Our town, our beautiful Denver, is being hussied up in slut skirts and hair gel just so some corporate dicks can film their next season of The Real World. Our pure mountains majesty, our folksy ways, being sullied and pranced around like some martini-infused, oversexed marionette peering into the wasted glory hole of American excess!
It's about goddamn time. Seriously, what does it take for a decent city to get sullied now and again?
Yes, we may despise The Real World, just as we hated the new kid in the neighborhood who showed up at the local dirt hills with his electric scooter and awesome Game Boy and a dad who never hit him. Sure, we might have thrown rocks at his house -- but only because we wanted to be inside his house, playing Jenga with Dad. Or, perhaps, in the Jacuzzi, dry-humping some bimbo from Fort Worth. Sure, we might sneer at The Real World coming to Denver, but on a deeper, more profound level, we desperately wanted to be a part of this celestial sphere of reality television.
And then it hit us: We could make up our own seven-person cast, with a TV crew and producers, and then spend a night out raising a spectacle.
A fake Real World. Oh, hell yes.
It actually took a lot more consideration than we imagined to assemble a phony cast of characters that could accurately fill the cliched niches found on the real Real World: farm girl, cynical rocker, intelligent inner-city girl, party chick, gay guy, frat boy, etc. Instead of a stadium full of overeager applicants, our candidates were harvested from the lukewarm margins of our staff. As normal people go, everyone is pretty decent-looking, but none of them have the ultra-hottie exteriors now mandatory on the MTV franchise.
Local filmmakers Johnny Morehouse and Ben Kronberg volunteered to work as our bogus camera crew. Craig Peña, John Killup and Juanito Tamez signed on as our beefcake security detail. Funnyman Adam Cayton-Holland and I donned clipboards and suddenly morphed into full-fledged asshole producers. And then there was the most vital piece of official paraphernalia: plastic lanyards that read "Real World." (Not with the current logo, mind you, but the scribbly old-school logo, circa 1993.)
After outfitting the cast with non-functioning wireless microphones and battery packs borrowed from Channel 12, we set off around 8 p.m. in a beat-up newspaper-delivery van to Mezcal. As our gaggle assembled around the corner, I shook off any vestiges of self-doubt and marched into the busy cantina. I waved my clipboard and cell phone, spoke authoritatively to the bartenders about "what I need" and scooted some customers off a row of stools. The restaurant was already aflutter with speculation when the cast rolled in, buffered by our security and cameras. Every neck in the restaurant craned to see the commotion while our fakers sidled up to the bar.
"Oh, my God!" exclaimed two young women. "No. Way." It was barely 8:20 p.m., and they were already slurring drunk. "You're The Real World!"
Every time a bystander talked to one of the pretend cast members or got anywhere near a camera shot, I swooped in with a Real World filming release waiver. "If you don't sign it, we'll have to blur out your face on national television," I told them in my best asshole-producer voice. After I got the bartender to fix up the cast with a round of tequila shots and beers, the ball really got rolling. Instantly, T.J. "whiteboy rapper" from Rochester had the two drunk women sitting on his lap and mugging for the camera like some horrible Girls Gone Wild throwback. When a drink-ordering patron made the mistake of stepping in front of the camera, one of the women turned and muttered, "Don't fuck this up for me. I'm going to be on MTV no matter what it takes."
After 45 minutes of boozing, we took our throng out the door. As we passed, the hipsters at the Goosetown Tavern scowled and flipped us off, but we didn't care. We were walking on sunshine. "I seriously cannot believe how easy that was," said "farm girl" Molly. "No one even questioned a single thing."
Our group of un-extraordinary twenty-somethings had been instantaneously transformed into pseudo-celebrities merely by virtue of cameras, clipboards and lanyards.
"Hi, this is Adam. I'm with The Real World," my fellow producer said into his cell phone as our van headed to Govnr's Park Restaurant and Tavern. "Yeah, we're going to be down there in fifteen minutes. Can you set aside an area for us?"
Again, I walked into the crowded bar ahead of the others and discovered that the management had already reserved an entire area of couches for our exclusive use. Word had apparently spread among the natives that the Real World cast was showing up. When Team Sham strode in with camera lenses blazing, the bar-goers glanced up and then looked away quickly, trying to pretend they weren't interested. Later, they sidled up to the security staff, hoping that flirting with the boys would get them into the inner circle.
