The Grouchy Muffin (Celebrity) Interview: Jessica Gaynes

 Mad Dad is an actual, legitimate, journalist. Like for realsies. He also had a childhood obsession with the comely young Jessica Gaynes, co-Host of Nickelodeon’s EXTREME game show, “Wild and Crazy Kids.”

In a post that marries the two loves of his young life, Mad Dad interviewed Ms. Gaynes in the first of a series I’m calling, The Grouchy Muffin Interview. Enjoy his probing, thoughtful, Charlie Rose-like interview piece.

When you were young.

For any kid between the ages of eight to 12 in the early 1990s with the luxury of cable television, the after-school hours were pure TV paradise.

Around this time, Nickelodeon started what would become a multi-billion dollar industry for Disney: Scripted TV programs and game shows for older kids and pre-teens like Salute Your Shorts, Clarissa Explains It All, Hey Dude, Double Dare and Kenan & Kel (leading up to this period, Nickelodeon was a largely fledging cable network). It launched the careers of Ben Stiller’s wife, the guy from Rilo Kiley and gave us Bobby Budnick. Corny – but hardly cartoony – the shows targeted the tweener with original programming, unheard of at the time.

Included in this block of entertainment was the game show Wild & Crazy Kids. Running from 1990-92, it pitted teams of kids against each other in physically challenging – and often, messy – games. The hosts included Annette Chavez (1990), Donnie Jeffcoat, Omar Gooding (Cuba Jr.’s brother) and the ginger-haired Jessica Gaynes (1991-92).

Here’s a clip of Jessica getting pied by a fireman.

Gaynes graciously agreed to field some questions about being a child in the entertainment business, working at Nickelodeon and more.

I don’t know of anyone that has purchased a Michael Bolton record. I know of 20-25 people who rushed home after school to catch Wild & Crazy Kids. Do you get recognized by balding 33-year-old guys at Chilis or Best Buy?

Yes, sometimes adults who used to watch the show (but are younger than I am) will recognize me. This happened at Starbucks on the drive-through just three days ago.

There was another time recently when I dropped my phone in a sushi bar and the battery came loose and couldn’t be found. While the waitress and I were looking for it, I had to crawl on my hands and knees trying to spot the battery under everyone’s legs. I was saying something about “Oh, hold on … there it is, I see it, OK … I can think I can reach it, hold on … uh … I got it!” And this guy at the sushi bar said to me “You seem familiar. Did you used to be on a kid’s show where they played games?” We laughed because he recognized me from my behavior while on the ground searching for my phone.

When he left the restaurant he said, “Thank you for making my childhood bearable.” I thanked him, and that I very much appreciate hearing his kind words. And then all of the sushi chefs said to me “Jessica, how come you never tell us you were on a show?”

But sometimes, I am mistakenly recognized for someone else. For example, I walked in to a store in Hollywood the other day called Rock City Railroad, and as I was leaving one of the employees asked me if I was on some current show (I wish I could remember the name of the show but I can’t because I don’t watch television much anymore). I told him that I was not the person they thought I was, and he told me that they had all been Googling the real actress and watching me while I walked through the store, and saying “That’s her! That’s definitely her!” Of course, I am not the girl they were Googling.

How did you get the Wild & Crazy Kids gig? Were you breaking into acting? What was the back story?

I joined Screen Actors Guild when I was six years old with a small part playing Lisa Pelikan’s daughter, Peggy, in Swing Shift, which starred Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell and was directed by Jonathan Demme. I did commercials in elementary school. Then I stopped auditioning for a few years. Then I began auditioning again when I was 14 and I was hired for Wild and Crazy Kids after six call-backs. (Meaning they called us back for six auditions. And the auditions were arduous and intensive and lasted for several hours every single time.) So many children go on auditions in Los Angeles at some point in their childhood lives.

I know your father had TV parts at a young age through his young adult years. Was show business something you grew up with and something, early on, you knew you wanted to do?

My dad was a child actor in New York City. He worked a lot more than I did when he was a kid. He did hundreds of commercials and print ads and television guest appearances during the 1950s and ’60s. I think it is wrong when parents put their children into acting before they have any say in the situation. My grandmother did this to my father. And I don’t think it is healthy.

With that being said, I don’t consider the environment I grew up in to have been an ideal one, in terms of expectations and adult understanding of how children should be treated.

If you haven’t visited the website for A Minor Consideration (link: minorcon.org), which belongs to Paul Peterson, a childhood actor from The Donna Reed Show, which used to re-run on Nick at Nite, you really should. He has a lot of important things to say about children in “show business.”

Interesting. When I watched Wild and Crazy Kids, I assumed you were like 18. I was 10. I didn’t know any better. You were actually around 14 or so – still pretty young. Did it take you long to figure out that it wasn’t the best of situations?

Doing the show was fine. It was fun. I just didn’t reap the benefits of the laws that were written but poorly enforced (Coogan Law). It has since been re-written (in 2000) and is a better protection for child performers who make a significant amount of money before they turn 18.

Was the Nickelodeon “family” of original programming close at all? Were their company picnics or ice cream socials where you’d chit chat with “Brad” from Hey Dude or “Sponge” from Salute Your Shorts?

Nickelodeon sent Christmas presents to everyone every year. And Nickelodeon sent us on promotional tours with other actors from Nickelodeon shows like Mike O’Malley from Get the Picture and Christine (Taylor) from Hey Dude who went on to play Marsha in The Brady Bunch Movie.

What was the production of Wild and Crazy Kids like? Was it like “Wheel of Fortune” where you filmed several episodes in a day? Was it a complete beating having to deal with a bunch of kids all of the time?

My first season on the show we taped two episodes a week on back-to-back days. The first day would be one episode and the next day would be another episode. We would get the script for both shows delivered the night before the first day of taping. It was summertime so we would usually tape on a Friday and a Saturday, and the segment producers spent Monday through Thursday coming up with new games and writing the dialogue for the hosts. Sometimes we went out of state, which was totally different. We spent five days in Washington D.C. taping two episodes over the span of four days, a week in Utah taping two episodes and three days in Big Bear taping two episodes. The kids were very well behaved. They were prepped and corralled by the crew, so they weren’t tiring to deal with at all.

The second season I think I remember taping two episodes a week for half of the season, and at the end shortening it to just one episode a week. Later on, after the episodes had been edited, we would meet at a voice-over studio and do the recorded commentary dialogue that you would hear while the game was playing.

You were pied in the face by a firefighter. Squirted with mustard by the kid from Roseanne. Why did it seem you were picked on so mercilessly when we all clearly hated Donnie more? And were you ever “slimed” by Marc Sommers? Details, please.

You probably remember more than I do about the episodes. I don’t know … I didn’t complain, so I did what they wrote in the script for me to do. I never thought about it too much. I didn’t dwell on why they had me pied in the face or why I got the mustard and ketchup. The premise was getting messy. So, you have to be willing to get messy. And yes, one of the episodes with Marc Sommers as a guest we were all three slimed.

A special thanks for Jessica for being a good sport and answering my ridiculous questions. – Mad Dad

UPDATE: Jessica’s done more interviews. You can read one here and find out how she feels about being her.

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