My worst moment: ‘Wonder Years’ 2021 star Dulé Hill and the time he tried to be a pint-sized Vegas comedian

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune

“The Wonder Years,” which originally ran from 1988-1993, was rebooted this year and while it is still set in the ‘60s, this new ABC version centers a Black suburban family with Dulé Hill playing the dad.

He was drawn to “The Wonder Years” both as a fan but also because “I was very aware that I didn’t see myself reflected in the (original) show,” said Hill. “There were certain things that I could relate to because I grew up in the suburbs too, but I didn’t see myself in the show, so it also felt like a story outside of me. So when the opportunity came up to play the father in the re-imagining of it, I jumped at it. Black people in this country have nostalgia too. We created our very own wonder years as well that we can share, of regular American families, and this is one step in that direction of the unique and diverse stories that America has to share about herself.”

Hill’s credits include roles on iconic shows including “The West Wing” and “Psych,” but his career as an actor began when he was a child, appearing in the Broadway musical “The Tap Dance Kid,” first as Savion Glover’s understudy and later taking over the role for the show’s national tour.

When asked about a cringeworthy moment in his career, it was a memory from his time as a child actor that came to mind.

My worst moment …

“I grew up doing theater and auditioning and doing various different roles as a kid. And I was auditioning for this project, I can’t even remember what it was. I may have been 12 or 13 at the time. But I came to the audition knowing I had to prepare a stand-up routine.

“So I walk in, it’s kind of dark, the director’s there sitting in a chair. And I begin. I had just come off the national tour of ‘The Tap Dance Kid’ not too long before this and some of the crew members had taught me these old vaudeville acts: ‘Hey, I just flew in from San Francisco, boy are my arms tired, yuck, yuck, yuck!’ So I did that and I did pratfalls and all this other stuff (laughs) , I was doing the whole schpiel.

“And the director’s just sitting there looking at me and he doesn’t say a word. And when I’m finally done, all he says is: ‘Thank you.’ And I’m thinking, wow, he didn’t give me anything, that’s strange — he didn’t laugh, he didn’t do anything.

“As I’m walking out, I run into one of my friends and he goes, ‘How did you do?’ And I go, ‘I don’t know.’ And he said, ‘Well, what kind of monologue did you prepare?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean what kind of monologue? I did a stand-up thing.’ And he said, ‘ Dude , it was supposed to be a dramatic monologue.’ (Laughs)

“Once I realized my error, it was like time stopped and all the noise went out of the room. It was like, wait — what ? And then I was embarrassed because I know I made myself look like an idiot. And then I had some clarity, because I understood why the director seemed annoyed. And then after that it was recognition. I went through the stages like they were the stages of grief (laughs) . First it was denial, then it was anger, then it was understanding and relief and acceptance.

“So needless to say I did not get that role and I was not called back again to that casting director.”

How does he think the mix-up happened?

“I don’t know whether the information given to me was bad, or if I was just not paying attention. Maybe I was told that I could be funny and somehow in my mind it got translated into doing a stand-up act?

“Now the bigger question is why did I think doing a Vegas act was funny? Oh, that’s the other thing I started to do, I started singing ‘Witchcraft.’ (Laughs and starts singing) ‘Witchcraft, I’m talkin ‘bout witchcraft.’

“I did end up telling my parents what happened and we all got a good laugh out of it (laughs) because both my parents knew that routine I learned from the crew backstage. They knew exactly what I was doing and they knew it wasn’t funny. That’s the thing: Even if this audition was supposed to be a comedy routine, I probably still would not have gotten the role because what’s funny about a kid doing a Vegas act and singing ‘Witchcraft’? (Laughs) They probably would have been looking for a young Eddie Murphy and that was not it!”

The takeaway …

“The thing I learned is that you should pay attention to the details. And double and triple check the information before you go into an audition.

“Make sure you are over prepared instead of underprepared because you can really end up looking like a fool.”

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