Rich Ramirez, who was a funny comedian and a good friend of mine, died Friday night after sustaining severe head trauma from a fall in his home due to his on going battle with liver disease. I had the honor and pleasure of working with Rich several times throughout the years but that was after I had to audition for him. Many people don't know this but he gave me an opportunity that changed my life forever.
One day while I was rehearsing for Latin Madness (which was chaotically funny) I was fooling around with a character voice trying to make my fellow dancers laugh. Rich, listening to the foolishness that was coming out of my mouth, called me over and asked me if I wanted to act in a small scene in Latin Madness. "Hell fu**ing yeah," I said, but I had never really acted before. He explained to me that it was a small part but he was toying with an idea of adding in a gay character and wanted to see if he could use me if I was up to the challenge. He gave me the script and told me to be ready for an audition at the next rehearsal.
The next day my body was rehearsing the dance numbers but my heart was rehearsing the the scene while I was waiting to be called for my audition. In my mind I had come up with a gay character idea that I knew was genius and couldn't wait for the moment to show Rich and the rest of the cast my untapped skills. I was raw but the reality is that my narcissistic side had been stroked. "Jai. You ready?," he yelled over to me. I nodded and ran to the wings for my cue. Then the moment came. I swung the acting bat like Babe Ruth, dunked the scene like Michael Jordan and then knocked out the audience with my one two Muhammad Ali.
Everyone was laughing hysterically and people congratulated me as we continued rehearsal but I was still a dancer and had to get back to why I was hired in the first place. So, with confidence I went back to dancing and graciously (but eagerly) waited for the rehearsal to end so Rich could tell me how great I really thought I was. When it ended, Rich called me over and said that he needed some time to think about it and was going to call me later that night to tell me his decision.
I was nervous. I waited by the phone like a dog anxiously waiting to be fed. The phone rang around 10pm and I answered as cool as I could be. Rich said some small talk like anyone else would do and then said that he really loved my performance. He said he loved my over the top character idea and wardrobe choice but had to cut me out of the show for being too funny. What? Too funny,? I thought to myself. I was too shocked and devastated to speak so I just unconsciously listened. He told me that he and Herbie felt that my humor was going to steal the scene and that having 3 funny people on the stage at the same time was going to be a conflict for the show. Before hanging up he apologized to me several times and then told me how great of a job I did.
I was devastated. I was confused and I don't mean my blonde hair is getting the better of me confused. I mean I was really truly confused. I thought, you don't take Derek Jeter out of the line up. You don't ask Marlon Brando to be an extra. You don't tell Frank Sinatra to sing back up. Hey this is my blog I can compare myself to whoever I want :). Anyway, I went to bed that night without sleeping because I couldn't handle the pain of hearing how great I was and being fired before I was hired.
The following day at rehearsal Rich called me over and asked me how I was feeling and wanted to know why I looked so tired. I snickered and said something about being over worked and under appreciated. He laughed and said that he really truly enjoyed my scene the night before and then he stared at me. I then looked at him and he continued to look back at me some more. Then he told me the news. "We are putting you in the scene and taking Herbie out because you did such a good job." I screamed like a 13 year old girl at an all boy band concert.
Rich walked away and I had a small but very memorable scene in Latin Madness that lasted for the entire 3 year run of the show. We did tours in New York, LA, and parts of Europe and that scene and I went along for the great ride. That was the first time I had really acted on stage and Rich helped open up that door of desire and I walked through. He hired me a few times throughout the years and I got him a reading for a movie that a friend of mine had written. We remained friends and spoke a few times late last year about doing a comedic video together once his health got better.
Unfortunately that day never came but I am truly grateful for the time that we got to spend together both on and off stage. I learned a lot from Rich and Latin Madness and I am very lucky that I had that opportunity. I will never forget all the fun coming out on stage in my tight pink shirt and red sweatpants that hung low enough to see my black g-string underneath. I am sure Rich didn't have the same fond memory because he was the one who had to look at me every night dressed as I was. However, Rich if you can hear me and there is internet in heaven I thought you might appreciate the video I posted below.
RIP my friend.
Rich Ramirez & Jai Catalano