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How To Be a Hero
The joy of appreciating (and auditioning for) TV commercials, especially ones that include allergy sufferer, frustrated mom, and woman who likes eating chips
We all want to be heroes, right? So what if I told you I think heroes love television commercials? Or at least watch them. Let me explain. In my opinion, there are two types of people in the world: people who love commercials (heroes) and people who grab the remote control and press >FF through them (not heroes). Why do I care? Well, because I love commercials. And I’m an actress who painfully and agonizingly, err, I mean happily, auditions for commercials with hopes and dreams of starring in them. I can literally see my future, and it’s me in a revival commercial for Wendy’s screaming, “Where’s the beef?”
I've been obsessed with commercials since I was a little girl growing up in the razzle-dazzle lights of the suburbs. To me, commercial actors were megastars who exuded coolness. I imagined these actors having houses filled with the products they sold, like Bubbalicious gum, Bonkers candy, Sea Breeze, Sun-In, Giggles sandwich cookies, and Barbie dolls. I don’t even know how my obsession with commercials happened because, as a device-free 80s kid, like most children my age, I spent all my time outside—playing tag, swimming, and drawing hearts with chalk on the driveway. But somewhere along the way, it happened.
Suddenly, instead of trading scratch-and-sniff stickers and pedaling my pink Sweet Thunder Huffy bike to the park, I acted out toy commercials and sang “Kiss a little longer, Longer with Big Red” in the kitchen. I remember being in my Grandma’s bathroom holding up a bottle of Jean Nate and pretending to be a spokesperson, splashing it on my neck, acting “sexy” like I knew what sexy meant. When I could stay up late, I’d watch Saturday Night Live, praying they would spoof a commercial. (My favorite: Colon Blow, of course.)
My fixation continued into adulthood, so it was inevitable that after college, I’d move to New York and pursue my ultimate dream of starring in a commercial for tampons, toilet cleaner, or, if God granted me, a trusted product for heartburn, indigestion, nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea. Much to my delight, many of my newfound NYC friends thought like me and were also obsessed with commercials.
It wasn’t until years later, when my sister (a non-actor) and I hosted a Super Bowl party, that I realized actors carry an entirely different appreciation for commercials than normal people. That night, something remarkable happened. The room swiftly divided into two groups when the “big game” came on. My sister and her friends were in the group watching the game. They cared about the field goals, touchdowns, and Hail Marys. My actor friends and I were in another group.
During kickoff, we were picking at the food table, trading industry secrets, and chitchatting about improv. Then, as soon as the first commercial came on, the entire room switched places. The actors ran to the TV to watch intensely. The non-actors headed for the 12 foot (now 8.5 foot) sub on the table. The actors were focused on who got which commercial, screaming things like “I auditioned for that!” and “Why would he get it and not me?” It suddenly hit me that two kinds of people exist: those who obsess over commercials and those who don’t care. I was stunned. Half the people in my living room didn’t care about the commercials.
I thought long and hard as to why. After approximately three minutes, I wondered if they just didn’t understand the audition process. And by process, I mean the pain, aggravation, stress, and heightened anxiety surrounding booking a commercial. Truthfully, if you’re not an actor, how would you know? I don’t know what the stress feels like to make a real estate deal or the endured trauma of yelling on the stock exchange floor; I only know my pain—the pressure of a commercial actress. That’s actually a great name for a book. Anyway, I thought that perhaps by sharing the backstage, if you will, of the audition measures, people who don’t know can possibly discover an appreciation for the treacherous journey that is my career. Maybe if I received a tiny bit of sympathy, it would all be worth it, even if I didn’t book the job. (LOL j/k)
So here’s how auditioning goes. (I’ll wait while you roll your eyes.) Most days, if I’m not writing, watching Bravo, or listening to a murder podcast, I sit by the phone waiting for a call for an audition. It can take hours, days, weeks, sometimes months. But when the call comes in, it’s truly worth the wait. My agents will say something glorious, like, “Katina, we have an audition for you!” Ah, those magical words. This means that a breakdown came in of what the advertisers are looking for. I generally get called in for “allergy sufferer,” “frustrated Mom,” and “woman who likes eating chips.” But for these purposes, let’s say it’s for a tissue commercial, and they are looking for a woman who looks like she has a bad cold. This is where I come in. At the speed of light, I must gather all the information I can from various places: my soul, acting school, and my recollection of what I look and feel like when I’ve had a cold.
I may not have a cold, but I have to act like I have a cold. That’s where it can get tricky. If I haven’t had a cold in a while, I’m looking at a lot of research. Maybe I get called in for a mom who uses leak-proof diapers. Or a mom with a headache, back pain, or stress because of her children. But see, I’m not a mom in real life. Last time I checked, I had zero children, but I must act like a mom. I have to look the part, feel the part, be the part, take direction from the casting director, not be too over the top, act natural, be authentic, be friendly but not too friendly, read the lines correctly, deliver the lines accurately, make an excellent first impression, make a lasting impression, look good on camera, look like myself but also like the character, not seem too eager, be calm, and sell it without overselling. A few auditions in one day? I have to go from “woman who pees a little when she sneezes” to “frustrated office worker” to “person who gets bloated after eating.”
I must take my emotions to hell and back, showcase them, hope I get picked, book the commercial, and then expect it to air, pray it’s well received and that I look good. Then, count on it not being my last. Did you know that you can book a commercial, shoot a commercial, and then shortly afterward get a call that the commercial won’t air? Did you know you can get a callback, then another callback, then a third callback, hold the date, and still get released, only to go back to square one?
Here's my comedic take on what auditioning is like, from my web series, The Auditions:
Now, am I telling you all this to feel sorry for me? Sure, a little, but what I’m asking is that you watch a commercial from time to time. Look at the actor or actress who booked the job and think about all the stress they’ve been through. Appreciate them for their passion, effort, and luck of being the person, out of all the people, to book the job. Whether they’re eating cereal, mowing the lawn, or canoeing, I promise you it wasn’t a seamless journey, especially for an actor who lands an audition for a pharmaceutical commercial. People in those commercials are very active, so you have to expect you’re going to do something outdoorsy. You never see someone in a prescription medication commercial calmly strolling through the park. These people are always very active. Once, I auditioned for a pharma ad where I was told I’d be parasailing in the commercial. They asked if I had experience. “Of course,” I said through clenched teeth. (Thankfully, I didn’t book it.) But I ALWAYS HAVE TO BE READY!
So, I interrupt this article with a commercial break to thank you for listening. I hope I have booked the job of getting you to understand why it’s heartwarming for me to know you care. Selfishly, maybe now it won’t feel like I’m auditioning for nothing. My wish is that there’s a remote possibility you will watch commercials. Get it? Remote. Now, when a commercial comes on, even for a second, you pause, rewind your thinking, and before hitting the fast-forward button, you play hero and watch them all through. I’ll do my part in being a hero by booking them for us. (Except if I have to parasail. No thank you.)
Katina Corrao is an actress, comedian, and writer. The New York Times calls Katina a “staple in the New York comedy scene.” Her first comedy album, Hot Date, debuted at #1 on the iTunes comedy chart. Her second comedy album, Less Bitter, More Glitter, with comedian Kendra Cunningham, rose to #2 in the country. She is most proud of her pandemic passion projects, making The Auditions web series with her sister and publishing her first children’s book titled Katina von Silly!
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