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vol 7 - issue 09 (may 2005) :: interviews
CHEATERS' JOEY GRECO
Interview by Wayne Chinsang
Illustrations by Erik Rose and Sal Swayzo, respectively

IF JOEY GRECO WALKS UP TO YOU ON THE STREET, CHANCES ARE YOU'RE BUSTED. FOR WHAT? CHEATING, OF COURSE! AS HOST OF THE REALITY SHOW CHEATERS, JOEY HAS SEEN MORE YELLING, TEARS, AND FISTFIGHTS THAN ROBIN GIVENS. OH, AND DID I MENTION HE WAS KNIFED DURING A TAPING?!? EXACTLY. AND IF THAT'S NOT REASON ENOUGH FOR YOU TO READ THROUGH THIS BACK-AND-FORTH JOEY HAD WITH OUR VERY OWN WAYNE CHINSANG, THEN I DON'T KNOW WHAT IS.

 

Joey Greco: Where are you guys located?

 

Wayne Chinsang: Weíre in Milwaukee, actually. Where are you at?

 

JG: I'm in Dallas.

 

WC: So, youíre in the same time zone as us.

 

JG: Yes.

 

WC: Okay, cool. Because I thought someone said you were traveling around.

 

JG: Yeah, I was out a little bit last week. Actually, the last couple of weeks Iíve been all over the place. You learn to make that distinction on what time zone youíre in.

 

WC: So does the show take you around to different spots?

 

JG: Occasionally it does. Since Iíve been with the show we've done some cases in New York and Florida, and I know theyíve been to Oregon in the past. When you look at it from a production standpoint, to ship out a crew theyíll have to have more than one case in a specific area. If we have two or three cases in an area it makes more sense, because you just never know what youíre gonna get. So itís always good to have a backup plan. That way you might hit two out of three, and youíre in good shape.

 

WC: That way you donít ship a bunch of people for nothing.

 

JG: Yeah, to sit around on their phone waiting for something to happen for a week. Weíre not that kind of a production.

 

WC: Right. So how did you get started with the show? Obviously, there was a different host [Tommy Grand] prior to you coming on. I read that you went to school and graduated with a degree in psychology and education.

 

JG: Thatís correct. I actually have a bachelor's in psychology and a master's in education counseling.

 

WC: So how did you come to do this?

 

JG: Long or short version? Well, I am an actor, and my agent called up on a Saturday night and said, "Would you be interested in hosting a television show?" Well, what actor wouldnít want to get that phone call? And I said, "Sure. When do they want the audition?" And she said, "Well, theyíd like to see you now." So I said, "Are you kidding me?" And she said "No." So I went down to the studio and did the audition. I didnít really know much about the show before that point. I had heard about it. I knew some of the people that were involved in it through the industry on the outside. So I did the audition, and then I just started up some dialogue with the producers and did another read. And then they offered me the position. In the meantime, I was trying to educate myself a little bit about production.

 

WC: How soon after you went in for the audition were you already filming? Like, a couple of weeks?

 

JG: No. Iíd say it was close to six to eight weeks. It was a process-- sitting down and figuring out what each of us expected. When I had a chance to learn more about the show I saw some things I wanted to accomplish with it. I mean, the producers want to show what people will watch. But I thought, "What would I do to improve it or make it more legitimate?" We shot the first episode in mid-December, and we had originally started the process in October.

 

WC: But even with the planning and figuring out how you were going to handle it, it had to have been a culture shock for you to have this show that was essentially yours now.

 

JG: Well, it was a different process, I will say that. For instance, if youíre booked on a film, you know basically what your lines are. There a few things you can ad lib here and there, but you know the direction that scene is going in. If youíre doing a commercial, you pretty much have an idea of what the goal is. And if you mess up you get to start over. Thatís the thing that really saves a lot of people. But this was just one of those challenges where, when you look at it on the outside you see that it's guerrilla production in its purest sense. Because there arenít any second chances. You never know what youíre going to get. Aside from the part where I come up and introduce the show, nothing is scripted. I am more comfortable with the situation now, but am I totally comfortable with whatís going to happen? I never know. And thatís one of those things that I am constantly trying to improve, because Iím not happy. Weíre all our worst critic. Iím not happy with my own... I donít want to say portrayal. But my goal is to get the peopleís stories out, and thatís what my job is. But theyíre not always compliant. (laughs) Itís an extreme situation, and as an actor or a host that was the biggest challenge. Initially I thought this was something that was going to really test what I was able to bring to the table. So thatís what set the wheels in motion.

