Sorry I’m really late writing this blog post. Words are really hard to come by when trying to describe my Big Bang Theory dream. To me it’s like to trying to describe God. How does one do that? There’s no words in the English language that can possibly accurately describe it, but here I go.
My story is long and involved so I hope you will excuse the length of this post. I feel it is important to see my whole journey, so you know where I am coming from. Knowing fully where I came helps you understand how big of an experience this was for me.
I have Muscular Dystrophy. In short, Muscular Dystrophy is a group of diseases that cause progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. It isn’t known which specific form I have (I call it Joe Steiger Muscular Dystrophy). When I was 10, I had back surgery to correct Scoliosis (curvature of the spine). I had complications where I could not get off the ventilator because my diaphragm was paralyzed. After weeks of recovering and multiple attempts to get of ventilator, I was eventually able to get off. My diaphram came back mostly. It’s still half paralyzed on the one side but isn’t much of a factor today. Being off the ventilator, it was discovered my vocal cords were also paralyzed. I could only speak at a very low whisper. Unlike my diaphram, my vocal cord paralysis never repaired itself. The doctors don’t know the cause of the paralysis.
Over the years, I had 3 or 4 surgeries to try and fix my voice. I had a procedure done called medialization laryngoplasty. With this procedure, implants are put in to move the vocal cords closer together, in hopes of creating a voice. Unfortunately, none of these surgeries were successful. When I was 17, I tried the surgery one last time. This time, they did the surgery while I was awake so they could test different implant positions, to see which implant position is successful. Since all implant positions they tried did not create a voice, the surgeon decided just to remove the implants all together. After surgery, I noticed right away I was having trouble eating. I actually had trouble swallowing pain meds in recovery. Eating ever since the surgery would make me cough and sputter every time. I would need to lay down with my bipap machine (similar to a Cipap, kind of like a ventilator) I use at night while sleeping, to clear my lungs. Yes to all the people in the medical field out there, I know laying down to cough is a no no but I’m weird like that. Anyway, this trouble eating prevented me from going anywhere I would have to eat. I was always hesitant to try any surgery to fix the eating issue given my track record with surgeries. I had the back surgery issue at age 10 and had trouble with ankle surgery at age 13 or 14. I choked on pain medicine, in recovery, and went into respiratory arrest. After around 9 years of just dealing with it, I had a choking scare. It was very scary! I honestly think I was only a few seconds away from choking to death. I got my breathing machine on in the nic of time to clear lungs of the obstruction and the fluid that was beginning to fill my lungs [body’s natural defense to foreign objects in lungs]. After this close encounter, I decided it was time to risk surgery to get the issue fixed. My grave stone would NOT read “Choked on Chinese food” etc.
In November 2013, I had surgery done by Dr. Simon Best at John’s Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore MD. We decided to see if putting the implants back in made eating be the way it was before. As you can imagine, given my history, I was VERY nervous. It was kind of funny/ironic in preop though. When I was when checking in for surgery, there was a “STOP! Patient is NOT ready” sign on the stretcher. I don’t know what those signs are for but it kind of expressed my sentiments. Of course I wanted the surgery but like the sign said, I wasn’t ready. I tried to think of a Big Bang Theory situation to relax me. I thought of when Sheldon was trying to comfort Prof Proton in the hospital.
Despite my fears, surgery was a complete success! Since my issue was resolved, I was ready to make my one and only dream a reality. Anybody who knows me knows I am a HUGE fan of the show The Big Bang Theory. I’ve seen every episode literally over 100 times. Maybe even 200. I can play whole episodes in my head and/or act them out, complete with character hand gestures, if you want. I collect props and memorabilia from the show. Some of the stuff includes Sheldon’s shirts (I have about 37), Leonard’s Dark Knight statue Raj gave him for his birthday, my favorite item….Sheldon’s Batman cookie jar, etc.
I enjoy Photoshopping myself into episodes of the show. It makes me feel like part of the gang, like I’m there with them. I’m sure many people who watch the show imagine what it would be like hanging out with the characters on the show. Creating my photos I can at least see what it looks like. It’s fun to see.
