Saturday, January 15, 2011

I Want Her to be Fat


Jonathan ‘Cao Cao’ Kos-Read

I have to admit, right up front, that I didn’t write this month’s column. It was written instead by some random Chinese guy.

Below I have translated the best bits of an article entitled “Showbiz’s Biggest Foreigner and How He Was Molded By His Young Wife Into a Chinese Style Husband”. It’s from a Chinese magazine and it’s about how I met and fell in love with my wife. I got it as an email attachment with a cute little note that said: “Hey, we were just like super inspired by your story and so we wanted to profile you in our magazine but, you know, our deadline was like, tomorrow so, like we didn’t have time to actually interview you. But we looked stuff up on the internet. :-)” And with those little seeds of truth, they went to town.

It’s so awesome I’m worried you guys will think that I like added shit to make it funnier but I really didn’t. What you read below is really a verbatim translation.

Cao Cao’s Love Story

Endless, repetitive, monotonous work was drowning Jonathan in feelings of suffering and helplessness. He was desperate to find a girlfriend. He begged all his friends for introductions to Chinese girls. But he found fault in each one. None were good enough.

He fell into depression. His friends criticized him for being too picky. Finally when he pleaded yet again, his friend shot back exasperated, “well what kind of girl do you want?!”

Jonathan said, “I don’t want a naïve girl. And I don’t want one who follows orders. I want her to be fat. “

Ha ha,” his friend said, “I actually know such a girl. Her name is Lizhiyin. She is a junior at the Capital University of Finance. She is fat.”

In short order, Jonathan and Lizhiyin were shepherded to a Sanlitun coffee shop by this friend. Jonathan had made a special and extraordinary effort of personal grooming. And when he saw Lizhiyin for the first time he saluted her in the Chinese, double-raised-fist style. He said in ancient Chinese, “I am Cao Cao, please forgive any obstreperousness or importune mistakes made by my humble self.”

Here it drags for a bit. But then disaster strikes:

Lizhiyin began to feel this American young man was serious and honest so her initial wariness was dropping away.

But then Jonathan told her a story, “When I first told my friends I was coming to China they told me I must bring toilet paper.” Jonathan laughed heartily at the humor inherent in this. “According to these American friends of mine, China –“

But before Jonathan could finish, Lizhiyin’s face turned a dark shade of angry red. She said, “It is true! Our Mother Country is not rich! But we will Self Empower, Self Strengthen and Self Stand Up!” Then Lizhiyin stood up, and proudly and angrily stomped out of the coffee shop. Jonathan desperately followed her saying, “I did not mean that those friends are correct! I was telling you a funny story!” Lizhiyin threw off Jonathan’s hand and said with ire, “If I made a joke about America, what would you do?!” Then she gave Jonathan a dangerous, strong and proud glare. Jonathan was struck speechless and frozen by this.

This,” Jonathan thought, “is a proud girl. I must change the angle of my thinking to be with her.”

We hook up, and everything is great for a while but then, again (if only my real life were so dramatic) disaster.

Unskilled in business, Jonathan was wracked with terrible difficulties maintaining his company for [those] three years. In the end all of the money he had earned with his heart’s blood was lost.

After his bankruptcy he was left only with a heart depressed and a mind frozen. In the beginning he had dreamed of giving Lizhiyin a good life! Who would have thought that now he couldn’t even support himself?! Controlling the agony in his heart, he wrote a breakup letter to Lizhiyin. It said that his business venture had failed.

I even tried to return to be an English teacher again but no one would have me!”

He remonstrated with Lizhiyin to take care of herself, because he must go away - like an ancient, itinerant traveler, to float, to drift alone in the emptiness between the earth and the sky.

When Lizhiyin saw his letter her heart was stabbed with pain. She rushed to his home. But his apartment was already empty! She called him. His cell had been turned off! Lizhiyin wildly dialed all of Jonathan’s friends, every one. Finally she learned the truth – he had left on a quest to discover the true meaning and location of the Three Kingdoms Romance [from which he had taken his Chinese name].

Such an enormous country China! Lizhiyin decided she would first go to Weiwang, the ancient and original Cao Cao’s ancestral home in Anhui, Haozhou. In Haozhou she bitterly and with great difficulty searched for three days. Finally deep inside Cao Cao’s famous tunnel for transferring soldiers, she found a cowering Jonathan, whole body covered in dirt, stained, face fatigued, depressed and defeated.

She yelled, “Jonathan!”

She lifted her bag and struck him again and again and again. Jonathan knelt on the ground cradling his head in his hands and accepted the blows.

