"There are only two minutes left. Two minutes left. TWO MINUTES LEFT!"
That was a whispered quote from the panicked man standing behind me towards the end of last week's Undateable Live.
It was 8:28 p.m. on a Friday night, and there were, indeed, just two minutes left in that night's broadcast, but the scene on stage was still going strong. The woman next to the panicked man was furiously flipping through a script, of which there were apparently many more than two minutes left.
While I was sitting pretty after completing my very rigorous five minutes of background "acting" two whole scenes ago, it was hard not to get caught up in the suspense. Would they make it, or would stars Chris D'Elia, Brent Morin, Bridgit Mendler and guest star Whitney Cummings get cut off mid-joke?
Of course, they made it. They had to cut what sounded like a big chunk of the scene, but the show still ended on time, and thus they survived another night of live TV.
While you couldn't see the panic backstage while watching the show itself, you can see just a glimpse of how fun it actually is. After two seasons, Undateable went from being a typical friends-in-a-bar sitcom to being one of the most interesting and seriously fun sitcoms on TV, all thanks to being totally live on both coasts.
The show has now become a game in which the cast and writers try to cause unscripted laughter by changing jokes last minute and throwing in improvised references to real life, like Morin's latest Netflix special, D'Elia's failed sitcom-filled past, or Mendler's time on Good Luck Charlie. Meanwhile, comedian Ron Funches might try to sell you on his latest catchphrase or campaign for a role in The Wiz. The entire point is to illicit some sort of hilarious reaction on live TV, and so far, the show has been pretty successful at that.
The show has also found a unique home on social media. Creator Bill Lawrence Periscopes before and after every episode, and you'll find crew members doing the same throughout the night. Bill explains to the audience beforehand that while they're not allowed to be on their phones during the episode (just in case a phone goes off), they are allowed to post anything they want during commercial breaks, which is kind of unheard of for a sitcom taping.
The cast members are also on their phones during the show, occasionally live-tweeting or even answering phone calls. A real, working phone number to the bar on the show was given out during the season premiere, and members of the cast or crew will often answer it when it rings, even if the cameras are rolling.
Even the background actors—who are often just audience members who won a raffle—can have their phones out while they're on camera. Of course when I got the opportunity to make my live TV debut as a paid background actor, I did not take out my phone in order to capture the glorious moment. Instead, I played a fairly unorthodox and silent game of Blackjack in the back of the bar with a nice man named Patrick while I pretended to drink definitely-not-beer from some random bottle that was already on the table when I got there.
You can't see me very well on screen, but you can occasionally catch a glimpse of me concentrating very hard on how the hell you even play Blackjack. It didn't matter if we were actually playing Blackjack, of course. All that mattered was that I would pick a card up, put a card down, and watch Patrick for his silent cues as to what to do.
Patrick is apparently an expert at doing exactly this, since he does it every week. He informed me that he appears in every episode, playing cards in the back of the bar with any newbie who might be trying their hand at live background acting. As soon as I sat down and before the scene started, he was giving me a most helpful laundry list of dos and don'ts, and he continued to whisper more incredibly helpful directions throughout our two scenes.
Here's the gist of what I learned throughout the night:
Do take advantage of props, like beer bottles or a deck of cards. Do things you might normally do while sitting at a table in a bar.
Don't drink the beer. It's not beer. Pretend to drink it, but don't actually consume any of the strange brown liquid so as to prevent any live background barfing.
Don't make noise. Move your mouth all you want, but don't say actual words unless you want to ruin everything.
Don't look at the actors, even if one of those actors is Ron Funches, and he just said something adorable. Don't even look at the actors if Whitney Cummings finally gets Chris D'Elia to laugh by saying, "I'll get this show canceled, too." Luckily, that was not one of the scenes I was in, because that would have been damn hard to do.
Do look at the actors if something is happening that most people in a bar would naturally turn around to look at. For example, Patrick told me I was allowed to watch when Shelley, played by Ron Funches, met the woman of his dreams: the female version of himself. If you don't have a Patrick to tell you when this sort of event is occurring, you'll always be safe if you just don't look at all.
Don't laugh. It's very hard. I definitely started to smile once, but I pretended I was just very amused by my hand of cards. I was winning.
Do play Rummy instead of Blackjack. It is easier to play silently.
Don't wear the same color that the guest star is wearing. Someone in the wardrobe department will force you to cover up your burgundy sweater with a large brown sweater that might be the same color as your hair, and you will be very warm as you, now a giant lump of sweater, wonder who else has sweat in that same sweater.
Do have fun, because it is fun! Even if you're wearing two sweaters, it's hard not to have at least a little bit of a good time. Plus, the stage turns into a party as soon as the cameras turn off (and there's a real, working bar back there too!) so it's really the best half-hour TV job you could possibly have.
Do go home and watch yourself on your DVR, even if you literally are just a lump of sweaters in the corner, because you were a lump of sweaters in the corner on live, national TV, and how many people get to say that?
Undateable's midseason finale airs tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBC Universal family.)