The one and only thing on my Bucket List, I ever wanted to do, was travel to CA, see the show filmed, meet the cast, and see the set of the Big Bang Theory. A month after my surgery, my mom woke me up because coming up was Jim Parsons on Conan. Like I said, I always wanted to go to Big Bang Theory but after seeing that on TV, I really wanted to make it a reality! Just dreaming it is not good enough. If I wanted it to happen, I had to do something about it. I was determined to make it a reality. I started mailing letters to everyone I could possibly think of at the show and Warner Bros Studio, telling them about my dream. I contacted everyone from directors, producers, wardrobe, advisors, cast members, set designers,….You name them, letter was sent. I sent letters every few weeks, in every kind of mail possible…certified mail, registered mail,….. I wasn’t making head way. Eventually, I got a reply letter from Warner Bros CEO Kevin Tsujihara. As you can imagine, I was really excited to get a response. But to my disappointment, in his reply, he stated,
Wow! You are a huge fan of our TV show The Big Bang Theory. You sound like an extraordinary and courageous young man to have endured everything you have with such a positive attitude and a sense of humor. If it were up to me, you would be on the set of the Big Bang Theory tomorrow. Unfortunately it is not my decision as making a television show involves hundreds of people, crazy schedules, and vigorous production demands. I’m sorry to let you know that we won’t be able to accommodate your request for a set visit.
Despite the letter, I wasn’t willing to give up. People like to joke I’m stubborn but I would prefer to think of myself as determined. I did not want to take his response as a definite no. I wanted to keep trying til I got a definite no from someone from the show. I was willing to do everything I could to make my dream come true. I just did not want to be too annoying about. I didn’t want to be like Sheldon with his many restraining orders. Still, taking cues from Sheldon though, when he was trying to meet Stephen Hawking, I too was willing to do anything to make it happen.
Since I was not successful sending letters to the show, I decided to try and use the power of social media. I created a YouTube video in hopes of someone from the show hearing about my dream. Less than 2 weeks after I uploaded my video, I was awoken in the middle of the night because my phone off from an email notification. [I had forgotten to mute it] The email from Simon Helberg’s (plays Howard Wolowitz) wife, Jocelyn Towne. My video was brought to her attention and she and Simon wanted to help me achieve my dream. It was a definitely a moment of shock and disbelief. “Is this email real? Am I still sleeping?” I instantly told Mom to “hurry come quick” so I could tell her the good news. I should have chose my words better because she was worried something was wrong lol. Needless to say, there was no wanting to go back to bed. They got me in touch with the audience coordinator from the show, to help make the arrangements.
It was long 3 months of not getting much sleep, because I was super excited. (For 3 months I was literally as excited as Sheldon announcing Prof Proton was coming to his house lol) The time had finally arrived though. It was January, time to fly across the country to make my dream happen! I put on my “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested” shirt, and anxiously boarded a plane to CA. Yes I am flying 3,000 to see the Big Bang Theory but no, I’m not crazy. Fun fact, they aired episodes of the show during the flight. How fitting! :)
On Tuesday Jan 20th, my family and I checked in at Warner Bros Studio, in Burbank CA, to see the Big Bang Theory filmed live. After a few minutes we, as well as other audience members, were escorted to Stage 25, where the show is filmed.
We found our way to our seats and waited for the excitement to begin. Our seats were on the far right of the audience. I was right in front of Sheldon/Leonard’s kitchen. Simon came over to meet/welcome us before everything started. Meeting him then was surprisingly not weird. Probably because I was figured he would come say hi before and it was just as I expected.
Mark Sweet, the audience warm up, introduced himself to the audience.
Mark was there to keep us engaged and entertained between takes. He explained how tapings work….each scene is filmed twice in case of recording errors, line changes, etc. Because we wouldn’t know which take would be used, we were told to pretend each take was the first time we saw it. Before filming began, they showed us an unaired episode, filmed the week before, on the monitors for the audience. Afterwards, Mr. Sweet asked if we were all ready to meet the cast. [I don’t know. Maybe. Probably. This is too exciting! :) ] Each cast member was introduced individually. It was SO strange seeing the cast in person after seeing them on tv for so many years. After the introductions the….not sure what to call them…”set blockers” were rolled away to reveal the apartment and hallway sets. Again, I must say, seeing the sets in person is really cool and weird. Look! They stole my Batman cookie jar. :)
It is really interesting to see everyone getting ready to shoot. Crew making sure everything is just so. Jim and Johnny pacing around the set with their note cards. After few more minutes, production was ready to begin. First scene was Leonard and Penny having dinner in her apartment. Since my seat was on the far right of the set, her apartment is out of view from my section. Our section could watch the scene on one of the multiple audience monitors I mentioned earlier.