Finally with no strength left Lizhiyin ceased her blows. She yelled, “who told you to leave?! What will I do without you?!”

Jonathan, his eyes red-rimmed, said, “I am bankrupt! My own life, I can’t even support –“


Tea,” Lizhiyin said again. “It must be steeped in the hottest water to draw out the deepest flavor! People are the same. Only by facing the hot forge of disastrous difficulties can a man become strong and oriented to succeed. I believe you can succeed!” said Lizhiyin as she held his hand tightly.

But if I can never succeed?” said Jonathan, his face pale and shadowed.

Silly mellon! In that case we will simply live a quiet life. The world is so big, how many people in the world can succeed?! If we can live with open happy hearts, this is enough! Return with me!”

Needless to say, I did.

There is much more awesomeness to this story, but the tyranny of the word count restricts me. So alas, I must chuckle alone.

And so to bring this story to a close, have we learned a lesson, have we gained some deeper insight into the creative process, the mind of the artist?

Some say that the Chinese are not creative, that they simply copy the creativity of others. Psshhaww! This month I was the counterfeiter, stealing the work of another for my own dirty gain. The quiet tinkerer who created this piece was the true artist.

He googled the world for truth and created beauty.

How to be a Jew


Jonathan ‘Cao Cao’ Kos-Read

Why are Jews better than everybody else? Why did people used to hate them so much? Why are they so rich? Why are they everywhere?

These questions were on my mind last month because I just got cast in a show where I play one. It’s this big forty episode monstrosity about the fifty years of Shanghai history between the national and communist revolutions. I play a Jew who goes there to make his fortune but instead finds love. It’s a big, complex, rich, genuinely good role that begs for a serious actor.

And I’m a serious actor. I care about my art. But what does that really mean? This month, a peek behind the silver screen at how a serious actor practices his craft


A lot of shit gets written about the lengths actors go to to prepare for a role. We read about ones who go and live with some shitty tribe for a month, or take drugs to paralyze them or like cut off their testicles or, you know, all that stuff actors do.

And when we read about shit like that, a little secret voice inside of us usually whispers, “dude,ahhhh, that’s a little silly”

And it is, but there’s a reason (aside from PR) that they all do it.

To react like a real person, and a person DIFFERENT from who he is, an actor has to answer five questions. They are, in order of importance:

  1. What does my character want

  2. Why

  3. How does he go about getting it

  4. Why does he do it that way

(And finally and sort of separately)

  1. What does he want out of life

So, because I’m a serious actor, I went and got my most serious, nebishy, what’s-the-meaning-of-life-and-what’s-my-place-in-it Jewish friend, treated him to some Nachos in Sanlitun, and grilled him about being Jewish.

I had three questions:

  1. Why did my Jew want to succeed so bad?

  2. Why did he feel guilty about marrying a prostitute?

  3. Why did he go to China?

Here are his answers:

Success: Jews feel a heavy weight of responsibility. They have survived as a culture without a country for two thousand years. They’ve survived both the Romans and the Germans trying to exterminate them. So to be a loser is to betray all those hundreds of generations who struggled so hard to survive just so that you could exist.

Guilt: Sex and procreation are super important and strict for Jews because there are so few of them. The strictness allowed them to survive as a culture without a country for two thousand years. To step outside of that boundary is to betray a lot of history. And even if a Jew doesn’t believe that, everyone he loves and respects does.

China: A Jew is a foreigner wherever he is. So my English Jew would see himself as Jewish first, English second. He would feel natural going off to be a foreigner in China – it’s just another destination in the diaspora.

Not all Jews would agree. That’s okay. Because his answers were knives I could use to sculpt a believable and honest character. My Jew. His Jew. But not every Jew. Who could ask for more? So I hopped on the plane to Shanghai, armed with truth and insight, ready to do battle with my own psyche as I slashed away to the core realities of this character’s heart.


The first scene of the first day was a love scene. My Jew has just saved a good hearted and lonely prostitute from an evil ruffian. The audience can see we’re meant for each other, two lonely youngsters looking for love in this cold cold world. I bring her back up to my room where she washes up and then, to thank me, bangs me silly. After she leaves I’m feeling a little guilty about screwing a hooker (albeit one of those heart-of-gold-actually-a-good-person ones) so . . . . so . . . . . ha ha ha ha . . .

They have me, the Jew, get down and pray to Jesus about my sin.

I went to talk to the director.

“Hey, Director Li, I don’t know how much weight you would put on this being accurate, but Jews don’t pray to Jesus.” (This is really how you have to talk to directors.)



The director thought about this for a minute, “Does everybody know that?”

