Monday, September 5, 2011
Probably six years ago, I was on Amazon ordering a book. On the bottom it said, “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought:” and it had a listing of a bunch of different books of the same topic. I don’t remember what the original book was I was looking for, but I definitely remember a book listed on the bottom.
It played a big role in me moving out to Los Angeles.
The book was called Midnight in the City. On the front cover it said, “A reporter’s journey to America’s dark places rocks his view of religion. I have always been very interested in poverty and hearing people’s perspectives on it. I get pretty passionate about it. It was cheap, so I ordered it.
When it arrived, I read it really quickly. It was about this guy who went into the inner cities of eight different cities and interviewed drug dealers and prostitutes. He did it without an agenda and reported on who he met there as individuals, not statistics. I really loved it. When I got to the end I was shocked that it said, “The author lives in Springfield, MO with his wife…” Wait, what? Yeah, the guy lives in Springfield. His name is Hal Donaldson. He runs an organization called Convoy of Hope.
Whenever I hear about someone interesting I will call them up so I can meet them. So, I tried calling. I called a number of times, but I could never get past the secretary. Then, as luck would have it, The Skinny Improv was doing a private show for Convoy of Hope for their Christmas party. I jumped at the chance. I performed and hosted the show. Then, as people were mingling about, I approached Hal and told him about how I loved his book, but I couldn’t ever get past his secretary to talk to him. Since I was no longer a complete stranger, he told me tell her that we had talked and to let me through.
Anyway, I finally met up with Hal in his office. I was mostly interested in him and what he had to say in the book. I told him about how much I admired the way his faith motivated him to help the poor. That was fairly short lived because we ended up talking about me the whole time. Hal is one of those guys that has a knack for making that happen. Here I was exited to talk to this guy I admired, and we ended up talking about acting and comedy and where I saw that going in my life.
Then, he said, “I can see you in Hollywood someday.” I hadn’t ever been encouraged in that way before, not with so much confidence. Convoy of Hope is now an international aid organization that helps millions of people every year, from the poor in American cities to responses to natural disasters worldwide. They’re a big deal. They started when Hal and some buddies decided to buy some groceries and put them into the back of a pickup truck, drive to a poor neighborhood, and just hand them out. Now, they have fleets of semis. So, when he says something like, “I can see you in Hollywood,” it made me think, “Hey, maybe I can do that.”
Then, when I was leaving he said, “Jeff, I hope that one day I get a call from you as you’re leaving Springfield in your packed car, driving to Hollywood.”
That was about six years ago, but it always stuck with me. It nagged at me in a good way. This was pre braces, pre Mystery Hour. I ended up meeting up with Hal occasionally after that, even having him as a guest on The Mystery Hour. He was one of my big helps in navigating my way through what I needed to do to give it a shot. He told me I would need a reel, and sent off my first very crappy version to a friend of his in the industry.
I really admire the way Hal took the time to talk with me, and how each time we talked the conversation somehow became completely about me. I love that quality in people that I admire. This guy, who started a multi million dollar international aid organization with groceries in the back of a pickup thought I could make it in Hollywood. Coming from him, far fetched crazy ideas have a way of sounding not so crazy and far fetched. I kind of started to believe him.
So, in the middle of February, I packed up my car and started driving away towards Hollywood. After I had stopped crying from saying goodbye to Michelle, but before I was outside of Springfield, I called Hal, like he had told me to.
I got his voicemail and left a message saying that I was doing it. I was driving away from Springfield to Hollywood.