 

WC: How much involvement do you have during the whole process? Obviously, youíre the face of it. But how much involvement do you have during the whole case and investigation?

 

JG: I get called when we have a confrontation. I get there and they give me the rundown. I get a chance to meet with the client briefly, and then weíre on the move because itís so time-sensitive. We have about three or four detectives locally that work on cases. Those are the people that are working more intimately with the clients, who unfortunately never really get credit because theyíre never or rarely seen. Weíre going into our sixth season, and I came on in the middle of the third. So the production crew and the staff know what theyíre doing and have it down to a formula where it works pretty smoothly-- or as smoothly as it can, because weíre dealing with variables that are about as easy to hang onto as aerosol.

 

Both: (laugh)

 

WC: I want to talk about how you got a weapon pulled on you. What is proper protocol? I mean, Iíve seen episodes where Iíve been like, "Okay, right here... thatís when Iíd turn around."

 

JG: This will be a testament to what I just said about the crew knowing what theyíre doing. Thereís a camera assigned to the client, the suspect, and the third party. One camera stays with the client. The second camera always stays with the suspect, which is the person theyíre involved with. And then the third camera tries to get a wide shot of everything. Now, we have additional cameras that have different assignments. But those are the main cameras that weíll shoot with. Also, we have two vans. One van will have the security guys, two of the cameras, and all their backups. Theyíll jump out and, more often than not, are the first ones on the scene. Even though I may be in the front van, we have to jump out and move as a group. I can think of one situation in particular where we were following a car after an initial confrontation, and we had stopped in a parking lot. The second van full of guys jumped out and ran toward the suspect. We were getting out of the first van and starting to head over there when we heard one of the guys from the second van go, "Gun!" Everyone just froze, turned around, and luckily our client hadnít even gotten out of the van yet. Of course theyíre going to edit it to look like weíre right there. But honestly, in that particular situation, I was among those in the least amount of jeopardy. At least, less than the guys in the trenches who were out in front of the point man. Iím definitely not going to take credit for their risks, but thatís an example of how many people are involved in the success of it. But, yeah... one guy says the magic word and we all turned into girls.

 

Both: (laugh)

 

WC: At points like that, isnít there any point where youíre like, "What am I doing with this job?"

 

JG: I will tell you that a case doesnít go by where I donít find myself asking that at one time or another.

 

WC: (laughs)

 

JG: But itís been a funny process, because initially it was the challenge of the production that I was enamored with. And Iím not gonna lie-- for an actor to work consistently and steadily on camera, itís something that doesnít happen particularly often in the Dallas market. But after a while you start looking at the view of, "Should someone not have the privilege of knowing whatís going on in their own relationship just because theyíre not equipped to deal with the issues, or if they don't have the finances to find out whatís going on?" And you start to see some of the people that you really get to help. It forces you to look at it a little bit differently. There are two sides to it, obviously. As a television show, if it doesnít have some type of entertainment to it, no one will watch. But at the same time, thereís a responsibility that comes along with that. After someone gets caught, more often than not, the worst is over. The truthís out. And then they calm down and are like, "Okay. Whatever." But then there are those that you really see the tragedy of the pain it has caused, and if you can help people get through that, then it forces you to look at how youíve been able to influence or affect someoneís life.

 

WC: Do you ever think about how it is from the other personís point of view? Like, do you ever think about what you would do if you were in that situation, where youíre out there with someone you shouldnít be with and all of a sudden this camera crew comes up?

