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This Rehearsal Actor Has An Unexpected Connection To The ATF

The new HBO Max show "The Rehearsal" is one of the most unique shows on television. The mockumentary series stars comedian Nathan Fielder as himself, and in each episode he helps someone "rehearse" for a difficult situation in their life.

Like his last mockumentary show "Nathan For You," none of the people he helps are professional performers. So, while "The Rehearsal" lacks the polish of a typical comedy show, the interpersonal interactions are much more realistic.

Seriously, if you haven't watched "Nathan For You," go check it out. It's one of the most bingeable shows around, and Nathan's persona is one of the best TV characters of the last decade.

The third episode of "The Rehearsal" Season 1, titled "Gold Digger," aired on July 29, 2022. In it, Nathan helps a man named Patrick. Patrick's grandfather has died and left a trust fund in control of Patrick's brother. Patrick wants his brother to give up control of the trust, but his brother thinks Patrick's new girlfriend is a gold digger.

First, Nathan sets up a scenario for Patrick to practice discussing the problem with his "brother," who's played by an actor. Then, when Patrick isn't sufficiently invested in the fake conversation, Nathan stages another scenario. This time, the grandfather of the actor playing the fake brother, (who's also an amateur actor), needs Patrick's help digging up some gold in the woods. During their outing, Patrick even has to change Fake Grandpa's diaper. That's a convoluted episode, and it's best to check it out for yourself to see how it plays out. 

The "actor" who plays Fake Grandpa, Vincent A. Cefalu, isn't an actor at all, but a former ATF agent. Here's how he wound up on the show, and what he did in the ATF.

Cefalu took the gig because he wanted to promote his memoir

After the episode aired, The Daily Beast interviewed Cefalu about his appearance.

Their first question was, how did a former ATF agent wind up on a comedy show? Cefalu explained that the show's producers reached out to the ATF looking for agents with undercover experience. Turns out, going undercover and having to think on your feet is excellent preparation for improvisational comedy. 

Cefalu ultimately accepted the job because, he claims, the show's producers promised to promote his memoir, "Ratsnakes," about his time as an undercover officer. Unfortunately, "The Rehearsal" doesn't mention his ATF background. "They fell a little bit short on their representation...that the book would be pumped, somehow, on the show," he said.

Once he accepted the gig, Cefalu had several misgivings about what he'd be asked to do. He wasn't worried about appearing foolish–As he put it, "I'm a big boy. I've been punked by better–but he did feel "misgivings" about deceiving Patrick. When the producers explained that they weren't intentionally making fun of anybody, Cefalu was satisfied. 

However, the diciest proposition for Cefalu was filming the infamous diaper changing scene. Cefalu worried that his former ATF colleagues would mercilessly tease him for agreeing to do it.

After a lot of negotiations concerning how graphic the scene would be, Cefalu caved. "I finally just sucked it up and bore it, and hoped it came out where I could show my face," he said with a laugh. In the end, when Cefalu finally saw the episode, it wasn't nearly as bad as he worried it would be.

It's a bit surprising this was so worrisome for Cefalu, when you look back on what he actually did at the ATF.

Cefalu spent many years at the ATF as an undercover agent

Vincent A. Cefalu spent 24 years working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and he's actually an important figure in the Bureau's history.

Cefalu spent most of that time as an undercover agent, which he details in his memoir "Ratsnake"–the term "Ratsnake" is an ATF nickname for undercover agents. According to Cefalu, it comes from the pioneer-era practice of keeping a snake as a pet to kill rats. It also reflects the ATF's less-than-enthusiastic attitude towards its undercover agents.

In his time as an undercover officer, Cefalu infiltrated biker gangs, black market weapon smuggling rings, the Ku Klux Klan, and more. Occasionally, his work required him to commit crimes–but always with the Bureau's permission. For example, as a member of the biker gang he would steal gasoline from gas stations, but another ATF agent would always show up later to apologize and pay for it.

In an interview with A&E, Cefalu said that years of undercover work gave him PTSD. He eventually pursued a master's degree in psychology to help other agents with similar issues.

In 2011, Cefalu was fired from the ATF for going public about a botched gun trafficking operation called "Project Gunrunner." Nicknamed "Fast & Furious," the operation saw hundreds of guns go missing in Mexico (via Fox News). Cefalu sued the agency for wrongful termination and won an $85,000 settlement in 2014 (via Townhall).

Cefalu saw and did a lot in his time at the ATF, but given how well he did on "The Rehearsal," he might have a viable second career as a thespian. Who knew undercover work was such great preparation for acting?