I stayed within earshot of the cast and warned them about their "contractual obligation to not reveal anything about the show" and made all the random floozies jockeying for couch space sign waivers. One of the girls, I later discovered, signed her name as Paris Hilton. "Ohmygawd," I imagine her saying to her friends the next day. "I totally pulled one over on The Real World!" Uh, yeah.
A tray of beers and shots appeared. And then another.
"Cynical rocker" Geoff and "semi-closeted Latino" Chris were filmed having an engrossing conversation about appropriate use of the word "gay." "Party girl" Alexis went to the bathroom and returned with two spiky-haired pretty boys, which angered "sensitive meathead" Dean. He then loudly expressed his frustration to Molly, who empathized, and "intelligent inner-city girl" LaShawnda, who rolled her eyes. Meanwhile, T.J. was inviting some tail back to his crib.
"Y'all should just roll by the house at around noon or somethin'," he said. "Just knock on the front door."
I asked a group of waitresses to turn down the music because it was affecting our sound. "Oh, sure, we'll do anything for The Real World," she said sarcastically. "Why don't we just shut down the whole bar for you?"
I waved her off. Doesn't she know I'm an important producer with the fake Real World? Later, I was standing behind the cameras, keeping a close eye on the unfolding scene, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. She introduced herself as "Holly from Road Rules." It took me a few seconds before I realized that, yes, it was the actual Holly Shand from Road Rules: Latin America. She said she happened to be in the bar and wanted to come over and say hello to the crew. Cayton-Holland and I just stared. There, within touching distance, was a bona fide reality-TV star breaching the fourth wall of our reality-TV parody. I half expected a hole in the fabric of the universe to rip open and suck all of us away to some parallel dimension.
"It's funny," she said. "I don't recognize any of the staff."
"Uh, yeah, they got a whole new crew for this season."
She turned to Cayton-Holland. "How's the house?"
"It's great," he said. "You should see it."
"Do you know Mike, the line producer?"
"Yeah!" he replied, maybe a little too eagerly. "He's not working tonight, but he's a great guy."
"This is only my second season filming," Cayton-Holland admitted. "Key West, now here."
"I think I'll stop by."
"Drop by anytime."
Thin and pretty, Holly had an aura that seemed to glow with the stuff reality TV is made of. It was an authenticity that, I realized, our fake Real World could never really attain. I asked her to sign a waiver; she said, "No way." Then I noticed that someone had bought our cast another tray of shots.
"I just don't know why you think to have to slut around and show off your ass to guys all the time," yelled Geoff. "It's pathetic."
"Whatever!" Alexis screamed back. "What the fuck do you care, anyway?"
It was 11:30 p.m., and we were on the back patio of Hemingway's Key West Grille. The hundred or so people crowded into the outdoor drinking area thought they were witnessing a full-on Real World meltdown. Geoff stormed off, Alexis ran to the bathroom, and the audience returned to their drinks.
T.J. practically had a whole harem at his disposal, delighting them with his plans to use his future Real World fame to score a big-time record deal. LaShawnda was going off on some political diatribe while Chris smoked sullenly, wishing he were at a gay bar instead of hetero central.
Before setting out for the night, our mission had been to have the antics of our make-believe cast reported as solid fact on some of the Real World gossip sites. Our dream of faux fame came true on the Denver Post's www.getrealdenver. com, where four of the named cast members are our phonies. But there was already one rumor about the real Real World that affected Team Sham: Four girls from the genuine cast had gone to Brix and left a $3 tip for a $100 bar tab. Within 24 hours, word had circulated through the restaurant industry that The Real World was stiffing local bars, and we were getting the blowback. At Mezcal, the bartender tried to put us on auto-tip. At Hemingway's, some dreadlocked guy chewed me out for stepping all over the local hospitality. I explained that I hadn't been at Brix the night before, that it was another producer, but he was having none of it.
"Wow," he postured. "Wow. That's really messed up."
I left a good tip.
The night ended as many nights on The Real World close: with a boozed-up brawl in the middle of the street. The cast members were walking down South Broadway when they got in an argument about where to go next. Geoff wanted to go to the hi-dive; Dean wanted to go to 3 Kings Tavern. There was pushing. And yelling. A cigarette was thrown. Fists were raised. Molly began sobbing on a parking meter. For some reason, T.J. started climbing a tree. Then these two strange gutter-punk kids came up behind us wielding large walking sticks.
"What's going on!" one yelled.
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Everyone stopped. Morehouse looked out from the side of his camera.
"Fake Real World," I said.
"Oh, okay," they replied, and walked away, satisfied.