By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
When another friend caught wind of the hoax and asked whether he could join in the fun, the plot sickened--much to the delight of the show's producers, claims Roberto.
Explaining how talk-show producers routinely keep in daily phone contact with potential guests (a gambit apparently aimed at neutralizing negative input from skeptical families and friends), Roberto had big news for the producer's next call.
While hanging out at a Valley gay bar the night before, Roberto told the producer, he'd struck up a conversation with a young man named J.D.--who just happened to be Johnny's latest ex! Comparing notes, the two scorned lovers were shocked to discover that J.D.'s missing dog--the object of a neighborhood reward-poster campaign--had actually been kidnaped by Johnny, who had the animal put to sleep at the pound!
Shocked, appalled and more intrigued than ever, the producer reportedly wasted no time in booking J.D. a seat on Roberto's flight. The evil Johnny, meanwhile, had been sweet-talked into flying to the program with the vague promise of being reunited with someone from his past.
Looking back, Roberto can't understand how anyone could seriously swallow the coincidence-laden fabrication he and his pals had cooked up.
"The weird thing was the crazier our story got, the more stoked the producers seemed to get," says Roberto. "It was almost as if they were encouraging us to keep embellishing with ridiculous details. The story eventually got so insane that I wondered how we'd ever be able to pull it off."
As it turned out, he had good reason to worry--but not for the reasons he suspected.
In the end, it wasn't the ever-escalating implausibility of their tower of lies that tripped up Roberto and his fellow poseurs. Instead, the scam collapsed when a Springer staffer--while searching through Roberto's hotel phone records to find the phone number of Johnny's boss--discovered that Roberto had made a number of long-distance calls to the hated Johnny from his hotel room the previous night.
Remembering his confrontation with furious producers, Roberto says, "I felt like the captain in the boiler room as the room's filling up with water. They were swearing at us--'You pricks! You little bastards! You lied to us!' Well, they lied to Johnny. They had him fly out, knowing I was going to have him fired."
So how closely do producers check the veracity of a potential guest's story?
While that's certainly an interesting question, it's apparently one of the very few queries in the trash-talk universe that doesn't deserve an answer. For people who work in an industry fueled by cheap talk, explosive secrets and bombastic confession, talk-show insiders are an amazingly laconic lot.
Mark Walberg did not return calls about Roberto's 1994 "Wild-to-Mild Makeover."
As for Roberto's experience on Jerry Springer, a spokesperson claims she's unable either to confirm or deny the incident because the producer of the segment is no longer with the show. Asked about the show's general screening policies, she explains that it would depend on exactly what the would-be guest had to say.
Over at Jenny Jones (where the shadow of last year's much-publicized "talk-show murder" still hangs over the studio), a staffer is only slightly more instructive. "We look at all the ID the people have, including driver's licenses, we interview them and we substantiate our guests' stories with other people," says Steve Maiman. "It's a very thorough process that gets better every year."
"They didn't try to verify anything," counters Timmy, who parlayed one of his Jones show appearances into a National Enquirer item, as well as a clip on Talk Soup, a talk-show digest that runs on cable.
Sitting in front of a TV set as one of his videotaped talk-show appearances unfolds onscreen, Timmy ruminates about his urge to dis and tell.
"Going to another city and essentially being paid to scam 20 million people is the ultimate high," he says. "To me, that is the ultimate amusement, having a dump truck full of shit pour out of your mouth knowing that it's feeding 20 million people all at the same time. They're all vicariously hating, through you, whatever it is they're hating about their lives."
While his pal Roberto has a lock on impersonating over-the-top gays ("If you tell them you're a homosexual, you get bonus points on these shows," explains Roberto), Timmy specializes in trailer-park Lotharios who treat women worse than dogs. Witness this partial transcript from a 1993 appearance on Jenny Jones that was excerpted in the National Enquirer.
Jenny Jones: Tell us [Timmy] about the woman you were with that you were trying to buy the car from. She wanted $1,800 for the car. How did you get a better price for the car?
Timmy: I brought her up to orgasm, then negotiated the price of the car down to $400.
Just as a member of high society can never be too thin or too rich, a daytime talk-show guest can never be too abrasive or too belligerent.
"The more confrontational you are, the better they like it," advises Timmy. "If you're serious about getting on one of these shows, give 'em what they want, push it to the limit, never give an inch."