I’m on your television again, strolling through a posh art gallery, attractive female companion on my arm. My character’s severe to moderate Crohn’s disease isn’t going to stop him from a night of culture and lively conversation. As I point out the bold strokes of a priceless modern abstract to my fawning date, I personify grace under pressure, fierce defiance in the face of a potential flare up. It’s a gift.
I used to think I was born to dig into classic, timeless acting roles. I could’ve easily pulled off a more ambitious Macbeth, a rowdier Stanley Kowalski. Then I discovered a higher calling — getting middle-aged men to get their type-2 diabetes symptoms under control so they can enjoy tandem bike rides with their wives again. That takes a once-in-a-generation talent who can channel his extensive summer stock training into a multi-dimensional character whose overactive bladder never gets in the way of playing pickup hoops and draining sweet three pointers.
Not to brag, but I’ve got crazy range. I’m like the Ned Beatty of prescription drug ad actors. There isn’t an affliction or ailment I can’t put a brave face on. I’ve pulled off rock climbing with bipolar depression, kite flying with ulcerative colitis, and county fair shooting gallery marksmanship with high cholesterol. My agent says if it swells, flakes, or fibrillates it’s in my wheelhouse. I say I’ve never met a disease I can’t hypothetically triumph over through an exaggerated display of masculinity.
Like any serious actor, I immerse myself in research before stepping foot on the set. You can’t portray an astronaut without logging a little zero gravity time, and you don’t nail the part of a chronic shingles sufferer without attending a support group meeting or two. Yes, hearing the stories grows tiresome, but when my character has to confidently stoke a campfire while regaling his friends with a hilarious story, you better believe I’m fueled by the pain of poor Neil who’s always going to be a virgin because his hands resemble bright red oven mitts.
My most rewarding role? You no doubt remember my nuanced portrayal of an impotent man pulling a horse trailer out of the mud before returning home to achieve sexual fulfillment with his special lady, thanks to a certain little blue pill. In thirty short seconds, I dared thousands of men to choose hope over fear, possibility over frustration. Whenever I see that ad, I feel how Rosa Parks must have on that famous December day in Montgomery.
Some say I’m pushing pills. Wrong. I’m actually starting dialogues while building bridges of understanding and empathy. The next time you meet someone with rheumatoid arthritis, I hope you flash back to my character who didn’t let a few aches and pains stop him from building a canoe. A canoe! Thanks to my eminently human depiction of a man who didn’t let his medicine’s rectal bleeding side effects keep him from attending the big game, I hope you’ll see your irritable-bowel-syndrome-with-constipation coworker in a new and empowered light. You’re welcome.
It’s a lonely vocation. The elite ones always are. My old actor buddies don’t return my emails. I may not be trying to pull off Willy Loman’s soliloquy from Death of a Salesman, but that doesn’t mean I can’t channel the whimsy of Falstaff in a plaque psoriasis ad when I high five my perky wife over the great antique chest we just found. But they don’t see it. They’re too busy workshopping and auditioning and doing “legit” acting they claim uplifts the human spirit. Fuck that. You know what really sends the human spirit soaring? Seeing that Bell’s Palsy doesn’t have to keep you from skydiving. Boom!
I’ve suffered some slings and arrows, sure. My critics say I’m profiting from the unscrupulous practices of prescription drug companies that don’t want people to address their illnesses in a responsible, holistic manner. I say you can’t buy his-and-hers Jet Skis with community theater paychecks. And if I can move the feel-good needle even a smidge by showing a man with squamous small-cell lung cancer enjoying a rousing game of mixed doubles with his hot girlfriend, then I say: “Forty serving love, motherfuckers!”