 

JG: Everyone has an opportunity to tell their side of the story, and thatís what we try and communicate. Now, is everyone in a position to receive that information? I doubt it. And, yeah, I have a counseling degree. But usually in a counseling situation the people are there because they want to be. Not because--

 

WC: Theyíre being chased down.

 

Both: (laugh)

 

JG: Right. You donít chase someone down and say, "Time for your therapy!" This is one of those situations where it is highly emotional. After the initial denial it is so hard, because nothing is really ever the same. What may standout in my mind is maybe one situation out of 20, but that doesnít mean there arenít 19 other different responses. Everything is so different. The suspects do have the opportunity to tell their side of the story if we follow-up on a case. Sometimes itíll happen right there when they're caught. Whether they choose to continue denying it is up to them. Itís easier to forgive a humble apology than fighting through someoneís denial. I mean, I donít know if youíre a baseball fan, but look at [New York Yankees player] Jason Giambi. He was wrong. He got caught. And he came out and said, "I was wrong. I did it. This is when I started doing it." And then the healing process can start. Now, everyone has their own opinion as to whether [Barry] Bonds is juicing or not. But his continual denial, in light of what some people see as obvious evidence, makes people more determined to catch him. His guilt or innocence not withstanding. Did you see any of the testimony before the congressional hearing?

 

WC: Yeah.

 

JG: I was cracking up about how specific everyone was with what they were saying and not saying. One guy said heíd never taken illegal steroids. Well, what is the difference between legal and illegal steroids? If a doctor prescribes one, then it becomes legal. And another guy said heíd never taken performance-enhancing drugs. But if you take testosterone thatís not considered a drug, and it can have the same results as a steroid. Thereís a big gray area, and while they try to get it as specific as they can, how specific can you get if youíre not asking the right questions? Now, people know a whole heck of a lot more about it than I do. But I was just watching it and saying, "Come on. Letís get to the stuff that everyoneís afraid to find out." But weíre in a country where you're innocent until proven guilty, so itís an extreme combination. But at the same time I wanted to say, "Is Congress the ones that really needs to be asking the questions about telling the truth?"

 

WC: Exactly.

 

JG: It makes me think, who [in Congress] is gonna go home and snort a few lines or meet whoever they need to meet thatís not their wife? I mean, you hear enough about people in politics and government whoíve got whatever theyíve got going on on the side. I just thought that was a little humorous.

 

WC: It goes along the lines of the Clinton deal, where it was like, "What defines 'sex'?"

 

JG: Yeah. "I don't see oral sex as sexual relations." Well, it has part of the same word in it, doesnít it?

 

WC: (laughs)

 

JG: Youíre president of the United States?!? This is whoís running the show?!?

 

Both: (laugh)

[CONTINUED AFTER IMAGE]

JG: But getting back to the initial question, when someone is able to apologize and admit they're wrong... at least admit it and get over that point. To continue to deny it does not contribute to the healing process, but almost prolongs it and causes more pain.

WC: Right. Itís crazy watching the show because itís total chaos. You donít know whatís going to happen, but yet it seems like thereís a formula to it because certain peopleís reactions can be expected. But there are those things that go on that are so far-fetched. I saw an episode where a guy totally denied it was him cheating on the video, and that it was his twin brother instead. But like, with the incident with the knife... well, first I want to ask if you actually got stabbed, or if you just had a knife pulled on you? I haven't actually seen the episode yet, so I don't know how it plays out.

JG: There was an incident that I am prohibited to discuss because they settled out of court. But there was an incident, and it was one that wonít happen again. Letís put it that way. The way we go about handling security had been reconsidered at that point, because it was a situation that I certainly would like to avoid. (laughs) When you asked about if I ever ask to myself, "What am I doing?" I will say that was one of the times.

 

WC: (laughs) Probably the biggest time.

 

JG: Definitely. (laughs)

 

WC: But with the gun and the knife incidents, that seems to be a time when it becomes almost personal. It would seem that something like that would be hard for you to not take personally, and that it goes above and beyond being a job. So how do you deal with that mentally? Because if someone were to pull a gun or knife on me, I think it would be really hard for me to not get pissed.

