The 61st Annual Emmy Awards were handed out on Monday night. Neil Patrick Harris was an amazing host, and the show was actually entertaining. But when Emmy night arrives, I don’t think about the host. I don’t think about the nominees. I don’t even think about the winners.
There’s only one name I think about: HANK AZARIA.
For those who don’t know Hank, let me introduce you. Hank Azaria is the voice of the Simpsons. His roles include Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum, Mayor Quimby, Snake, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, among countless others. Hank also stole the show in The Birdcage as Agador, the gay housekeeper. He’s amazingly skilled with voice work, is a great improviser, character actor, and comedic presence.
One thing you might not know is that Hank Azaria attended Tufts University, my alma mater. He’s probably the most famous alumni actor, although Jessica Biel attended Tufts for a brief time after I graduated. While Hank is more talented, she is clearly much hotter.
Hank was honored my senior year at Tufts with the “Light on the Hill” award. He made a funny speech highlighted with Simpsons impressions. At one point, while doing his best Comic Book Guy voice, (which is apparently based on an old Tufts roommate) he focused on one point: follow your dreams.
My dream was to move to LA to be a comedy writer, and two months later, that’s exactly what I did.
Around the same time, Hank Azaria achieved one of his dreams. He won his first Emmy award for his role in the TV movie, Tuesdays with Morrie (based on the great little book by Mitch Albom.)
One more thing you might not know about Hank Azaria:
He and I are mortal enemies.
September 11, 2000
The Night After the Emmy’s
It was just my third week living in LA. Everything was new and exciting. We went out almost every night so that Tuesday was not an exception.
We ended up at the Saddle Ranch Chop House. Saddle Ranch was legendary at the start of the millennium. Located on Sunset Boulevard, Saddle Ranch was a safe haven for hot, drunk, easy woman wearing minimal clothing, and for douchebag L.A. wannabe dudes with spiky hair and extra tight t-shirts. My friends and I didn’t fit in all, but man, we had fun staring at the cleavage and the short skirts.
Back in 2000, the bar rules were looser then the women. The Saddle Ranch was often over-packed, which encouraged more fights, more making out, and thus more entertainment. The Ranch had big TVs, big boobs, and even bigger drinks.
But the highlight of the bar was the mechanical bull!
Aspiring actresses in their scantily clad outfits would drink too much, and then make an attempt at the bull. Blondes, brunettes, and redheads would seductively straddle the bull, tip their hat to the crowd, and then start gyrating in slow-motion. If you were lucky, the girls would be wearing extra short skirts or extra loose tank tops and non-existent bras. And if you were truly lucky, those extra loose tank tops and bras would slide off at the same time. It was truly a life altering event to witness.
My friend Matt and I were at the bar sipping on our huge drinks, staring at the bartender’s huge eyes when a celebrity walked in. You can tell a celebrity has arrived when people start whispering to their neighbor and turning their heads. Matt whispered to me so I turned my head.
It was Hank Azaria.
He recently spilt from Helen Hunt, and was now a man on the prowl. The night before, Hank Azaria won an Emmy Award. The night before, I had put together my desk. It didn’t matter now. We were both just horny men in a sea of sexy vixens; every man for himself.
Just a few months earlier, Hank spoke about following dreams and taking chances, and now here we both were at the Saddle Ranch. I had to speak with him.
I weaved through an array of stacked hotties and a couple of douchebags until I made it to him. I didn’t know what to say, but I knew I would include something about Tufts.
I stood before Hank, and things got awkward quite quickly. He was amidst a conversation with a HOT BLONDE. They were flirting, laughing, and teasing one another playfully. I just stood there like an idiot waiting for a lull in the action.
He finally turned to me probably wondering why a strange man was standing before him for two minutes.
So I said what came to my mind first:
Me: You’re Hank Azaria, aren’t you?
A brilliant opening line.
Hank (smiling and nodding): Yes.
He was about to go back to the Hot Blonde until I mentioned that I heard him speak at Tufts. This got his attention, and we ended up engaging in a pretty solid conversation. I told him that I was an aspiring writer, and new to LA. He gave me some advice, shook my hand, and wished me good luck.
I strutted back to my friends with newfound confidence, and they asked me for the details. I was happy with the interaction. It wasn’t life altering, but it made me feel good; like I was on the right track and could one day succeed in LA.
One Hour Later
My friends and I were now solely focused on the hot women riding the bull. We leaned on the railing of the bull rink getting as close as possible to the untouchable brunette doing her best cowgirl imitation.
