How To Be A TV Star


I lied to get on TV. I wanted to go on Jim Cramer’s show in 2003 and he asked me how much money I was managing. He said, “it has to be at least five million dollars else anyone just managing a few hundred thousand in family money can get on TV.”

So I told him five million dollars.

I didn’t want to go on TV at all. I was scared to death .

But I didn’t want to go to Mississippi either.

I was supposed to go down to Mississippi to raise money for my business from the ex CFO of Worldcom and a family that killed more chickens per year than any other family in the country.

But I hadn’t been on an airplane since having breakfast at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and I didn’t want to go on a plane.

Once Jim asked me to go on I couldn’t stop shaking. I knew I was a fraud and I was finally going to prove it to everyone I went to high school with.

I assumed they would all be gathered at the same place, eating popcorn and laughing at me.

An hour before I went on, I met with Stephen Dubner, who had yet to write Freakonomics. He had agreed to help me before I went on the air.

Before you go on a news show they send you the questions they want you to be ready for.

Stephen and I went to the studio and he asked me the questions over and over.

I kept repeating my answers trying to iron out all the “umms” and pauses and weird inflections. Trying to keep calm.

Going on TV is like going up to a strange girl in a bar and saying, “hey, do you think you like me?” and expecting a positive outcome.

Then they put you in this tiny room by yourself and there’s a camera looking at you and there’s a thing in your ear so you can hear the show.

Someone electronically whispers in your ear, “60 seconds”. And then you begin to slightly pee in your pants.

On cue, you start talking out loud in an empty room to the thing in your ear with a cardboard picture of the NYC horizon behind you.

It’s like a psychology experiment. “We’re going to put you in a dark room, turn the lights down, and ask you a bunch of terrifying questions while we measure your sperm count! Hooozah!”

I asked the producer that the one question I did not want to answer was the one they sent about gold. Everything else I could answer.

They started off asking me about gold. Because all TV wants to do is completely crush your life. That’s what’s called “good TV”.

Anyway, I answered it. Because as long as you open your mouth and English words come out, then everyone nods their head and says, “that’s what I thought also”.

You don’t even have to say anything resembling a complete sentence. I think I answered, “Gold dollar money inflation nothing”.

Oh, one piece of advice. No matter what people ask you on TV: bring it back to your “media message”. So if someone asks about “Gold”, just bring it back to, “it’s all about the dollar”. If someone asked me if Superman was secretly Jewish instead of from Krypton I could’ve said, “It really depends on how badly the Jews manipulated the Kryptonian dollar”.

The entire time I was on TV was about 90 seconds. I had probably prepared 18 hours for those 90 seconds. Like most dates I had gone on in my 20s.

Afterwards two things happened.

My dad wrote me an email congratulating me. Since we were in a fight and I tend to avoid people I’m fighting, I didn’t respond to him. Then he had a stroke and died.

Another thing happened.

I came home and my four year old daughter was having a religious awakening. I had just been on the TV, where God lives. And now I was standing in front of her, Christ risen.

She was more happy than I had ever seen her. She adored me more than she ever would again.

It’s hard to be an authentic human being on television. And then you get addicted to the experience of being on it. The tiny box becomes a prison of ego.

On TV everyone pretends like they know the true price of everything.

I wasn’t free until I finally appreciated that I knew the value of nothing.

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image – Martin Howard