In between scenes, as crew got set ready for next scene, Mark Sweet would do stuff with the audience. For example, for this filming, he had out of country audience members come up and sing a song in their native language. Surprisingly, not one of them sang soft kitty or theme song in their language though. It was truly amazing to see how many people who weren’t from the United States, but came to the show anyway. And you thought I was crazy for flying 3,000 miles, from Maryland. I couldn’t imagine coming from the other side of the world. It goes to show how passionate us Big Bang Theory fans are.
During one of the breaks, Simon Helberg, Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kunal Nayyer came over to my seat, to meet me. They thanked me for coming, asked if I was having good time…. It was beyond cool meeting them! In particular, it was weird meeting Jim Parsons because of course everyone had wardrobe on for next scene, but he was nice. It threw me off because Jim looks like Sheldon but Sheldon doesn’t like people, unless they were on Star Trek. Sheldon wouldn’t talk to me.
It was interesting watching taping live. They would rewrite jokes on the fly. For example, when Sheldon said, “My name is right on there with yours. That is a sure fire mark of quality. That might as well say directed by Joss Whedon.” Take 2 didn’t have Joss Wheadon. I don’t remember what it was. Another change I remember was Sheldon saying “You mess with the bull, you get the horns. I’m about to show this guy just how horny I can be.” They did a few wordings of it. Reshooting of same scenes, to guard for filming errors was the only thing that bothered me. You need to wait and redo scene before you get to see what happens. Of course I understand it is necessary, it’s hard to wait lol. The scene where Sheldon slams his laptop closed when internet troll tried to video chat him was also difficult for a tech guy like me. There was a loud crack even I could hear all the way at my seat. It made me cringe. [Oh boy. That didn’t sound good.] The actors and actresses did very well throughout the night. There were 2 mess ups I believe. Maybe 3. I was surprised cuz both times I didn’t notice anything wrong. The taping lasted just over 4 hours. It is truly a once in a lifetime thing seeing a show taped live. I highly recommend it if you get the chance visiting California. It was a fast 4 hours. I would have been down if they would have gone ahead and start filming the next episode. I’m not used to watching just one. I always watch multiple in one sitting.
Big Bang Theory fans would be happy to know Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco came up to the audience after thanking everyone for coming. Kaley said she hopes we all continue to watch for 3 more years. Johnny corrected her saying 2 and a half years. I’m going to wishfully hope Kaley knows about a secret season 11 they haven’t signed up for.
After the show, I took the elevator down the audience seats and Simon met me to show me the set. I got to see Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment up close. I don’t know what is weirder, meeting the cast or being in their apartment. It’s just as I dreamed it would be if I was in the show. However, I was actually surprised how small it is. It seems bigger on tv. They must have moved the couch for the episodes with the time machine and Sheldon’s loom because I don’t see how there is room.
I sat at Sheldon’s desk. It was funny sitting at his desk because I was thinking “You need a bigger desk. Set designers removed half the stuff from your desk and it’s still cluttered” “You need a more comfortable chair”
And of course, I sat in Sheldon’s spot!
When talking and taking photos with Simon, on the couch, Mayim Bialik (Amy) popped out of nowhere wanting to photobomb our photo. It was awkward. I have no idea where she came from. She just snuck right up on me. Impressive.
It was really nice talking with Simon and Mayim. They are both really nice, down to earth people. And of course Jim, Johnny and Kunal too, when I met them earlier in the evening. Everyone was very kind and welcoming.
I am truly thankful to Jocelyn and Simon for helping me. Of course I also want to thank Mayim, Jim, Johnny, Kunal and everyone else for an evening and experience I will never forget. But I cannot forget Dr. Best. None of this would have been possible if he had not fixed my issue. This experience will be a memory I cherish forever. I am forever in your debts. It was truly the most amazing thing I have ever done or will do. Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it. Furthermore, thank you to everyone else who helped and supported me achieving my goal! It’s a big thing putting yourself out there in a video. You have to ignore all the doubters who are, “Yeah, that’ll never happen!” Of course I never paid attention to what people think. I had many friends, family and even strangers who supported and encouraged me in my pursuits. Who would do anything to help. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
I have learned to never to give up on your dreams and goals. Truly anything is possible! It was a long journey getting to my unforgetable night but I’m sure the journey was what made accomplishing my dream taste even more sweet. If you do not go after what you want, you’ll never get it. If you never ask, the answer will always be no. If you can dream it, you can do it!
Bucket list = COMPLETE!