News Article

Host Wanted

Joel Stein sits with the ''Dumb and Dumberer'' stars. Comedy Central asked EW's columnist to host an episode of ''Reel Comedy''

FEAR FACTOR Stein plays ''Dumb'' when forced to speak in front of a crowd
Image credit: Joel Stein Illustration by Eric Palma
FEAR FACTOR Stein plays ''Dumb'' when forced to speak in front of a crowd

Joel Stein sits with the ''Dumb and Dumberer'' stars

I am not a humble man. You may have gathered as much from the giant headline in which I claim to have a TV show named after me. So when I told Comedy Central that I suck on camera -- that I get all stiff and panicky and Bill Gates-y -- I didn't expect them to mistake my honesty for self-effacement. But still they hired me to host an episode of ''Reel Comedy,'' their half-hour behind-the-scenes movie show. The movie they wanted me to go behind was ''Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.'' This was starting to make sense.

I flew out to Los Angeles last Monday to start preparing for my ''Reel Comedy.'' It turned out that the episode is being paid for by the film's studio, New Line. The producers advised me to keep away from questions for the actors that made fun of the film or pointed out that the actors were not actually Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, who starred in the original. That reduced my arsenal of interview topics to sex and stupidity, instead of my normal range of sex, stupidity, and ''how come you suck?''

At 8 p.m. last Thursday, I showed up at Simi Valley High School, where several hundred kids were bribed with free T-shirts to both be my audience and make me more nervous. I kept telling everyone on the set that I wasn't a real host, I was a journalist who didn't even have journalism training, but they just laughed. The weird thing about landing a job is that by doing so, people assume you're qualified. I am now choosing my doctors much more carefully.

As the camera swooped down on me and the taping started, I gripped my microphone eighth-grade-girl tight and used it to cover as much of my face as possible while monotonely reading my name off the TelePrompTer. Unfortunately, it was only seconds before I had to say other people's names, an endeavor I found infinitely more difficult. When I introduced the film's stars, Derek Richardson and Eric Christian Olsen, I accidentally said ''Eric Christian Lloyd,'' which might involve the name of his character in the movie. I'm not sure. I'm not even sure, a week later, which one was Eric and which was Derek. If their names hadn't rhymed I wouldn't have even gotten that far.

The third time I said ''Eric Christian Lloyd,'' the assistant director started to get mad, which was fair, since the name was written in bold type on a TV monitor not two feet from my face. Trying really hard not to say ''Eric Christian Lloyd'' only seemed to make the phrase ''Eric Christian Lloyd'' come out more easily. By the fifth time I flubbed the intro, the students went from booing to suggesting I get into the set's special-ed yellow bus, a replica of the bus in the movie. Worse, the seventh time they started giving me that soothing, fake pity-love usually reserved for the dim. One kid yelled, ''You can do it, Joel!'' while several others chanted my name and a 16-year-old girl tried to teach me breathing exercises. I have never been more certain, in every fiber of my being, that Carson Daly is a very talented man.

I did better when I interviewed ''Dumb and Dumberer'' costars Rachel Nichols and Mimi Rogers, mostly because my awkwardness around attractive women trumps my awkwardness in front of the camera. But despite the cruel taunts of the high school kids, which eerily reminded me of previous cruel taunts of high school kids, the Comedy Central people were very supportive. They went so far as to imply that they would hire me for the next episode of ''Reel Comedy,'' which I can only assume is for ''The Other Sister 2.''

Their kind lies notwithstanding, I wonder: In a world where everyone gets his own reality show, where people pulled off the street chat with David Letterman, and where high schools pimp out their campuses to movie studios, how did I become the last person to be nervous in front of a camera? How did I, who writes freely about my unhealthy (at least according to the EW letters department) sexual preoccupations, become the only person undone by the thought that Comedy Central viewers will like me less than naughty puppets?

The ''Dumb and Dumberer'' episode of ''Reel Comedy'' airs this week. I'll be damned if I'm going to tell you exactly when.

Originally posted Jun 13, 2003 Published in issue #714 Jun 13, 2003 Order article reprints