I had to think for a minute. I mean I assume everybody in America would know, and Europe, and the whole Middle East. “I think a lot of people would know.”

“Well this is a Chinese show. Chinese people won’t know.”

You always walk a thin line when you, as a foreigner tell a local he is wrong – especially when his mistake comes from being lame and retarded. Locals (anywhere) are tre touchy about that shit. So you have to be like super polite and pretend that it’s a common mistake or that like it’s just a question of preference and usually you can get what you want.

I said, “True, that’s why I asked you how much you care. It’s up to you. But it won’t be, like, you know, super accurate.”

He didn’t say anything for a minute. He wasn't stupid. He understood that it was a problem, and that in some world of platonic ideals we would care about things like this. But he had this pretty shot in mind where the crane swoops down and the music swells and I’m kneeling there praying my semitic heart out to assuage the guilt of a sin that I do not feel because love is overpowering my heart. So he basically wanted the problem to go away but he felt just guilty enough to not say so. We just kind of sat there in silence for a little while. I looked back at the big oil painting of Mary (haloed, weeping and virginal) and Jesus (bloody, full of holes and stoic) that I was supposed to pray to. I decided to make one more jab at it.

“It would sort of be like if we made a Hollywood movie about China where everybody was wearing Japanese uniforms.”

“Hmmm,” he said, pretending to think about that.

“So it’s up to you I guess,” I said.

The director looked around for help, somebody else to be a dick and not care about art and accuracy so he wouldn’t have to feel like an asshole. A fuckwad. The producer was standing next to us. He (sigh, I know, it’s a cliché, but what can I do but record reality) manned up.

“Well there maybe are Jews who pray to Jesus right, I mean there must be some who pray to Jesus too right?”

(There are as it happens, I used to walk past this weird center called the “Jews for Jesus” on my way to classes in New York but I don’t think they’ve ever been very common especially in Shanghai in the 1930s and anyway, it always seemed kind of like it defeated the purpose of being Jewish - like “Christians for Allah”. I figured mentioning it would confuse things.)

“Not really.”

The producer said again, “Well there must be some so you’re just that kind of Jew, or like you’re just praying to Jesus today. Ha ha Cao Cao, you’re so artistic and serious.”

The director, “Yeah, because there are like all kinds of Jews in the world, you know?”

And what are you gonna do. It’s the first day. If I stuck to my guns the following would happen: The crew would hate me because I would make them work late because they would have to reset the whole scene. The producer would hate me because everyone would go overtime. The director would hate me because I would make him lose face. And it was the first scene of the first day.

* * *

So after praying my heart out to Jesus, we started the next scene; where my Jew takes his family to Church. And there I was sitting in the Church pew soundstage with my hooker wife and halfbreed son (who was Chinese with bleached hair because they couldn’t find a mixed kid). Above us was an enormous crucifix. Below it in both English and Chinese was written inexplicably, “Father have eaten a sour grape.”

And I thought: Jews were kicked out of their country, hunted, killed on pogroms, thrown to lions, blah blah blah. All that terrible shit, for two thousand fuckin’ years. I looked at my watch. I, the serious actor, had lasted one hour and twenty two minutes.

I felt like a nudnik.

Hustlers & Slags

Jonathan ‘Cao Cao’ Kos-Read

A hustler sings for a fat producer.

The slags all look up from their cell phones, do the god-what-a-whore look then go back to pretending they have people calling them.

I’m at a party organized by my agent. We are in a Babyface karaoke room. My agent is pimping her actors to the director of this big thirty episode action series that starts shooting next month.

I don’t go to these parties very often. First, I’m married so there’s no point hitting on anybody, second, I don’t need to because my deals get done (usually) in a more civilized way, and third well, people don’t invite me.

So I get to sit there and be very anthropological about it. Here is my little science report from the showbiz gutter.

The room itself is about ten feet square, full of smoke and gold paint. A huge U-shaped couch curls around three walls. The third holds an enormous TV on which “karaoke-video-people” run along beaches, glance at each-other in castles and long soft shots of candles serve as the backdrop to the inexorable yellow tide that sweeps along the lyrics. Above us is a ten foot wide chandelier.

The room is packed – probably fifty people crammed into this little space. Everybody is either extremely beautiful or ugly. The ugly people sit on the couches while the beautiful people sing or snuggle up against them. They people break down into these types.

1) Hustlers
2) Slags
3) Powerful Guys
4) Everybody Else

They all have different goals, all in opposition.

The director is the only Chinese person I’ve ever met who has an afro and (I know this sounds like I’m making it up) he has decided that, well, that just isn’t enough, doesn’t distinguish him from the pack with sufficient élan, so he has dyed it blonde. And he sits there, under this bushy halo, in one corner of the karaoke room, a little gay Chinese kid on one side and an older, more butch Uyghur gayboy on his left.

