An Evening with Josh Gates
I have mixed feelings about Josh Gates. His shows have been entertaining and he certain gets to travel the world exploring some incredible places, but I wonder how much of it is staged showmanship. His self-deprecating humor offsets my skepticism, so I can usually check my mind at the door and just enjoy the show.
Laura is the real fan, however, neither of us knew what to expect from a live show. We had been fooled before and these shows can be hit or miss. We once went to see Robert James Waller, the author of “The Bridges of Madison County.” It was so self-indulgent that we didn’t even make it to intermission before we had to leave. Ira Glass, on the other hand, was a delight. We didn’t know what to expect from this evening.
We got to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center early and found the place already crowded with fans waiting to get into the show. There was a long, long line to get books and other Josh Gates swag. We decided we could skip that. As we took our seats we watched the other fans enter, many dressed in attire similar to what Gates wears on his show. I had to chuckle a bit. I’ve been dressing like that for longer than Gates has been on the air, but for this evening I’d opted for something a bit dressier.
The show consisted of Josh telling us about how he got started in this business, with clips from his various shows and adventures. It was all quite interesting. He double-majored in drama and archeology at Tufts University. The show makes a big deal about his background in archeology, but doesn’t say much about his background in acting. That’s really where his skills lie. He would make an excellent stand-up comic. He was quick-witted in his responses and very entertaining. In all, it was an excellent show and we enjoyed it completely.
Then it came time for a Q&A session. We quickly learned that we were surrounded by some obsessed fans. Some of them asked the same questions, just in different ways. Some were obviously trying to contact him about projects in the only way they knew how (probably after having been thwarted by agents and other gatekeepers.). Just about all of them seemed to be an attempt to say, “Hey, famous person, look at me! I exist!”. Even so, all questions were answered patiently and graciously. I’m not sure I would have had the patience to put up with them.
We were glad we had made the trek down for the show. There was one more celebratory martini in the hotel bar, this time with no obnoxious hockey enthusiasts. Monday morning we made the drive back to Greenville, getting back in time for Laura to teach her afternoon class.
My own near-brush with fame
The Discovery Channel has been great for Josh Gates. He gets to travel the world and interact with crazy fans. I almost followed that same path – I nearly had my own chance for a show on the Discovery Channel. I had told close friends, but hadn’t written anything here. Having just seen Josh Gates and since everything for me has now fallen through, perhaps it’s time to tell that tale.
It was early spring of 2019. I was contacted by a production company that creates content for the Discovery Channel about a show they were filming in South Carolina. The focus of the show wasn’t me but a different topic down in the Lowcountry and they wanted me involved. They had seen my content here and had seen that I had taught courses and done lectures about South Carolina history and wanted me to be part of this show. I can’t say anything else about the show itself because I signed a non-disclosure agreement, but I think it’s OK to talk about my experience.
We made arrangements for an interview and a cameraman showed up at my house. We chatted on our back deck for awhile with the camera running. I told some of what I knew about South Carolina history, and they even filmed me playing my banjo. Everything went great and I had a great rapport with the producer.
Several weeks passed and I didn’t hear anything more. Later that spring I got another call. The producer asked me what I was doing on July 4th. Laura would be at our Washington house, so I would be by myself and had nothing planned for that holiday. I was asked if I had a canoe, which I do. I was then asked if I had a safari hat. I replied that I had several wide-brimmed hats. I was then told to bring my canoe and hat down to the Low Falls Landing at Lake Marion and meet the team at 6:30 am. I agreed.
The day came and I left early with my canoe loaded on my truck and my safari hat in hand. I had tossed a kayak in the back of the truck, just in case. When I arrived at Low Falls Landing I met the crew, who were in the process of launching a larger motor boat that would serve as a chase boat.
Before launching my canoe they outfitted me with a wireless mic. I set off with the sunrise streaming through atmospheric Spanish moss. I had been sent several lines to memorize prior to the meeting. I recited these as a drone filmed me from above.
After several takes with my lines and the drone following me I came back to the landing. This time a cameraman got into the front of the canoe and we set off again. I was worried about tipping the canoe with expensive camera gear, but we survived. We repeated the previous trip with me repeating my lines, this time filmed up close.
It was back to the landing and another change, this time with me saying my lines as I was filmed from the chase boat.
By this time traffic was increasing at the landing. The number of fishing boats launching on this holiday made further filming impossible. I loaded up my boat, but we weren’t done. First, I introduced the crew to Danny Daniels, the quirky proprietor of Low Falls Landing Bait and Tackle. I figured Danny’s taxidermy and tall tales would be a great addition to their show.
From the landing we headed over to park in Elloree where the crew set up for more questions and stories. I obliged as best I could.
I heard from the production company off and on over the next several months. The reports were generally favorable and they like what we had filmed. In December of 2019 I got word that they were going to the Discovery Channel execs early in 2020 to get final approval for the show.
Then COVID happened…
Everything shut down, including plans for the show. I stayed in touch with the production company. In August of 2021 I finally got the bad news. The show had been dropped completely. It wouldn’t be happening.
So, I missed my chance to have a Josh Gates-like post retirement career. Oh well. Maybe it’s for the best. I’m not sure I could have handled the crazy fans as easily as Josh did. 😉