 

JG: I understand what youíre asking. There was one time in particular where a guy was trying to get through me to talk to a girl who was done with him. I actually had my back to him, and he was trying to move me out of the way. And I got kind of particular about, you know, "Take your hands off me. Donít touch me." And I have to remember-- in this particular time I didnít-- but I have to remember that the show is not about me. Iím there and Iím a part of it, but my role is more to encourage what we have been talking about previously, which is opening up some line of communication. Hopefully these people can tell their story or come to some level of understanding between the two of them. Does it always happen? No. But if I can do my job well enough, after ten minutes people are calmed down and itís pretty much over. And with the situation I was just referring to, after a little while we were calmed down and I went up to him and said I was sorry for reacting the way I did. Itís learning how to work through those situations, which Iíve gotten better at over the last season or two. Every day I go out and learn something different, because this is not a normal situation. Itís life, but itís not typically how life happens.

 

WC: (laughs) Itís a weird life. Do you ever run into anyone from an episode later on?

 

JG: Actually, I was at a restaurant and the guy who seated us came over and had this funny grin on his face. And he said, "Howís it going?" And I said, "Good." And he said, "You donít recognize me, do you?" I go, "No." And he ended up being someone I didnít get to interact with directly, because he stayed in his car and took off. But his attitude was like, you know, like kickin' the dirt and saying, "Yeah, I got caught."

 

Both: (laugh)

 

JG: But is everyone gonna have that reaction? I donít know. There are some parts of town I probably shouldnít hang out in.

 

WC: (laughs) I was gonna ask if it has it ever made it harder for you to just go out and live your life?

 

JG: Not at this point. Most of the places we find ourselves going falls within a particular demographic. About 30 miles outside of the city of Dallas are someÖ itís beyond suburbs. I mean, I wouldnít exactly call it "rural"; itís in-between rural and suburban. But we tend to find ourselves in some smaller towns. And you know how rarely you run across the same person in a situation that is arbitrary, even in a city. I just donít think thatís going to be an issue. But once again, hopefully most of the people are calmed down by then. Iím sure there are people who are probably still a little peeved.

 

WC: Yeah, because even in some of the follow-up interviews there are people who still have some fire in them. But that probably makes for a good show, too.

 

JG: Yeah. I donít think anyone is disappointed if they have those strong feelings because, like you said, it does add to the entertainment value. But if you are face-to-face with someone after the fact, I don't think they'd be as concerned anymore with trying to look tough on television. But I donít know how much of that I want you to print, because I certainly donít want to taunt anybody.

 

Both: (laugh)

 

JG: Itís not like Iím throwing down the challenge.

 

WC: I've got just a few more questions and then Iíll let you go. As far as the viewerís standpoint, I think the show is kind of along the lines of Jerry Springer, in that people obviously watch it for the levels of insanity and to see peopleís reactions and emotions. And with Jerry Springer it seems like a little bit of life is sucked out of Jerry with every episode, because heís surrounded by it so much and doesnít even react to it anymore. Do you feel that the fight is being drained out of you as time goes on, or do you maintain this level of interest to keep doing what youíre doing every episode?

 

