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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bill Maher & John Edwards: A View from the Audience

Bill Maher & John Edwards: A View from the Audience

As MOMocrat Beth reported, I had the opportunity to go to the taping of Senator John Edwards' appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher. Beth and I both got invitations from the campaign to go to the show on Wednesday. Since we live in Northern California and the taping was in Los Angeles, I looked at the e-mail and shrugged it off, thinking, "Wish that was in San Francisco...I'd go in a heartbeat."

Beth had a different idea. She e-mailed me and said she was thinking about going. I thought of all the reasons why I couldn't go--I have to work, there wouldn't be time to get a babysitter for my son, it would be too expensive, there's a soccer game on Saturday we have to go to and a Cub Scout event. Then, I realized that my husband is a huge Bill Maher fan, and that I should at least tell him that we had this invitation, and maybe...just maybe...

My husband thought it was a great idea. He found reasonably priced tickets that would take us down to LA in the morning and return in the evening, with ample time to go to the show, have dinner and make it back in time for our son's Saturday events. It still seemed a little nutty to me to take an airplane to LA and not even stay overnight, but he does this sort of thing all the time for business, so for him, it's no sweat.

Beth couldn't work out the logistics to go with us, so she volunteered to keep our son for the night, along with her three boys for a sleepover. So, somehow, the planets aligned just right, and the next thing I knew, it was Friday and we were heading into the famous CBS Television City in LA, just like I'd seen countlesss times on TV.

There were two fairly large groups of people lined up along Fairfax Avenue, waiting to get into the show. One group had tickets or were on the Edwards' campaign list. The other were people who were waiting and hoping to get in, maybe just to be in an airconditioned studio and out of the 90-degree heat. Eventually, they checked us in and led us to the studio. Before going in, they searched bags and confiscated all the cell phones, recording devices, and cameras and gave us claim tickets. My plan had been to surreptitiously live-Twitter the event, but that was thwarted by the tight security. So much for "real time" reporting by yours truly. We had to go through a metal detector, but at least we didn't have to remove any clothing.

We didn't know what to expect going in. We didn't know if we would be seeing just Senator Edwards, or the entire show. We were happy to be there and be part of the crowd supporting Edwards. I double-checked with the campaign organizer to find out for sure that Senator Edwards would be there in person and not on a satellite feed. I would have been disappointed to travel 400 miles to watch him on TV.

The Edwards group got to enter the studio first, and we ended up at the head of the line. The young man who was leading the group gave everyone a stern warning. He said, "It's fine to laugh and clap, but don't yell out anything during the taping, or you will be removed. You might want to shout out, 'John Edwards for President! Woohoo! Go Edwards!' but just don't do it. You'll ruin it for everyone and security will escort you out."

He led us up a staircase with a brightly painted sign for "The Price is Right," which evidently tapes in the same building. We were led into Studio 33, the studio which housed legendary CBS variety shows like "The Carol Burnett Show" and "Sonny and Cher." We were seated in the third row, behind two rows marked off for VIPs.

I've been to television show tapings before, and I've always thought the sets were really small compared to what you see on TV and usually look sort of cheap. This set was very nicely decorated and was actually pretty spacious. There were about five cameras positioned all over the front of the stage, and a guy with teleprompter and TV monitors sitting directly in front of us.

We sat down and started chatting with the lady sitting next to us as people filed in behind us. The filled the left side of the studio first, with Edwards supporters, then the right side with the people who were not on the Edwards list. The studio was fairly full, but was not filled to capacity.

The lady next to us was from the Oxnard for Edwards group. She said she only got the notice the day before, and tried to rally some of her group to come, but they were busy. She said, "If I'd had a little more notice, I could fill this place up!"

She thought that John Edwards would be on the satellite feed, like most of the Maher show interview segments. When I told her that John Edwards was going to appear, she lit up and clutched her heart and said, "You mean my love is going to be here? Right here? OH MY GOSH!" She poked her husband and told him the news. He nodded and pursed his lips. She told us that she hadn't seen Edwards in person yet and was just thrilled.

