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As an actress, writer, comedian, consulting producer and television personality, Jenni Pulos has a finally honed approach to life that keeps her smiling. In her memoir, 'Grin and Bear it,' she explains her irreverent philosophy. Here's an excerpt.
My rapping career was actually born back at UCLA when I was in a comedy rap group called Juicy. Nothing was off limits. We even turned the funky fresh jam “Supersonic” by J. J. Fad into a remix called “Liposuction.” Then, in 2002, I entered the infamous Showtime at the Apollo talent show as a rap duo with Todd Lewis, Jeff’s brother. But more on my TV better half later.
If you aren’t familiar with Showtime at the Apollo, the crowds are notoriously rough. They will boo anyone off the stage with such vigor, it’s often terrifying to even think about going out there. If you can survive amateur night at the Apollo, you can survive anything. That audience is known as one of the toughest in the business. Knowing this, Todd and I decided to go for it. I haven’t always known where I’m going in life, but like most hard-core rappers, here is where I have to give thanks to God.
We were the second to last act that night, following a Japanese dance team, Aretha Franklin’s doppelgänger, Barry White’s doppelgänger (with a bigger tongue), a Boyz II Men a cappella–style group with three of the most beautiful African American men I have ever seen, and a hot sexy singer who came out and killed it with her voice and body, not in that order. The crowd had gone crazy for each one of these performers. And then it was our turn.
I didn’t know if the producers were setting us up for a fall by putting us toward the end of the show or if they knew it would be great television to have two extremely white nerdy rappers go out on that great big brutal stage. Just before Todd and I went on, Kiki Shepard and Rudy Rush, the co-hosts of the show, were looking us up and down, like we’d stumbled into the wrong hood. All I could think was, Don’t forget to rub the stump. There’s a tradition to rub what remains of the tree of hope, a lucky wishing tree that was cut down in 1934. A legendary section of the trunk sits at the side of the stage. Rubbing the stump is known to bring good luck and has been a longstanding tradition for amateur night for many years.
Chris and Todd’s girlfriend, Carrie, were in the audience. You could easily spot them in the crowd. Chris was standing next to an Apollo regular who asked why he was there.
“My wife is performing tonight.”
“Aw, great, man, I’ll cheer for her.…”
When the Aretha Franklin look-alike came out he turned to Chris and asked, “Is that your wife?’
When the Japanese dance team came out, he turned and asked, “Is that your wife?”
When the hot sexy African American girl came out, he asked, “Is that your wife?”
Finally, when I came out, he turned to Chris and said, “Oh no, man, please tell me that’s not your wife.…”
“Uh, yeah … that’s my wife.…”
“I can’t do it, man … sorry.…”
The minute we stepped onto the stage—me in a Brownie uniform, beanie and all, and Todd in Boy Scout shorts, thick black glasses, and a green sash full of Cub Scout badges across his chest—we were booed and laughed at. The host Rudi Rush introduced us.
“I’m Jenni, yeah.”
“And we’re from Los Angeles.”
I announced meekly that we were going to do “a little song from camp … God Bless New York.” We wanted to be SEEN. And boy, were we ever.
As expected, the crowd was raucous and had no time for our brand of silliness. People were visibly cringing in their seats, holding their hands over their open mouths in horror. The music started and we began our ultra-white, super-geeky dance moves, complete with lip biting and protruding thumbs. But as soon as the music kicked in and turned into a beat, we quickly transformed into street badasses attacking with the words, “Who’s the black sheep? What’s the black sheep? Here they come, yo, here they come.”
We covered the stage with our moves repeating, “You can get with this. And you can get with that.” We stunned the crowd, including the Apollo regular next to Chris. Everyone was on their feet, clapping, fist pumping, whoop-whooping it up and having a great time. When we finished, one of the hosts came back to congratulate me.
“Girl, come here and give Kiki a hug!” she said as she threw her arms around me.
To announce the winner of the show, the producers bring each of the acts back on stage for a final audience vote. Todd and I stood up there with all of this amazing talent waiting to hear who won. When they announced that we had tied for first place, the crowd went nuts—but then, they were asked to break the tie and scream for the winner and we lost to the a capella group. But it was an incredible moment. For the first time in my career I felt SEEN. Finally I’d done something I thought would make my mother proud—and happy. I wanted to keep my big win a surprise, so I didn’t tell her the results of the show that night. I simply told my mom when the show was set to air, and warned her that since the show came on so late at night, she had to promise to stay awake for the entire episode or she would miss the big surprise at the end. I knew she’d call me the next morning.
When the phone rang early the next day, I was sure I was about to get my mother’s approval—it was a moment I’d been waiting for my entire life. “Jennifer, I saw your show,” she said. Here it comes … the moment I had been waiting for.
“Did you like it Mom?”
“It was horrible,” she said.
My heart sank. I knew full well she wouldn’t approve of me rapping, dressed as a Brownie, gyrating my pelvis in front of three thousand strangers, but I held out hope that she might somehow come around. I asked her why she didn’t like the show.
“Well, that man was on the whole time selling that cheap face cream, which looks like a terrible product. I guess you came out toward the end of the two-hour segment, but Jennifer, it didn’t even look like you. Did you straighten your hair and gain weight since the last time you came to Palm Springs? Your ankles looked less swollen, though, so that was good.”
That ankle comment was my mom’s way of being supportive. I tried not to react.
“Mom, what channel were you watching?”
“Oh, I don’t remember. I think the peacock,” she said.
“Didn’t you check TV Guide? The show was probably preempted and replaced by infomercials because I wasn’t selling face cream. I was a rapping Brownie!”
“Oh, Jennifer just get in something I can be proud of already! Nia Vardalos’s mom gets My Big Fat Greek Wedding and I’m stuck with a rapping Brownie.”
You have to love my mother’s version of nurturing.
Excerpted from Grin and Bear It, copyright (c) 2014 by Jenni Pulos and Kathleen King. Used with permission by St. Martin's Press, all rights reserved.