JG: Well, to answer that properly or accurately, let me break it down into two responses. The first one being, while I understand there will always be that element that is similar to Jerry Springer, I have made a conscious effort to try and not let it go down that road unchecked. There will always be an element of that, because thatís what makes the show compelling: seeing human emotion in its raw form. People go to movies to watch someone do something we are afraid to do. You go to be entertained. You go to see the person hear the noise outside and go look, even though they donít have a flashlight and the porch light is burned out. You know youíd never do that, but they do. And you get to sit there and feel what it would feel like, even though youíre in the safest spot in the world. And I think that's what makes our show so addictive, because you get to see and experience human drama over something you know you might never be able to do. I always hear, "How could they do that? I could never do that. I could never confront someone like that." So thatís the part thatís the magnet. However, once the momentum starts going in that direction itís easy to just let it go. And we can all yell and scream and fight, but what does that accomplish? And that's what I was referring to earlier when I mentioned about what I wanted to add to the show. I wanted to add a level of legitimacy or just be more responsible with the position that we were in with peopleís lives. Parents say, "Itís all fun and games until someone gets hurt." Itís kinda like that. Letís be responsible and not let it get to a place where we become desensitized. The second part of that is, I think when you meet the people itís easier to be more personal. And that side of it is obviously more prevalent, so that may keep me from getting more burned out. Iím not gonna say I have become desensitized. Iíd liken it to a rookie in his first NFL game. Things happen at a pace that youíre not accustomed to, but after a few games things start to slow down because youíre able to process and think a bit more on your feet. The game doesnít slow down at all, but you can process the information more rapidly. So, Iíd like to think itís more a combination of that. Do I think this is something I am going to do forever? You know, I donít see myself being Bob Denver who, 30 years later, is still Gilligan.

 

WC: Yeah, doing conventions.

 

Both: (laugh)

 

JG: Yeah. If you see me at a trade show with a black suit on you have my permission to slap me.

 

Both: (laugh)

 

WC: That brings me to my next question. If youíre not going to be doing this forever, what other things do you want to do?

 

JG: If I were dreaming... I love working in entertainment, so if I had my wish, 20 years from now Iíd still be involved in the industry in that fashion. If not, before I got this job and for the last seven years I had been in real estate. So either Iíll be back in real estate, or Iíll still be working in film and television. Can I play baseball?

 

WC: Sure. You can be whatever you want, Joey. Shoot for the stars!

 

Both: (laugh)

 

JG: Okay, alright. Iíll be a baseball player.

 

WC: I know youíre in Dallas, but if you want to continue in the industry do you ever think about going out to L.A., or does that not interest you?

 

JG: When was the last time you were out there?

 

WC: Actually, December. With the magazine, Iíve got a couple of people out there who are trying to convince me to make the move.

 

JG: How long have you been in Milwaukee?

 

WC: I grew up here, but when I was 18 I went away to college and spent ten years in Ohio. I started the business down there, and moved it up here two years ago.

 

JG: So, the positive aspect of where you grew up was there. There had to be some lure as to why you went back there. I was just out in L.A. a couple of weeks ago, and I left with two distinct realities. The first being, if you want to continue working in the industry over a long period of time, thatís where you have to be. But I also knew that was a place I would never want to make my permanent home. Itís an ambiguous answer, but itís just one you canít really define. Iím from the East Coast, and I love going to New York... but I love it for a weekend. Anyone who lives there, in order for them to really enjoy it they have a place to go for the weekend. Everyoneís going to the island or Connecticut for the weekend. Theyíre doing something and getting away from it. I donít know if I could be there 24/7. And I put L.A. in that same category. But itís great while youíre there for a couple of days; itís fun and exciting.

 

WC: The last question I have is one that has nothing to do with anything we've talked about. We ask everyone we interview this question, and itís totally ridiculous and thereís no right answer, so have fun with it. The question is, do dogs have lips?

 

JG: Do dogs have lips? (calls to his dog) Come here, sweetie. (snaps) Well, you know, Iím gonna have to say yes. Iím looking at mine right now.

 

WC: What kind of dog do you have?

 

JG: Australian Shepherd. Yeah, they have lips, because some dogs can kind of smile. You've heard people describe someone having "chicken lips". Well, how would you ever get that phrase if chickens didnít have lips? And if chickens with their beaks have lips, then Iíd have to say dogs have lips. Now, I havenít kissed a chicken or a dog, so I donít know what kind of feel you get. Like, when you qualify if someone is a good kisser, itís all about the feel you get; then you can really make a distinction on the quality of someoneís lips. But I have never kissed my dog on the mouth. Weíre not intimate like that. Short of that, I donít know what I can say. That's all I'll say. I haven't said anything, and I'll say nothing more.

 

Both: (laugh)

 

WC: Well, that's a great answer. Weíll take that.

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