Out of Order: Infiltrating Judge Joe Brown

I arrive early to find a line of people waiting for a chance to be part of the Judge Joe Brown studio audience. Wearing a suit, I'm in character and trying out a facial expression I call "I Like to Eat Babies." Faux-jilted groomsman Hal walks by my side.

Hal and I are scrutinized at a security checkpoint. Our picture phones are confiscated-no unauthorized photography on set-and put next to a seized bottle of vodka. Gesturing to the bottle, the guard explains, "It happens more often than you'd think!" We're then herded into the green room, where we await our 15 minutes of fame (and justice) alongside other plaintiffs-a group that includes an exotic dancer from Virginia and other assorted characters whom you wouldn't want to be alone with under normal circumstances. The room's got complimentary donuts.

"It's not your fault that the dog was running in the street!" one of the many producers bellows, as she coaches and fires up a rotund woman about her TV court case. Pep talk? Impassioned advocacy? Or just good TV?

"It's an arbitration, but it's also television. So you can be animated!" the show's bubbly head producer coaches us. "Work with the judge, okay?"

She hands me a copy of my TV court statement for my approval as the lanky producer-the one I had first spoken to on the phone-comes up to work with me one-on-one.

"Do I have to use the words male genitalia?" I ask, pointing to the words male genitalia.

"Here's the thing with this case. It's a light case, in the sense that no one got killed. You can say, 'In hindsight, it's a little bit funny, but on the day it happened, it wasn't funny.'"

I make my "I Like to Eat Babies" face again and loudly freak out. "It wasn't funny then, and it's not funny now!"

"You see, I was testing you," the lanky producer explains, visibly horrified. "I wanted to see where you were at with this whole thing."

Hmmm...maybe they really do want to resolve this matter and see that justice is carried out rather than merely exploit our story.

We're led through a maze of hallways to a bustling set, past a courtroom audience paid $60 a day to sit and watch cases. My goal: to see how many times I can get them to say "Ooooh!" in unison. A sort-of-hot TV bailiff, Miss Sonia, calls our case to the stand. Defendant Mike, who has decided to dress like he rides the special bus to school, appears. We walk through waist-high swinging doors and take our respective stands.

Judge Joe sets up our feud by giving it the gravity it deserves. "Every now and then, there's some levity that comes into the courtroom!" he vamps.

Some people are already chuckling, and I realize we've been duped-lured to the show with the promise of justice, but set up to be the courtroom comic relief. We're the lighthearted counterpoint to cases like "The Freeloading Roommate That Borrowed Something He Didn't Return." I make my "I Eat Babies" face again. Weren't we assured that we wouldn't be exploited for laughs?

I start describing the bachelor party scenario: "So I gave the defendant $700 to hire two strippers"." Defendant Mike loudly pipes in with, "WRONG! WRONG!"

Judge Joe interrupts. "What was so different about these strippers?" he asks, knowingly setting me up for the big courtroom zinger.

Pausing for dramatic effect, I lean forward. "They weren't chicks, Your Honor"they were DUDES!"

"Ooooh!" erupts the courtroom audience.

The supposedly impartial, entirely fake TV courtroom becomes a free-for-all. Judge Joe fights to get a word in edgewise, while Mike and I constantly interrupt him. He doesn't bother telling us to shut up, happy to just talk over us while we, in turn, talk over him. For no reason at all, Mike starts repeating, "I object!" yelling into his stand's microphone, even though we were told they're just props. "You said 'Get some strippers!'" he barks. "That's all you said!"

"I asked for strippers. I didn't ask for The Crying Game!" I retort. Another moan of "Ooooh!" erupts.

Defendant Mike starts objecting again. "LIAR! LIAR! LIAR!" he keeps yelling. "Like you asked, I went and got some strippers. Hot, Asian strippers!"

"I didn't say that!" I sneer. Throwing a little subtle racist undertone to the whole story, I add, "You know how I feel about them."

"You were the one that went into the bathroom with one of the lady boys," defendant Mike turns the tables.

"Ooooh!" the audience coos.

With classic Jerry Springer talk-to-the-hand timing, I come back with, "I only went into the bathroom because I wanted to throw up!"

"Ooooh!"

This ignites Mike to go off on another round of ranting "LIAR!" and "I OBJECT!"

"Can I see the photographs you brought?" Judge Joe finally commands.



I hand Miss Sonia copies of my photos of the Vegas lady-boy strippers so they can be projected on the large courtroom screen. Another big rumble erupts at the authenticity of the San Francisco trannies posed with me and my wide smiling face.

"Ooooh!"

Comforted that I've got the crowd on my side, I slam-dunk my final argument, delivering, "It's like I told him to go buy oranges"and he came back with A BANANA!" The courtroom loses it. Since the crowd seems to eat up analogies, I add, "It's like I told him to buy pillows"and he came back with A BANANA!"

On Judge Joe Brown, I discover, the audience gets to vote on who should win (just like in real courtrooms).

The tabulated votes appear on a large screen: 86 percent to 14 percent in my favor.

"If you hired these people, obviously you might like what they have to offer," Judge Joe bellows, apparently trying to make defendant Mike admit that he's gay, which is weird. "If there was a time for you to come out of the closet, this is the time for you to do it."

Mike declines to take the bait and jump out of the closet, and a visibly disappointed Judge Joe slams his gavel.

"I award the judgment to the plaintiff!" It's a bit of an anti-climax; I was half expecting him to pronounce Mike gay as part of the judgment.

As defendant Mike pretends to wipe away a tear as he's led from the courtroom, I swagger out, yelling, "Lady Liberty must be smiling!"

A bachelor party ruined. A wedding disrupted. Psychological scarring and trauma. At least I was made economically whole for strippers that weren't. But while justice was ultimately served, court TV-as one might expect-strives more for shock and awe than it does for truth and justice.


_______________
Harmon Leon is a regular contributor to CRACKED, and author of The Infitrator: My Undercover Exploits in Right-Wing America.

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