The following is an excerpt from Fred Stoller's new book Maybe We’ll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial TV Guest Star. It's about his disastrous one-night-stand with comedian Kathy Griffin. Stoller also blogged for us about his book.
I don’t know why trying to click with a woman is more elusive than trying to find that steady home in show business. They might even be connected. In show business, either I’m all over the place or in no place at all. And maybe I carry myself like this lost dizzy guy waiting to leap onto another short merry-go-round ride. But it’s always been hard for me, showbiz or relationships. I’ve always been a little off.
Maybe the truth is I’m not cut out to be in a steady relationship with a woman. It’s not my field. Maybe I’ve been blessed in some other way to make up for that. Perhaps my whole life I’ve been blessed with the gift of being the best scuba diver or the best at fixing rulers and have had no idea.
After I hung up the phone with my parents that day I felt a little sad because their reaction to my Suddenly Susan role made me question my life. I then wondered: What if I got what I wished for? What if the producers did find ways to bring me back on? Would that only subject me to more of my parents’ scorn? Would a good thing be turned into a headache? Maybe so. That’s what my mother’s best at.
A few months later came the dreaded wedding scene. It was actually going to be a double wedding. Vicki (Kathy Griffin), Susan’s kooky coworker and sidekick, would also be marrying her boyfriend in the same ceremony.
Joan Rivers played Kathy Griffin’s mother, and I expected her to be a bitchy prima donna. Though I had liked her when I was a kid and liked her book, Still Talking, about her comeback after her failed Fox show and the suicide of her husband, she was mostly known now for her snippy red carpet remarks. I expected a pampered whiny woman. But I was wrong. When I told Joan that my mother was unhappy that I was portraying “a gay,” she demanded to have her phone number. She took out her cell phone and wanted to call her right there on the spot and talk sense to her. She wanted to tell her how proud she should be of me and how silly she was being. My mother would have been so thrilled to get a call from Joan Rivers. Sadly, I didn’t have her number memorized, nor did I have a cell phone at the time it was programmed into.
Instead, the person I had problems with on set was Kathy Griffin. After rehearsals, she’d come up to me and say, “Me and Brooke see you and Bill aren’t holding hands. You’re being so homophobic. You should be holding his hand more.”
I couldn’t believe it. I knew this wasn’t an issue at all with Brooke Shields. Kathy was implicating her just to be more of a pain in the ass. It was like when my mother used to say to me, “You’re so fresh, even Aunt Faye says you’re fresh, even your father says that, even . . .”
I wasted several moments of my time defending myself. “Of course we were holding hands. We’re slow dancing. You have to hold hands when you slow dance.”
“No, you weren’t holding his hand. You let it go.”
I was amazed. She had to be making about thirty grand a show and she had nothing better to do than watch the guest actors to make sure they were being as gay as they should be. But she kept looking at me. “Hold his hand!” she’d yell across the stage in front of everyone. “I am,” I’d say, showing my grip around my partner’s hand. “Give me a break, will you?” I said as I walked away.
I had enough of her. We actually had two dates just a few years before that. She seemed to have gone out of her way to make me miserable on our dates, and also found ways to keep battering me on Suddenly Susan.
Back in 1992, after doing my best to socialize at a crowded party spilling with scores of comedians and comedy writers, I did what I usually do, being chronically socially awkward: I looked for the host’s pets to connect with. They were hiding, so the next best thing was to stare at photos of the cat that were stuck to the refrigerator. After a few minutes, this redheaded woman asked who I was. I was actually excited to meet her in person because I had just seen her as a dancer in a comedic parody, Madonna: Truth or Dare, on Comedy Central and remembered thinking she was cute. After some small talk I don’t recall, Kathy Griffin asked me to drive her to her car where she made it easy for me to make out with her. The next night I showed up at her apartment for a date. We stood there not even two minutes deciding what we should do, when she announced, “I’m wet.”
Hearing that made it seem appropriate to make a pass at that moment. I suppose I wasn’t that good in bed, because after we slept together, she kept pestering me to allow her to hit me in the face. Apparently she had just seen a TV movie about a woman who battered her husband, which gave her a craving to do the same.
“Why do you want to do that?” I asked.
“I have hostility towards men. They rape, watch porn, and go to strip clubs.”
“I only do two out of three of those,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. I thought I diffused the tension. We lay together peacefully for a few moments until she yelled, “Stop looking at my ass!”
We had just one date a few days after that. It happened to be my birthday. We were at a restaurant with about five of my friends and she refused to engage with any of them. She sat bored, exclaiming, “Why am I here? I usually hang out with cool people like Ben Stiller!” As her lover I’d failed, and now, I wasn’t gay enough for her either.
My visits to Suddenly Susan were enlivened by other celebrity guest stars. I got to commiserate with Tommy Smothers about what it was like to feel second-best to your older sibling. When I was a kid, I would ask my older sister why she got a middle name and I didn’t. I also felt slighted that there were dozens more baby photos of her than of me. “Don’t give me your Smothers Brothers crap!” she’d say. She was referring to their classic bit: “Mom always liked you best.”
The week Dr. Joyce Brothers guested on Suddenly Susan, I’d just had an unhealthy fling with an old girlfriend from New York City who happened to be in L.A. for a short visit, which stirred up a lot of old bad feelings. On a break from filming scenes, I went over to Dr. Brothers and started to talk to her about my feelings.
“I’ve been depressed. When I’m depressed, when I get really depressed, I can’t eat. I haven’t been able to eat more than a banana for a few days. Is that common?”
“Sometimes people go the other extreme. They can eat too much when they’re depressed.”
“Yes, that is true.”
And that was it. I walked away and stopped pandering for free therapy because I realized it was kind of crazy—she was like a cartoon character of a therapist, a punch line. In fact the show was using her as a joke. In the plot, one of the regulars goes to a costume party dressed up as Dr. Brothers and the joke was that the costume looked amazingly lifelike—the cast member dubbed his voice in synch as she moved her mouth. Asking her advice seemed like asking Will Ferrell playing President Bush on Saturday Night Live if he could help you get a bill passed. Suddenly Susan was actually nominated for a GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) award for its positive portrayal of homosexuals. It was a little ahead of its time before the explosion of gays on sitcoms. What Bill and I did was different than the usually flashy flamboyant way gays were portrayed. I played it the only way I play anything. I held back. I was pleased it got that little bit of recognition.
But we lost to Ellen DeGeneres.
A short while later, someone at Ruffles Potato Chips liked me and wanted me to be in a commercial playing Kathy Griffin’s boyfriend. However, my agent informed me that Kathy nixed me from the role, because she wanted someone “more macho” playing her boyfriend.
Excerpted with permission from Maybe We’ll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial TV Guest Star by Fred Stoller. Copyright 2013 Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.