My husband noticed that they were setting up lights and a camera pointed at the audience, zeroing in on a seat in the front row. There were two tall black director's chairs set up on the stage directly in front of us, and the crew practiced putting a third chair in and walking up from the audience. My husband thought maybe Elizabeth would go up on stage. When I mentioned this to the lady from Oxnard, she said, "Elizabeth? Are you kidding? I can't believe it!" and looked as if she might just swoon. She then leaned over and said, "I pray for that great lady every day. Every. Day." I told her she should read Elizabeth's book, and gushed about meeting her last year on her book tour.

We chatted a little more about the race and Edwards' chances against Hillary Clinton. She said, "Do you think we can win?"

One of the things I've enjoyed about attending events for Edwards is how wonderfully sincere and involved the people are who support him. It wasn't "Can he win?" but, "Can we win?" It struck me then that the part of his message that permeates down to all the volunteers in his campaign is a sense that we are in this fight together. I told our friend from Oxnard, that yes, I believe we can win.

When I saw Hillary Clinton, and have had subsequent conversations with her supporters, it's all about Hillary and what Hillary has done, what she can do, how smart she is, how much experience she has, blah blah blah. I think the message of the Edwards campaign that resonates with me is that it takes more than one person to change the world; it takes all of us.

The show's Exective Producer and Head Writer, Billy Martin, came out to warm up the crowd. He is a very engaging, charming guy, who told a few bad jokes, but was such in such a good humor he put the crowd in a good mood. We practiced laughing and clapping, and then the tricky maneuver of laughter into clapping, when something was "funny and brilliant at the same time." They were checking the sound levels in the studio, so that the laughter wouldn't drown out the speakers, but was still present.

Billy introduced a video segment of some highlights from past shows, a quick-cut reel of some of the best jokes and moments. A much-younger looking John Edwards was shown in one, with Bill Maher asking him about being referred to as the "Breck girl" politician. He replied, "Oh, come on, I look better than the Breck girl!" The crowd cheered at this clip.

When the highlights were over, we had all been laughing for about ten minutes straight, and everyone seemed to be in a good mood, including the people who just seemed to wander in off the street. Billy came back out and asked where people were from, and got answers like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Denmark, and Italy. San Francisco didn't seem so far away after all.

Elizabeth Edwards walked out without announcement while Billy was talking, and as soon as people noticed her, the cheering began. She waved at the crowd with a big smile on her face as she stepped down the stairs to take her seat in the front row. The crowd was on its feet, clapping and cheering for her, when someone announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Bill Maher!"

Bill walked out and said, "I think I've been upstaged." He was.

He started some good natured banter with the crowd as a make-up artist put some final touches on him. When the crowd snickered, he said, "Oh, come on, this is Hollywood." He has a wonderful stage presence, and though I had joked with some of the MOMocrats earlier about whipping out a boob in silent protest of his breastfeeding jokes that caused a ruckus among mommybloggers.

He started to tell a few jokes, when off to the side, John Edwards appeared and stood on his mark to the right. The crowd then started cheering and clapping for him. Billy Martin said, "Hey, hold the love until the tape is rolling!"

The director announced a countdown, and the next thing we knew, the show was ON. Bill Maher was talking into the camera, introducing John Edwards. Edwards strode confidently out, with a big smile on his face. The two men sat in the chairs directly in front of us and chatted.

I thought Maher did a good job of asking some fairly tough questions, and Edwards fielded them deftly. He was funny and engaging, smart and sincere. It wasn't much different from what you saw on television. I won't go into the statements that he made, since you can watch it for yourself. Unfortunately, Elizabeth didn't get up and join him, but she was shown on TV in the audience.

We didn't get to see the rest of the show being filmed, since the show is actually broadcast live at 8:00 pm Pacific. We caught our flight home that evening and made it back in time to watch the Pacific broadcast at 11:00. We weren't there when the 9/11 Truthers disrupted the show and Bill Maher jumped down off the stage to personally kick them out. I'm really glad that didn't happen during Senator Edwards' segment, because I think it would have been disturbing and probably frightening.

They may or may not have some interesting points, and they might not like what Bill Maher has to say, but I don't think being disrespectful to his guests is the way to get their point across. It makes them look like lunatics, and doesn't really help their cause.

We watched the show carefully, and nothing of the Edwards segment was edited out. What you saw of that interview was what we saw. We watched it on TV and scanned the crowd shots frame-by-frame, like we were watching the Zapruder film, but didn't see ourselves. We were sitting just out of the frame on the left. We could see our compatriot from Oxnard. She looked like she was having the time of her life.

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