A never ending procession of beautiful and powerful people come and worship him for the opportunity to be in his show. Most directors I know are like this. You sort of have to be to succeed. Without megalomania, the job wears you down.

He wants to be treated like a God. He is succeeding.

The producers do nothing. They sit there like blobs while the girls slither all over them. Most of them are ugly or fat – a cliché but a reality. In fact it is probably why they became producers. It was the rocket fuel in their veins that drove them so hard to succeed. When they were young, women were disgusted by them. That’s hard on the soul. And when you look disgusting, there’s only one way into a woman’s heart.

They want women. They are succeeding.

What can I write that hasn’t been written before? Do these girls fuck the producers? They do. Do they fuck the directors? They do. Are they facing, for the first time in their lives, proof that they are nothing special, that their beauty is common? They are. “How can they sell themselves like that?!” it is asked. “How can they be exploited like that?!” It’s all been said before. What can I add?

To be honest, nothing. It’s just like you think it is. These impossibly beautiful, perky talented girls get up one by one, belt out a song for all their little twenty two year old hearts are worth, then sit down again with a Powerful Guy. They pour his drink. Laugh. And out of the corners of their eyes, watch the next impossibly beautiful girl get up and sing, then the next, then the next.

They want to be stars. All but one will fail.

She is the ultimate hustler. She’ll make fifty thousand RMB on every actor and actress she gets into every show. With ten or twenty actors on her roster, that adds up to a chunk of change over a year’s worth of shows.

She is this weird person. Ten years ago she was this mole-like intellectual, a writer of biographies and movie reviews. Then one day her husband got sick and she had to become rich to pay the bills. She stepped out into the world, became an agent, built up a business. Now she peers out at the room from behind her coke bottle glasses. She has arranged it all: the room, the booze, the girls. And she stands alone, this short, forty year old woman in her frumpy terribly chosen “young girl” dress. The lights of the karaoke flash around her. She’s like a scientist in a whorehouse.

She needs to be rich. She is succeeding.

Actress years are like dog years. So if an actress is thirty four in the real world, this means she’s about fifty in dog years – so around the couches sit these old clapped out hags in their mid thirties, their hair pulled back in a tight poor man’s face lift, the crow’s feet starting to claw their way out from their hard eyes and frowning mouths.

You really can’t imagine what their lives used to be like. From the time they were thirteen, guys are buying them cars and even houses. They were loved and worshiped. Why, you ask, would somebody do that? I mean there are lots of beautiful girls in the world, even lots of beautiful hookers. Why spend three million rmb buying some little chickypoo actress a house when you could have a model for the price of a few dinners. The answer is: guys compete. “Damn this bitch I’m fuckin’ is fine,” pales in importance to: “Damn I’m so cool cuz all my rich friends know I’m fuckin’ this famous actress – more famous than the ones they’re fuckin.”

So for a few years those few lucky actresses have it good. But they make a mistake. They think it’ll go on forever. But obviously it doesn’t and these slags are the proof. The sit, ignored on the side, staring into their cell phones, hating the hustlers and loathing themselves.

I even know some of the slags. One of them is an actress I did a show with six years ago. Back then she was a hustler. She walked in and we did the, “Hey!” “Hey!” kissy face, but then she sat down next to me. When I showed her pictures of my daughter she cried.

She left twenty minutes later.

The slags want to hide their bitterness. They are failing.

The only girl in the whole place who actually looks mildly happy is one I run into when I go out to pee. She’s just sitting there by the bar kind of bored but basically not desperately hustling or face stretched back in a horrible mask of hidden unhappiness.

“Are you having fun?” I ask.

“Not really,” she says, “It’s kind of boring.”

We kibbitz for a little while. She’s only here because she got caught up in the dragnet: “Hey, there’s a party! With some producers and directors! Do me a favor and round up some girls!”

“I saw you on TV, she says, “you and your wife.”

“Yeah, married for ten years.”

“Me too,” she says.

“What does your husband do?” I asked expecting ‘producer’ or at the very least ‘import-export’.

“He’s a scientist.”

And there it is right there: the key to happiness for an actress. She married a guy she loved. With a real job that doesn’t make him rich. One who appreciates her beauty as a gift, not as a cheap, shitty commodity. Tonight, I’ll go home to my wife and daughter. She’ll go home to her husband. Everybody else:

Blowjobs and misery.

Monday, January 5, 2009

My First Kungfu Scene

by: Jonathan 'Cao Cao' Kos-Read

Every cool job I ever got, I lied my way into.