I wisecracked to my friends saying how educational this was, and how in my next life I hoped to be a mechanical bull. My friends chuckled, but the guy to my left laughed the hardest. I didn’t know who it was, but he loved my jokes. Who was this guy?
That’s when I looked to my left, and it was......Hank Azaria!
He was pressed against the railing himself, but was not nearly as pathetic as us since he still maintained the Hot Blonde by his side.
I cracked another joke, and Hank turned to me.
Hank: So, you gonna ride the bull?
Me: I don’t know, man. I think you should ride it.
This went on for a few more moments until the Hot Blonde intervened.
Hot Blonde: Well, since you guys are best friends, you should both ride it.
Hank and I looked at each other in confusion. Best friends? She waited for a response so we pretended to be childhood buddies.
We improvised a funky handshake and talked about “old times” which we made up on the spot.
The Hot Blonde smiled wide; she loved the fact that we were such “great” friends.
That’s when Hank and I realized the game was on. This was no longer two strangers pretending to be best friends. It was no longer a fan asking a celebrity for advice. It was two men vying for the attention of one woman. Mano e mano!
The odds were stacked against me, but I didn’t care. I had nothing to lose.
When the overconfident Hank headed to the bar, that’s when the Hot Blonde and I hit our stride. It turned out that she was from the New England area, and we knew the same people; an instant connection. (She was also a little drunk so that helped too.) The Hot Blonde also didn’t know that Hank was a very wealthy and successful actor which evened the playing field. All signs pointed in the right direction: she laughed at my jokes, played with her hair, and even touched my arm at one point. It was on.
When Hank returned, he was shut out. The Hot Blonde and I were engaged in a good conversation, and he just stood there awkwardly. He couldn’t get a word in. He waited for a lull in the action, but there wasn’t any. It was just like the position I was in the hour before. Except this time, I was the celebrity, and he was the fan.
I was conscious of this, and my competitive side took over. I was extra flirtatious with the Hot Blonde, playfully poking her a few times. This really irked Hank. He finally got into the conversation, but was quickly cut off by the Hot Blonde when she proposed an idea.
Hot Blonde: I want a picture with my two favorite Boston boys. (Hank’s from NY, but he had mentioned that he went to school in Boston, so…)
Hank turned to the Hot Blonde in confusion.
Hank: You want HIM in it, too?
The Hot Blonde nodded enthusiastically.
Hank and I sandwiched the Hot Blonde and posed for the picture. Right after the camera flashed, Hank turned to me and whispered:
Hank: Way to ruin a picture, kid!
I smirked at Hank, and proceeded to get the Hot Blonde’s phone number. I gave her a kiss, and she motioned for me to call her.
Hank looked along in horror. I patted him on the shoulder and, with my most condescending tone uttered:
Me: Take it easy, buddy.
About One Year Later
I was working as an extra/background actor, and landed on a show called: “Imagine That.” I played “Audience Member #5.” While I sat for hours awaiting my big scene, I worked on a script about my college experience at Tufts.
That’s when the main cast arrived. Katey Sagal of Married with Children fame was one of the stars. That’s cool, I thought. I wondered who else was in this thing.
That’s when my arch-nemesis emerged: Hank Azaria!
During the break, I coolly sauntered over to Hank and shook his hand. I told him we met once before, but he didn’t remember. I handed him my Tufts script, and suggested he might get a kick out of it.
He looked at me with a moment of familiarity, and asked where we had met once before.
Me: A bar called The Saddle Ranch.
A wry smile formed on his face, and I knew that he remembered.
He shook my hand, and wished me luck.
He walked back to his dressing room, and I imagine he then threw my script in the garbage.
Several months later, “Imagine That” aired on NBC, and I made my first appearance on network television. The camera zoomed on me, I made a funny face, and it actually garnered a laugh. It was one of the few. The show was cancelled after only 6 episodes.
September, 2009 (Present Day)
Nine years later, the Emmy’s still remind me of the Hank Azaria story.
In retrospect, I was definitely a little immature. But sometimes, a man’s instincts just take over. Hank Azaria is a successful, talented, wealthy, Emmy Award winning actor. But for one night, none of that mattered. We were just two guys hanging out and trying to impress some Hot Blonde. I may not have the fame, money or awards, but that night, I realized I can roll with anyone.
When I reminisce about that unforgettable night at The Saddle Ranch, I think back to the picture of me, Hank, and the Hot Blonde. And I wonder if it’s still floating around somewhere.
Because I didn’t ruin that picture.
I only made it better.