fagan and she had been a great source of show info and behind-the-scenes photos. Fans will remember Liz in "Yes You Can't" on stage at the "Career Week" rally delivering the line, "...and that's why I want to work at the Artificial Flower Factory." During the same episode, brother Tim had his notorious line, "I wanna be a gangsta, with a crew, and knee-deep in bitches." For some reason, they dubbed brother Matt's voice in that same episode, but in "Hit and Run" it was really his voice when he asked Mr. Jellineck, "Do you know who hit you?"
We sat on Orlando's desk from "Blank Stare" and discussed some of the intricate connections that many cast and crew members have had from working together in other venues. He told me that he and Maria Thayer (Tammi Littlenut) had been in the same class at Juilliard. He had also acted in Paul Rudnick's "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told" with Amy Sedaris and Alan Tudyk (Father). One night in early 1999, Amy and Alan had attended a play in which Orlando and Maria were featured. It was after this performance that Amy had asked Maria to screen test for the role of Tammi. I had known that many members of the cast and guest cast have known each other from their days at Chicago's famed "Second City" troupe, but I hadn't previously heard much about Maria's background. Another piece had been placed in the puzzle for me.
We also discussed certain members of Orlando's fan base, one in particular from Natasha's JerriBlank message board at egroups.com who has given himself the epithet, "Orlando's Lover". He told me that he'd already been informed by friends of this particular fan's claim and he was a bit bemused at first, perhaps thinking that a delusional fan was claiming to be his (Orlando Pabotoy) actual lover rather than his character's (Orlando Pinatubo) lover. That's one little confusion that can arise from having a character with the same name as yourself. The fan's claim and his alternate sobriquet ("Jimmy Tickles' Master") are obviously just a tongue-in-cheek fantasy. I should have asked Orlando what his wife thought about it.
We then decided to check on the progress of the filming. Before we left the Prop Room, though, I told Orlando to make sure he took some souvenirs, lest they end up on a trash heap. I sat in the Student's Lounge area with Mrs. Dinello and watched the filming of Cheri Oteri and Mark McKinney's final scene, which was being shot at the bottom of the stairs. It's amazing to see how many times one short scene needs to be shot, at least four times from each required angle. In the scene, Hillary (Oteri) and Lee (McKinney) are taking room measurements for their diabolical plan to turn Flatpoint High into a strip mall. Principal Blackman (Greg Hollimon) catches them in the act and runs off in a frenzy. The director had to get a few good takes from Blackman's perspective and from Hillary and Lee's point of view.
Mrs. Dinello was such a trouper. She woke up that morning at 3:00am CST in Arkansas so she could travel to New York. After arriving at the Newark airport she was whisked away to the set in Rutherford. Earlier, Paul was able to break away from the set for a while so he and his mother went to dinner at Sardi's and then went to see "Chicago" on Broadway. After the show they returned to the set. When I looked at my watch I saw that it was almost 3:00am EST, so in another hour she would have been awake and on the go for 24 hours. I don't know how she did it, but it was more than I could stand.
I observed the filming of one more scene, in Principal Blackman's office. Then I heard that the format of the dance sequence was going to be changed because of the inability of so many cast members, guest stars, and extras to be there. It was now going to feature the primary cast members present and a group of crew members dancing in the burnt-out hallway set with a hand-held camera weaving among the assemblage. At this point I felt that the sequence should only feature those people who had put in such hectic hours and worked so hard for almost two years, so I decided to bow out and leave them with their final curtain call. I also thought that it would be nice to leave the last shot as a surprise for when the episode would air on October 2nd. I said my "thanks" and "goodbyes" for the evening and headed back to my hotel at around 4:00am. I just knew that if I didn't get some sleep I'd be in no shape to enjoy the wrap party the next night (or should I say "that night"?). I don't think that poor Mrs. Dinello had any idea that she and the rest of them would be there until after 7:30am.
Dreams on the Rocks
(Saturday, 9/16/00, 10:00pm)
I arrived at Opaline, in the East Village, at around 10:00pm and saw Orlando Pabotoy standing at the entrance. I knew I was in the right place. The Fagans were just inside the doorway, too. I had just arrived and already I'd seen four people that I "knew". That never even happens to my in DC. Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, and Greg Hollimon were already inside mixing in the crowd. It's amazing how alert and awake everyone was after working so late for so many nights. They all looked quite well rested.
Amy, Paul, Stephen, Matt Blumm, Troy Metcalf, Dylan, Matt Lappin, Lisa T., Teresa, and at least a dozen others from the wrap party had gathered on the sidewalk. It was a nice casual atmosphere and a lot easier to actually make conversation than at Opaline.
I told Stephen that, although I'd almost always "get" all of the jokes on the show, I didn't know if there was any significance in the name Captain Stacks. He explained that he had brought Amy and Paul to his home in North Carolina to write 8 out of the 10 third season episodes and while they were there they would go out to eat dinner at a place called "Captain Stacks". That little gem of trivia was just the kind of thing I'd love to have gotten more of, but after about 45 minutes of hanging around on the sidewalk someone in an apartment over the bar had thrown an egg down at us and shortly after that the police arrived. Apparently there was someone who was trying to get some sleep, but Amy joked that perhaps it was someone who had seen the show and hated it. That incident seemed to snap everyone back to reality for a minute and Amy, Paul, and Stephen decided that it was time to go home and catch up on some much-needed rest.
I, on the other hand, wasn't ready to leave yet, so I went inside the bar and hung out with the die-hard party people. When Mark Ibold (the bassist for Pavement) showed up, I asked him if he was at the party earlier. He said that he missed the party, but he lives in the neighborhood so he decided to stop by the after-party party. He also filled me in regarding his connection to the show: his girlfriend is Victoria Farrell, the show's Costume Designer.
At around 3:00am, many of my new friends were filtering out of the bar and making their way home and so I decided to do the same. I walked to my car, high on the excitement of the evening, and made the short drive back to my hotel in Rutherford.
Trail of Tears
(Sunday, 9/17/00, 2:00pm)
And so it happened, my final unforgettable weekend in "Flatpoint". During the long drive home, I tried to remember every detail of my adventure. It was a bittersweet time for me. Of course, it was wonderful to be around those warm talented people. These are people that I've admired so much and they treated me like I was the celebrity. Although I will probably (hopefully) see many of them again, it was sad to think that it was almost certainly the last time we'd all ever be assembled in one place at one time again. But we were together for a great reason, to celebrate all of the work that went into creating a show that has brought so many hearty laughs to so many people. "Strangers With Candy" will certainly go on beyond its abbreviated television life. It will undoubtedly influence the future projects of its creators, cast, and crew. Perhaps it will be resurrected as a feature film or a stage show. It will definitely live on at my web pages and hopefully in the "Companion" book that I'm shopping around to publishers. Who knows what its certain "cult status" will lead to? "That network" may have uprooted Flatpoint from the somewhat barren landscape of TV Land, but they can never take it from the hearts of the fans.
JUST ONE MORE!!!