A perfect example of this was a few weeks ago when I was sitting in this director’s office on a movie I was trying to get into and he said, “How’s your kungfu?” and I said, “I’m like totally good at kungfu.”

And I know, right now you’re chuckling and thinking, “bet that was a disaster.” But this month’s column is not another story of how I failed at something and embarrassed myself. No, this month’s column is all about how I am so fucking cool. I mean sure, I’ve never done a kungfu scene before, never studied (never even considered studying) kungfu and sure, of course, I sucked. But think about it. What dude didn’t grow up watching TV shows like ‘Kung Fu’ and dreaming, literally salivating, at the thought of one day getting to do that shit, to throw punches, stand over defeated enemies, to bust out a smokin’, wicked kungfu pose and then say some line like, ‘prepare yourself for defeat grasshopper.’? So this month: flashes from behind the silver screen at how a good fight crew can make a guy like me, a guy who hasn’t exercised in six years and who throws a punch like a sissy girl, look like a God.

* * *

My fist glints in the sunlight as, in slow motion, it arcs across the distance to Yudeshui’s chest. And you can tell it’s a massive, bone crushing punch because as it connects, the impact throws dust exploding out from the pile driver center like a missile impact in the Iraqi desert. And the dust, in that beautiful moment of hyper-velocity that only slo-mo can catch, shudders itself outward into insubstantiability, dissipating in glistening eddies, whorls and vortices. I’ve seen that shot in like every kungfu movie I ever watched and this time it’s my fist.

It’s day one of my first fight scene. I’m playing this bad ass dude during the Boxer Rebellion. Yudeshui is the hero, trying to save China from my evil machinations, but he’s fighting injured so I’m kicking his ass. The dust, the beautiful dust that accentuates the power of my sledgehammer fists is ‘Yinger Chanpin Tender Butt’ baby powder. They shake it onto my hands before every take.

* * *

Across the square I do three back flips. Yudeshui wrenches out a spear-thrust kick at me, I leap back, run up the side of a tree, back flip behind him. He grabs at me, and flips over my head. I wrench his arm behind his back. He spins out of it. Then, like an explosion, we throw a cataclysmic blur of hundreds of punches and kicks as we spin around each other. Finally he cracks one in my face. I leap back, teeth bared in a nasty grin. “Is that the best you’ve got?” I snarl, then with a roar, leap back into the fight for another round.

Or to be technically correct, my double does all that.

* * *

Yudeshui is raining hammer blows on me but, Matrix style, I’m looking him dead in the eyes as my arms, a blur, move in a coordinated and amazing dance that’s like a light speed brick wall against each of his blows. My eyes never leave his. My steely glare is menacing, intimidating, manly.

We do a million takes of this shot. Each time he hits me, a) it fucking hurts and so b) I react like a sissy. The director comes over and says, “Cao Cao come look at the playback,” and there’s me, flinching and blinking like a girl every time he hits me. Shit, I think and do it again, glaring at Yudeshui the whole time. The director shows me the playback again. Again, there’s me still scrunching up my face and shutting my eyes like a pussy. Shit, I think. I mean, this is a real problem - I think I’m keeping my eyes open but I’m not. It’s like an involuntary wimp reaction that I can’t control. And it’s a close up. But clearly they have lots of experience with wimpy actors. They have a clever solution. They have us move at half speed: Yudeshui’s arms lazily looping around into mine. Me slowly moving to block them. At the time I think this is weird but then they show me the playback in slow motion - it looks super cool like ‘ultra slow motion’. My glare is solid as a rock.

* * *

The last shot of the day: I’m standing over a beaten Yudeshui - not like humiliated with clever repartee, but rocked. Through sheer manly power in a deeply meaningful, primeval, violent way, defeated. I’m towering over him, slitted eyes glinting steel as he squirms helpless below me. The camera is on the ground. I’m up on a stool. They’re using a wide-angle, fish-eye lens so I seem to stretch up into the very sky itself like a God. They’ve got a big fan next to me blowing my hair as if I’m standing rock solid against the gale of a storm. In the sky above me they CGI the clouds so they race by, freighted with menace and despair. I say, “Shenshochang is waiting for you in hell.” I raise my arm and bring it shuddering down with the weight of a freight train and crush him into oblivion.

I lose my balance and fall off the stool. This happens several times while the crew stands around smoking and laughing at me. Each time I say, “Sorry guys, I’ll get it right this time,” then I do the punch again and my arms swing out and I go pin wheeling off the stool.

But only the last take matters.

