Stamford, Connecticut may seem like a universe away to New Yorkers (native or otherwise) without a car, but the hilarity of sitting through a taping of the Maury Povich show — and the process enshrouding it — is well worth traveling for. Besides, Maury offers a shuttle bus free to attendees and there’s always Metro North for those willing to shell out $20 to avoid cramming in next to a wasted senior citizen at 7 in the morning.
We chose the early show, which meant getting there earlier than I usually even wake up. We arrive before 8am and are ushered inside the studio headquarters after we navigate a short but winding path created by rope stanchions that ends at a weak, semi functional metal detector. We sit down in the waiting room among about five other people. A bus drops off a group of girls. A different bus drops off a group of older men, shuffling around and looking a little sullen. Maury’s NYC shuttle bus deposits the majority of the audience and they fill the rest of the waiting room, which is pretty quiet considering all the melodramatic booing and applauding we would soon be doing.
At the end of the room is a life-sized cardboard cutout of a smiling Maury behind a fake velvet rope. The real Maury isn’t to be bothered taking pictures with each of a hundred drunk, high, smelly fans who are otherwise screaming “boo!” at a guy who just found out the next 18 years of his life are to be dictated by a one-night stand he had nine months ago. People take turns having their picture taken with cardboard Maury, bending over in front of his cardboard crotch, tweaking the nipple areas of his cardboard shirt.
Some of the most miserable Maury clips play on the small televisions that hang around the room, which are miserable for the appearing guests admitting that they fucked a guy for a cheeseburger or are contesting their 13-year-old daughter’s insatiable desire to get pregnant right then and there, and miserable for everyone watching because the volume is too low and no one traveled over an hour to do what they would otherwise be doing at home, which is watching Maury on television. Cardboard figures of Steve and Jerry Springer (whose shows are also filmed in Stamford) watch with lobotomized smiles from the makeshift balconies above.
We’re eventually called in by number (Tip: If you care about sitting closer to the front, get there an hour early) and seated in the second row. After a half hour of being subjected to Top 40 hits that visibly annoyed some and drove others to dance in their chairs with rising and uncontainable excitement, a guy with a headset emerges from the depths of back stage and coaches the audience on appropriate reactions.
“If Maury says, ‘This is Tanesha, and she just got engaged to her middle school sweetheart,’ what do you do?”
The audience lets out a sighing “awww” in unison.
“If he says, ‘But Tanesha suspects that her man is cheating’?”
He chastises us for not being excited enough and makes us boo again, then asks if we’re excited to see Maury, then says ‘come on’ and asks again, then runs through sympathy, disgust, encouragement, and shock a few times for practice before making us do it all over on film this time even though nothing has happened yet. Then everyone is to get as excited as they possibly can and stay that way for the entire taping because, he tells us as incentive, the most excited people make it on television more than anyone else, and who wants to be on TV today?!
Finally Maury takes the stage with his golden lab, who runs backstage at a wave of his hand. He seems to genuinely be enjoying himself. Then come the guests. A girl lost her virginity to someone she thinks is cheating but really isn’t. Another woman is cheated on something like ten times. One is incensed because she believes that her fiancé screwed her fat sister in her bed, which turns out to be nothing more than a paranoid suspicion albeit he is exposed as having sent pictures of his penis to other girls via Facebook. He defends himself by claiming that he’s a model who was just doing some networking. They break up on screen.
In the next segment, a girl punches her cheating husband in the face and, off screen, the bouncer rolls his eyes at himself for not seeing it coming in time to prevent it. “Stop cursing,” and “Look Maury in the eye,” hiss crew members at the guests who are doing too much of one thing or too little of another. Last comes a girl with a speech impediment who only communicates fluently while she is screaming at the top of her lungs, which she does the entire time, directing her wrath at a man who is suspected to be her baby daddy but denies it all the way. Because her disproportionately large (compared to her slender frame) ass keeps escaping from her pants like a wild animal and exposes her thong to the camera for more than half of her segment, she never makes it on the air.
On the way out we’re offered free tickets to see a show called Trisha and promised another ‘baby daddy’ type fiasco. We agree and head to the liquor store because I’ve never not been drunk for at least part of a Maury/Jerry Springer/Steve Wilkos taping day.
Tip: Bring a plastic bottle full of liquor to the waiting room. As long as you don’t shit yourself or fall down, no one cares what you’re doing.
By the time we get back from eating reheated frozen french fries and binge drinking at the diner down the block, most return audience members are drunk or well on their way. The same group of somber looking men is also there, and they are called into the taping room by a name that makes them sound like a Christian halfway house, which I soon find out is where they came from.
We head inside and all of Maury’s walls have been rolled away and replaced with Trisha’s set. A guy with a baseball cap and a bible sits next to us and casts amused, affectionate glances in our direction because my roommate is standing on a chair in the back row screaming “I want a shirt!” like she’s being murdered while the bouncer throws out free t-shirts and at the general rambunctious nature that seems to remind him of himself somewhere along the line of his life. We get to talking and he tells us that they come to the shows all the time from the Christian halfway house where he lived and now lives and works, and then sits back and shakes his head in wonder at his own transformation, half forced beneath the hand of the law and the impending consequences if he had not changed his tune or however he put it.
The waiting is killing everyone now. Most of us have been in Stamford for nine hours. A woman a few rows down nods out to “Call Me Maybe.” Another guy complains that he’s tired from screaming through three hours of Maury tapings and wonders out loud what Trisha is all about, anyway. “Have you seen this season?” Another lady asks, “Because you should really go back and watch it. It’s so emotional. You should really go back and watch it.”
A guy the size of two Mike Tysons squints beneath his own stoned-ness before passing out and sleeping through the entire show, his concerned girlfriend periodically shaking him to no effect.
Trisha is a deflating drag with only two drawn out segments featuring lame paternity quests at the hands of adults who are merely curious about their birth parents. Many of the short breaks between her sentences are filled with conversation with our new friend, who admits that many people are quick to point out that he looks like Walter White. He used to have long hair and race pedal bikes in Prospect Park. He used to do construction work, among other things. He wants to know how bad we are and if we’ve done anything, like, real bad. “So you guys, just like, burn kush in the loft?” He asks like someone’s yearning and inquisitive father and then tells us that “those days are over” for himself. When we leave he says his goodbye in the form of “do a bump for me.”
After the taping everyone is offered free pizza and it’s doled out from behind a counter around which everyone crowds in a formless horde.
Go to the Maury show. Bring your friends who aren’t afraid to act stupid among strangers and cameras and maybe make some new ones. If you don’t like Maury you can attend Jerry Springer or Steve Wilkos. Besides, they’re all free, and New Yorkers love free shit.
“How’s that pizza taste?”