I thought I was going to be a natural on camera.
We did a test shoot for my on-camera segments of The Copy Cure, an online copywriting course that I’m creating with my friend Marie Forleo. This test shoot revealed two things.
1) It’s hard to read from a teleprompter and not sound like you’re reading from a teleprompter.
2) Apparently, I never smile when I talk. Which means none of my friends ever pointed out to me that I look ghastly All. The. Time.
Why? Why have people allowed me to continue in this way? Publicly?
I thought I was a smiley person, because I always smile in the mirror.
I smile in the mirror because I look terrible not smiling.
Is it sexist when men on the street yell “smile, baby” at me? Maybe the “baby” part is sexist, but the “smile” part is more like urgent advice. They’re trying to help. It’s like yelling, “Your skirt is tucked into your underwear in the back.” There’s a thing called “bitchy resting face,” but mine is more “disastrously sloppy resting face,” and needs to be corrected immediately.
My face not smiling and then smiling is like a before and after of extreme plastic surgery. “Oh look, they fixed her head.”
On America’s Next Top Model, Tyra Banks told us to smize, or smile with your eyes, but I need to smile with my mouth (smouth). I try to pose for pictures like other people do, with my lips slightly parted and my stare burning through the lens, all sexy-like, and the resulting shot looks like Alfred Hitchcock.
I also know I need to smile because a big, hulking creep who lived in my dorm in college called me “Droopy Dog.” He would call me that and then try to lift me up and carry me down the dorm hall, which was not fun. In his defense, he might have thought I was having fun because I’d now be smiling, having been reminded that my non-smiling face looked like a jowly cartoon dog.
So, you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal, just smile when you talk.”
The thing is, if you don’t normally smile when you talk, and then you try to do that, you feel like a lunatic.
The smile feels inappropriate. It feels like I’m grinning and telling someone, “I’m afraid we have to let you go.” Or “Your parents are dead.” It feels like I’m a psycho killer saying, “I’m sorry I have to do this. But it’s time to peel off your skin and make you into a handsome suit. Now let’s get you flayed.”
I learned a pretty good trick from my husband.
I asked him, “I never smile when I talk, do I?”
He thought for a second, then shook his head nope.
I told him I don’t know how to smile when I talk to the camera, because it seems so bizarre, and he offered this, from his many years’ experience working the front of restaurants:
“Pretend you’re me talking to a restaurant regular whose name you totally forgot.”
You’ve never seen anyone smile as wide as Steven when he’s blanking on someone’s name. “HEY, YOU! SO great to see you! It’s been a while! What’s been going ON?? We’ve got your usual table for you, Schnookie.”
So on the actual shoot day, that’s what I did. I started each segment with a big, smiling, “I TOTALLY FORGOT YOUR NAME!”
That did the trick, though I think my smile ran out after a few seconds, like the flavor in a piece of Bubblicious gum.
As for the teleprompter, I’d memorized and practiced and done what I could to not sound like a kid reading a book report to the whole 4th grade class.
We’ll see. Or not — the course is coming out soon, but I don’t know if I can ever watch the parts with me. Can’t bear to look.
Have you ever been in front of a camera and realized you must look absurd ALL THE TIME?
What thing or things have you been horrified to discover about yourself lately? GO.
Got any tricks for performing on video?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.