* * *

I go to the editing room a week later to see the scene cut together. I look, devastatingly, deeply, mind-blowingly, profoundly, eight year old kids will measure themselves by my standard, cool. Me, the kungfu master.

I fucking love being an actor.

Stupid TV Show Plots

by: Jonathan 'Cao Cao' Kos-Read

Many expats, in the frightening moment before they manage to push the AV button on their DVD remote, are exposed to the strange, hummocked wasteland of Chinese TV. It is peopled with weirdos in poofy dynastic hairdos, brave, careworn heroes in little green hats and the occasional flashy-lights-and-smoke thing where people in odd clothes sing screechy songs. But as I said, most of you have only caught brief, frightened glimpses of this strange world.

So this month, I'll tell you about it. I'll introduce you to this world by telling you about the plots of three of my most recent shows. Something that, I have to admit, I'm pleased to have the opportunity to do. Because one of the little tragedies of my life is that foreigners don't watch the shows and Chinese, who are used to them by now, don't think they're funny. So I chuckle alone.

But not today.

The first plot was based on a true story: A few years ago, this Chinese dude was studying in the US and then one day he whacked out and shot all his teachers and then killed himself. This really happened, it's not made up. And because it was so fucked up and tragic, everybody was like, “damn that would be such a cool TV show.” The plot, in the show that was finally made, went like this:

X, a bright and honest physics student arrives in America. He is determined to succeed in this new exciting world. But has trouble adjusting. Americans are strange. His Chinese girlfriend becomes a stripper. He falls in love with pistol packing chick cop. His roommate (me) is a crazy gun nut who seduces him into the exciting and dangerous world of packin' heat. His physics professor likes to tie up his secretary and rape her all the time (and because that kind of thing is normal in America she always just goes back to work the next day, but she's kind of sad). As his life spirals out of control, as his prof rapes his stripper girlfriend and steals his research, as his roommate plies him with guns and sleeps with his sister, as his best friend learns how to be American and so bangs both his ex and his new girlfriend, something in X snaps . . . . . and he takes his revenge on America.

The plot of my next show was about medicine. For a while now, there have been all these (alleged) scandals about tainted Chinese products – toothpaste that blinds kids, dog food that makes Fido die in agony, lead painted toys that make your three year old sweetie retarded. If somebody wanted to solve this problem, to spotlight how it could happen and how it could have be prevented, a TV show is the perfect vehicle. So one was made. The plot went like this:

I run an American company. My American company makes fake medicines in China. Not only are the meds fake and kill Chinese people, they also “change their DNA”. So then they need another medicine, one that (conveniently) my company also makes. It turns out that only Traditional Chinese Medicine can save them (the good natural kind, not tiger penises and aardvark testicles and shit like that) And so the heroes go off on a desperate, time pressured, DaVinci Code style search for the twigs and dirt that will change all their DNA back to normal. The actors got to say all kinds of cool lines like, “But we only have ten hours to find the tree bark!”

The third show was about AIDS. AIDS is a growing problem in China, a problem that can be attacked with good education. Here was the plot of my show:

A big American athletic wear company hires a Chinese “Hero Athlete” to be the face of its shoe brand. They spend millions of dollars on an ad campaign. They roll out this big extravagant thing and then suddenly . . . . they discover their guy is infected with HIV (he got it from shaking hands). And they freak out. What are they going to do?! They have choices. They could, for example, slowly push the guy aside, or they could talk to him and allow him to step down. But none of that pussy shit for this company. They find me, an assassin, and they send me to China to kill him. The rest of the show is about how we circle around each other as I try to get him and he slips away each time. And the show is really educational too. For example instead of having something boring like he got the virus from IV drug use or sex, (realistic but zzzzzz, so dull) he got it in a complex revenge plot by a disgruntled bank robber who he beat up with an umbrella as the dude tried to escape from a heist.

And so now, next time you turn on the TV, you can linger a bit on the, now slightly less frightening site before you, now enlightened, now knowing, if only in some small way, what they are talking about. And the vibration of your little smile will spread out through the universe and I won't feel so alone.

Drunk, Naked and Desperate

Jonathan ‘Cao Cao’ Kos-Read

I am desperate for work.

I list, in this column, with some frequency, the degradation I deal with at the hands of rotten producers and retarded directors. But there is a third shitty thing about being an actor, and that is the terrifying, soul excoriation of unemployment. So this month, so you won’t be confused about the nature of what I do, I’ll chronicle the last two months of desperate, grinding panic as I struggled and failed to get a job – the whole process made all the more frightening because I don’t want my new daughter to starve to death before her first birthday or grow up like retarded or deformed from malnourishment.

