Spin City was a terrifically funny TV comedy that ran in the late 90’s. It was an important show because it marked the return of Michael J Fox to Network TV, it was the only network comedy to shoot in New York City and perhaps most importantly, it was the first time I had a speaking role on a prime time sitcom!
The co-creators of Spin City were Gary David Goldberg, and a young man named Bill Lawrence. In addition to giving me my first speaking role on a television sitcom, Mr. Lawrence was also kind enough to invite me to the tapings of the show every Friday night, to the parties after the show, and to let me hang around and watch how the show was made. One Friday night, one of the principal actors on the show, the talented and likeable Richard Kind, said to me, or at least in my direction, “there’s really no reason not to get a laugh on every line.” Then he wandered over to the set, he played the scene and he got a laugh where one did not seem to exist. I always remembered that off the cuff comment as unintentionally, sage advice. It seemed like a more practical, less pretentious way of saying “there are no small parts only small actors.”
About 5 years later, I got to work for Mr. Lawrence again, this time, on another show he created called Scrubs. My part on the show was always meant to be a supporting one - very supporting. My character's name was listed number 9 on the Call Sheet. That meant there were at least 8 characters more important than mine. Nevertheless I rehearsed and prepared and obsessed over every moment that was written for me because in my mind, and thanks to Richard Kind, “there’s really no reason not to get a laugh on every line."
After it's first season of being a critically acclaimed show, the Season 2 premiere of Scrubs was set to air after Friends on Thursday night. Must See TV! Incredible! It was a huge opportunity for the show to connect with a larger audience. In the episode there was a scene between the 2 lead characters of the show, JD & Elliot (the incredible Zach Braff & the incredible Sarah Chalke), about the sexual tension between them, and about whether or not they would be “together.” This was one of, it not the main emotional story line for the next 7 seasons of the show. Meanwhile my character was in the background, flexing and admiring himself in the mirror. At the end of that scene I was supposed to “rat tail” JD with the towel I was wearing around my waist. But I knew that when I took my towel off, I couldn’t be naked, the moment would get cut from the show. I had to wear something underneath. Something funny and memorable! (Also, with the beautiful Sarah Chalke courageously (as always) appearing in a bra in this scene, it would be hard for anyone to remember anything else!)
So in the week prior to filming, I brainstormed with the Wardrobe department, they sent an assistant to go shopping and she returned with a dozen or so “Speedo type” Banana Hammocks for us to choose from. We settled on the flame colored Banana Hammock for me to wear as it matched the flame colored scrubs cap I was beginning to wear more and more on the show.
Here’s where the story gets weird…
On the day we were to shoot this scene, I was in my dressing room, preparing. This consisted of me shaving my chest, slathering oiling all over my chest and body, slipping on my Banana Hammock, perfecting my “rat tailing” technique for a crisp snap, perhaps by wetting the end of the towel, and lifting weights (I kept them in my dressing room) so I would look as pumped up as possible. (In the later years of the show, I learned to have the Make Up department simply paint on a 6-pack, and shade in where the muscles should have been). Despite all of this preparation, I wanted to do more, to make a bigger impression, it was a quick moment in the scene and I wanted to make it count. So perhaps in an inspired moment of creativity, or insanity (it’s a fine line), I pried off the cushiony grip from the weight bar and I slipped it around my penis to enhance the size of my package. Yes, an actor, fitting a weight grip around his penis, under a Banana Hammock, to make said package look bigger on camera…and that actor was me.
I studied myself in the mirror, considering my new look: “come one, no one will believe that’s real.” So I pulled off the weight grip, grabbed a scissor, cut it in half, and then slipped it back on. Hmm, I really wasn’t sure. I wanted a second opinion. Where was Richard Kind when I needed him? We could have had a long discussion about the proper sized package enhancer to ensure maximum comedic effect.
So I popped my head outside and saw one of the Executive Producers of the show in the hallway. Randall Winston was a trustworthy, well respected gentleman, and a friend. I invited him into my dressing room and said: “Take a look at this, what do you think?”
Then I stood back and assumed a pose, which was basically me presenting myself to him with my enhanced banana hammock.
“…ah. Not sure what to say…”
“I mean, is it too big?” I asked.
I turned profile so he could see the enormous mound I had created under my Banana Hammock.
“’well, ah...still not sure what you are looking for here Rob—"
He was caught off guard, confused, of course he was. After all, asking Mr. Winston into my dressing room for his opinion on the size of my package, all the while, shaved, oiled up, slightly out of breath from lifting weights and wearing a Banana Hammock might seem a little odd. Did I mention that among other things, Mr. Winston is also gay. (He later admitting that he momentarily thought I might have been hitting on him).
So I explained to him that I had been thinking about this scene ever since I got the script. I wanted this moment to be visually memorable, so I slipped on a weight grip around my penis to make it look bigger.
“What?! You did what?”
And so I showed it him - to clear up all confusion. I lowered my Banana Hammock and showed him the cut off weight grip wrapped snuggly around my penis and asked him “is it too much?” Do you think this “prop penis will play? Or will the network cut it from the scene?”
After the slightest of pauses Mr. Winston looked up and said to me:
“I don’t think you need it Rob. You’re doing fine without.” (At least I remember him saying that second sentence as well.)
And with that, he turned and left my dressing room.
Relieved, I decided to shoot that scene “au natural,” no enhancements necessary, thanks to the collaborative input from Mr. Randall Winston. It turned out to be a great scene between JD & Elliot. And my contribution to it played quite nicely - oiled up, admiring myself in the mirror (Mirror Todd) and wearing a Banana Hammock was enough to create a quirky, memorable comedic moment, from a quirky, earnest actor, playing a quirky, earnest, supporting character, who eventually became known as the Todd.
When I look back at my years on Scrubs, I have many great memories, but one of my favorites is simply that of a guy, brainstorming in his dressing room, wearing a Banana Hammock, with a cushiony weight grip wrapped around his penis, or not, trying to figure out how to get a laugh on every line...
The season 2 premiere of Scrubs was the highest rated episode for the show ever. It was watched by 22.31 million people...sometimes you just got to #hammockup.