Marc Summers Gives "Double Dare Kids" the Solo Show They've Been Waiting For
Plus, Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda is president of the TV host's extensive Broadway fan club.
Maybe it was his soothing tours of food-covered obstacle courses, or his pairing of tan suits with white sneakers, but Marc Summers carries a special torch of nostalgia for a generation of kids raised on Nickelodeon's Double Dare. The slime-obsessed game show turns 30 this year — about the same age as Summers' latest collaborators, composer Drew Gasparini and School of Rock star Alex Brightman, who also happen to be two card-carrying "Double Dare kids" (Summers' own affectionate term for fans of the show).
Brightman carved out time from his Broadway schedule to write the TV personality a one-man show Everything in Its Place: The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers, debuting this April, with original music by Gasparini, at Bloomington Playwrights Project in Bloomington, Indiana. "I'd take him and Drew to dinner and just tell stories about my life," says Summers. "The next thing I know, I get handed this sixty-five page script."
What kind of show did you set out to make with Alex Brightman and Drew Gasparini?
There are a hell of a lot of people who don't have any idea who Marc Summers is, so the edict from day one was, "This better be a damn good show." It had to be entertaining. And so we have a little secret that I'm not going to reveal right now that makes it more than a one-man show. But we go down memory lane. I start off as a standup comic and I do part of my act from 1976 when I was a regular at the Comedy Store. It talks about [when] I was thirteen years old and I started calling The Tonight Show in New York trying to talk to Johnny Carson. And then my fight to get on TV. Everybody told me I was not good-looking enough, I had a big nose, [I didn't] have "host hair."
Was acting ever a goal, or did you always want to be a television host?
A little bit of both. In 1964 I went to New York for the first time and I saw Fiddler on the Roof and I went, "Oh my God, I don't know what this is, but I need to do that." So I went home and I [found] a group called Footlight Musicals that did local productions, and I auditioned for Bye Bye Birdie. I made the chorus, and to this day I'm pissed that I didn't get into the "Telephone Hour" scene. But then I figured, "OK, what's the next step?" And the next step was magic. I learned how to be a magician and it got me onstage.
How did you end up getting the job at Double Dare?
I had a friend who was a ventriloquist at the time, and he called me and said, "I don't think I want to be talent anymore…[but] I just got called…[for] some kind of game show. Why don't you go to the audition instead of me?" And I did and it changed my life.
Your book Everything in Its Place talks about your challenges with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Does the play address that as well?
Yes, that's an underlying theme. OCD was something that I had from the time that I was about five, six years old, and I didn't know what the hell it was so I always hid it. It wasn't until I was hosting a talk show on Lifetime where Doctor Eric Hollander came on. As I was doing the research the night before, [I] realized that all these crazy things I'd been doing since I was a kid had a name. So I go on national TV and say, "Hey, I think I have this." And my whole career crashes and burns. All of a sudden I couldn't get a job.
How did you end up making your way to the Food Network?
Well, Judy Girard [head of programming at Food Network] was the lady who had fired me at Lifetime. So I called her up and said, "Judy, I will pay you to get back on TV." They showed me this tape of a pilot they had done for a special called Unwrapped, and they said, "You wanna do this show?" And I said, "Yeah." And it became the longest-running show on Food Network. Believe it or not, Unwrapped was the number one show on the Food Network for about five years.
Are you excited to take all your TV experience and bring it to the stage?
When I was flying here from Philly, I really started having a panic attack saying, "Holy sh*t, this is really gonna happen now." I could tell you a lot about television, but the last time I was on a stage…was thirty years ago.
How involved with the show can Alex Brightman be while doing School of Rock?
He's involved every freaking moment. That was my question when this whole thing happened. I suggested that we shut this thing down for a year and he said, "I can get it done." And he did it. I don't know when Alex sleeps. This kid is amazing. He's wise beyond his years, and as great of an actor as he is, I think he's even a better writer.
Considering the impact Fiddler and Bye Bye Birdie had on you as a kid, you must be coming into this as a theater fan.
I'm a lover of theater. I just saw Hamilton — holy Jesus. As I'm sitting down in the seats, the company manager says, "After the show, Mister Miranda would like to know if he could meet you." So I went backstage afterwards, semi-pooping my pants. And then [Lin] sees me over stage right and comes over and gives me the biggest hug. Well, he was a Double Dare kid! I had no freaking idea. People say to me, "I'm sure you're tired of hearing it." I never get tired of hearing it.