Around Spring Festival I was thinking, “Damn, the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.” There were like three shows all lined up saying, “Cao Cao, you are a God, you are the One, if we can’t have you then we don’t want anybody.”

But then everything somehow fell apart.

A sure thing about a hard drinkin’, poker playin’, American code breaker fell apart because the producer scammed me.

Another sure thing about a Russian mechanic, sure to the point that the director called me himself and told me it was a done deal, fell apart because I then got greedy and asked for too much money.

A show about a banker fell apart because I was too young.

A show about a tourist in love fell apart because I was too old.

A movie about the Olympics fell apart because I have all this fresh-eyed new competition flowing in from America who (who the hell knows why) want to make it in Chinese soap operas. Damned, cheap foreign labor!

Then I was too expensive again.

Then two shows just fell apart on their own.

So two months later I was fucking panicking, literally, couldn’t sleep, stomach convulsed by cramps of terror, middle of the night drenching icy sweat panicking. Would I ever work again? Was it all over? And then finally, from out of these depths of depression, despair and penury came a call – for a show. And as I stood there, phone in hand, I knew that the crunch time, the time that separates the men from the boys had come. Failure, as they say, was not an option.
Unfortunately though, when I got the call I was at a friend’s wedding and, as is proper at such an occasion, I was falling down, piss on my shoes drunk.

“Whoa man sorry, I’m like all booked today, you know?” I told the AD, trying really hard not to slur, “How about, like, tomorrow?” This was a lie, obviously, but I could barely stand up.

“No, if you don’t come today, we can’t use you. Director is only here for one day.”

I thought about this (or tried to through the booze). On a normal day I’d have just told him to fuck off, said, “Gosh, yeah, what an amazing opportunity, it would be so super to work with you, but gee, just can’t make it today, what a shame! Next time I guess.” He would’ve translated this (correctly) as “Fuck off. I’m too cool and too busy,” and they would have rearranged their schedules to accommodate me, the diss convincing them that I was valuable, making them want me even more.

But drink and panic were clouding my judgment - I needed this job.

“Let me see if I can re-arrange my schedule,” I said.

I hung up and found a wall on which to take a shaky piss. I threw up for a few minutes then called him back. “Hey, yeah, I, like, moved a meeting so, ah, I can swing by at eight o’clock. Okay?”

Then the second problem reared its head.

Directors have no imagination. They decide whether to use you twenty seconds after you walk in the door. And they love clichés. So the most important question I ask before I go see one is, “What does the character do for a living?” If the answer is businessman, I go in a suit, stand up real straight and act like an asshole. If the answer is WWII air force pilot, I go in a bomber jacket, wear tight jeans and chew gum. And the directors (who inexplicably never catch on that it’s a costume) exclaim, with relief and joy, “My God! He IS the character!”

But this time I was caught off guard.

Because the answer was, “He’s a caveman.”

I wasn’t even sure I’d heard him right, “you mean like a wild, hairy guy from before civilization?”

“Exactly,” said the AD.

Shit, I thought. I mean, it sounds funny now right, but like I said, I seriously needed this job so I genuinely had to figure out and put together, in under an hour, and stumbling drunk, a caveman costume.

“Ahh . . . “ I said, “Ahm . . . got it . . . see you at eight.” I hung up and staggered off to find a cab, only stopping once for a long beer pee behind a tree.

An hour later I flounced in, ready for action: I’d done some thinking in the car. I squinted around. There was the director, a bunch of nervous actors. There was some Italian guy with long hair who looked like a caveman - clearly competition. The director asked, “Can we do your audition now?” And my answer was a big, drunken, “you betcha” because, like I said, I figured I had it scoped.

“Gimme two seconds,” I said.

I ran outside and spit a huge loogie into my hands and then used it to make my hair stick out in all sorts of wild directions. Two minute later, hair all crazy and with dirt from the hallway floor smeared all over my face I walked into the audition room butt ass naked and slurred out, “All right dudes, I’m ready.”

I stumbled my way through the audition, more on adrenaline than any actual skill but, you know, I was drunk so it was at least exuberant. When the director finally yelled cut, you could hear a fuckin’ pin drop, not a sound.

And then . . . and then . . . the director started clapping. “Perfect!” he said, “perfect!” he turned to the other actors in the gymnasium. “This is an actor! You see? You all suck! No one paid attention when you auditioned – because you were not committed!” They sat around looking sullen, probably thinking, “dude, we paid attention ‘cause he was naked,” and then on further reflection, “shit, should I get naked too?”

