As a Caucasian male, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been the victim of overt racism. My people have battled for years against pre-conceived stereotypes of one form or another. For example;
-The sushi chef who audibly snickered when I got a nasty splinter from obviously subpar chopsticks.
-The Hispanic landscaper who mocked me when I insisted that the topiary I paid him good money to carve did not even remotely resemble Poseidon.
-The African American theatre reviewer who used the words “hysterical blindness” when describing my one-man production of Dreamgirls.
In short, no one knows how I suffer. But I shall overcome.
Tongue has now been removed from cheek – As I said, I’m a middle-aged white guy – and if I had a nickel for every time I felt genuine racism directed toward me, I would have approximately five cents. But it’s a curious story, and one that took place at an audition, so I thought I’d share it. I’d also be interested in hearing tales of woe from someone other than us beleaguered white folk – but I’ll get to that shortly.
My father is Italian, and came to this country when he was nineteen. Being Italian, he speaks with an affectation that we students of language refer to as “An Italian Accent.” My mother is from The Bronx and her voice is a tad less mellifluous – a hybrid of Harvey Fierstein and Harvey Fierstein with an upper respiratory infection. She is also multilingual, fluent in English, Guilt and Profanity.
“I can speak Bronx – that is to say, I can tell you you’re a shitty driver from six friggin-blocks away.”
So I can speak Bronx – that is to say, I can tell you you’re a shitty driver from six friggin-blocks away. And having grown up with an Italian in my house, I can fairly easily parrot my Dad’s voice. So when an audition came up for a voice-over for an Italian brand of hairspray, I figured I was the guy. I had the accent. I had hair. Consider it booked.
I went in and read (this was a while ago… we actually had to GO to voice-over auditions). The Casting Director was kind and complimentary, and I was called back to read in front of the client.
The copy: (Insert pompous product name here) has a luxurious feel –a follicle-strengthening blend that offers control with no stiffness, as light as a Mediterranean breeze.
The storyboard showed a gorgeous couple walking along a Venetian canal. He also had hair, and judging by the hunger in the woman’s eyes, it would be pulled out shortly. Good thing he had the follicle-strengthening blend of (pompous product name here).
I finished the read, delighted with myself. The casting director gave a nod of approval. And that’s when the client, a British gentleman with a smile like broken M & M’s (stereotype alert!) weighed in with a suggestion.
Smiley: Paul, the accent is great – I love what you’re doing with it – but I’m looking for something a bit more… severe.
Me/Actual offspring of an actual Italian: Severe?
Smiley: Yes. I’m thinking… I don’t know… do you know those drawings… the gentleman has a mustache and a winking smile… like the picture…
And then he said it:
…on a pizza box.
Oh no non l’ha fatto. In case you’re wondering, Oh no non l’ha fatto is pizza box for “Oh no he d’int.”
Me: Ummmm. Yeah, I’m not going to do that.
Smiley: I beg your pardon?
Me: You asked for an Italian accent. I gave you an accurate Italian accent. I’m not comfortable doing some greaseball stereotype.
Smiley: You think I’m asking for a stereotype?
Me: “Be like the guy on THE PIZZA BOX?”
At this point, the Casting Director chimed in. I assumed to either reprimand me or him, but she had a far more practical (and in hindsight hilarious) question to pose:
CD: You realize you’re asking him to sound like a drawing?
Well, shock of shockers: I didn’t get the job. But did I want it? Oh no non l’ha fatto. I did, however, take a small bit of pleasure that something I said made it back to some boardroom somewhere. When I saw the spot a few months later, the voice-over was SO British it made Michael Caine sound like my mother.
I share this story as a lighthearted take on a very serious matter. If you have an experience of using humor while encountering “cultural misconceptions” (that’s PC for Prejudice) at an audition, send it to us a email@example.com. We’d like to hear about it. To laugh at this stuff is to weaken it and who knows? We might just trump some bigotry with laughter.