“So there it is,” I thought as I stood up there in front of them, hangin’ in the breeze, “ I guess I’m perfect for a desperate, emaciated wild man scrabbling in dirt and filth for his survival.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm Famous

By: Jonathan “Cao Cao” Kos-Read

I’m famous.

Really. People want my autograph. They take pictures with me. In restaurants, they yell and wave, “Hey Cao Cao!” I wave back and, because it’s all so new, I fuckin’ love it.

The interesting thing though is, now that I’m famous I’ve been figuring out all this stuff about why stars are the way they are, and so, like a spy into the world of fame, here’s my secret report.

Why do stars wear dark glasses?

It’s a common misconception that stars wear dark glasses so as not to be recognized. “How stupid are they?” the man-in-the-street snarks, “Don’t they realize that makes them stick out even more?” But I now know the truth; he is making a mistake of analysis.

The star isn’t wearing the large dark sunglasses in order to protect, Clark Kent style, his secret identity. It is for another reason entirely.

Imagine what it’s like to be a star. You sit in a restaurant. Everywhere you look, everybody you look at, is looking back at you. And it’s creepy. They all nod at you. They wave.

But if you wear dark glasses, no one can be sure where you’re looking, “Oh look!” the fan thinks when he spots you, “Is he looking at me or something behind me. I’ll nod and wave . . . oh, he must be looking behind me,” when in fact, you, the star are thinking, “damn glad I brought my sunglasses.”

The sunglasses relieve you of the responsibility of responding to eye contact.

How should you sign autographs?

Say you’re mobbed by a crowd of girls, all peeing their pants for your autograph. You, an obliging soul, want to give it to them. But they’re so excited, pushed to such stratospheric heights of ecstasy by the frisson of your proximity that your poor hand is jostled to and fro with such ferocity that you are physically prevented from even putting pen to paper. What does the friendly, right-thinking famous person do in this situation?

Many people (who aren’t famous) say, “I would just like tell them, like really firmly, step back man, just like step back or that’s it, I just can’t sign any more autographs.” And the first time I got mobbed, I did that. But here’s the problem, the girls know there is limited time and at some point, the vicissitudes of fame will pull you out of their dreary lives. It’s this knowledge that drives a brutal natural selection. The most aggressive girls get their books signed first. The others watch and learn. Things quickly spiral out of control.

And herein lies the solution: they aren’t really shoving their notebooks “in front of you” they’re shoving them into “the space from where you take the notebooks.” Your original mistake was allowing yourself to take the notebooks from the same place where you were signing them.

Follow these instructions: The crowd rushes you. You pull out a pen. They stab you in the chest with a hundred notebooks. You, the experienced famous person reach up, over their heads, and take the notebook out of the shy, trembling hands of the little wallflower in the back, sign it, reach back over and return it to her.

They learn fast. After probably two such cullings they’ll cluster around an imaginary spot in the air two feet away from you, still frantic and peeing with worry but now stabbing the air instead of your chest leaving you free to bestow your John Hancock on all those little fans who make you feel so special.

Why are stars assholes?

Everybody who isn’t famous yet says, “I wouldn’t change man.” But of course, everybody does. Why?

First, being famous is like being a hot girl. After years of guys talking to you just because they want to see your pussy you get jaded and just treat all guys like shit. Think how you treat those dork Chinese college students who run up to you and say, “hey, do you want to be my foreign friend?!”

Being a star is the same. Everybody wants to be your friend so they can show you off to their real friends.

The second reason stars become assholes is: life is hard. Before you were famous you ate a lot of shit, steaming heaps of it every day. You did it because you weren’t the top dog, and when the top dog - your boss, your client, whoever - took a shit on you, you had to lick it up, smile and say, mmmm, that shit was soooo good. But now, you only have to be afraid of the audience – and they’re far away. As long as they love you, and watch shows just because you’re in them, whenever anybody you physically work with is incompetent, wants you to do something stupid or dicks you around in any way you can just let loose because your job doesn’t depend on them liking you.

Being a star lets you respond naturally to other people pissing you off.

How famous am I?

So having read this and, because you’re not Chinese, having no idea who the fuck I am, you might be curious and ask, “Jonathan, how big a star are you really? Are you really famous enough to tell me all this shit?” Well, interestingly, on the day I finished writing this, I had an experience that showed me just how famous I am: finally I was accosted by an eighteen year old chick.

“I’ve seen you on TV!” she squeeked.

“Yeah, I suppose you have.” I rumbled smoothly.

“You’re that guy!”

“I am that guy. Which show of mine do you like?”

She called frantically over to her friend and pointed to me, “Look, look, it’s Dashan!”

About Me

My photo
I play white guys on Chinese soap operas.