I can’t say I’ve had many celebrity encounters in my lifetime, but it always fascinates me to be close to someone that is famous. They exist in this other world that we mortals cannot penetrate, so it is jarring when our worlds collide and we realize that they do breathe oxygen and walk on 2 feet (allegedly). It’s just like when you are 8 and you see your teacher somewhere other than school-it just seems odd.
These meetings can go a couple of ways. Some people are able to play it cool, and remain sane while talking to the celebrity that is present. Perhaps these people are either not that big of a fan of that particular celebrity, or they are unimpressed/not intimidated by fame. I do not fit into this category. I am in the other one, which includes people that want to say the most meaningful thing imaginable, and come up with several great options either right before meeting them or right after, but during the moment are reduced to inarticulate, halting imbeciles who are too nervous to express their admiration. If you are finding it hard to imagine this, I refer you to The Chris Farley Show, a sketch on SNL-particularly when he interviewed Paul McCartney.
Since I was not hobnobbing out in LA with the A-Listers growing up, my early experiences with the stars were mostly with regional heroes. There was the time I was around 9 and Glenn Hubbard of the Atlanta Braves was eating a few tables away from me at Golden Corral. I was too busy probably consuming my 4th bowl of soft-serve to bother him, but it was cool to see him so close. There was the time my wife and I went to New York City, and saw a crowd gathering at an intersection. We approached to see what the commotion was about and saw Sandra Bullock filming a shot for her Oscar Nominated and dramatic tour de force The Proposal. The part we saw her filming was the extremely important scene where she crosses the street in the first 10 minutes of the movie, on her way to work. If you haven’t seen this movie, you are missing a motion picture with roughly the same amount of gravitas as Schindler’s List and The Shawshank Redemption.
As I got older, these experiences mostly came through concerts. Even though I could not talk to the musicians (especially if it was an arena show), just seeing them live was enough to mesmerize me. There is no better example of this than when I had front row seats for a Smashing Pumpkins theater show in 1998. My friend Jon was able to score us great seats, which for some reason we didn’t realize were front row until we got there. My normal head bobbing/banging was muted because I WAS MERE FEET FROM MY MUSICAL HERO. It was an amazing experience that was thankfully released on DVD a few years ago. Friends of mine captured the seemingly nonplussed expression on my face. Au contraire, mon frere. I’m trying to process being that close to Billy Corgan. “Mr. Corgan, remember that time you played a concert and I was in the front row? That was AWESOME!”.
After reading interviews I’m sympathetic towards celebrities and their fan interactions. Even before the age of ubiquitous cell phones, I felt like I tried to be courteous. This backfired on me when I saw Diana DeGarmo at a local restaurant. Now, I can’t say I was a huge fan of hers. My wife and I watched the season of American Idol she was on, and rooted for her. But this wasn’t a Smashing Pumpkins situation. Still, she came off as a nice enough person, and it was surreal seeing someone that you saw on TV sitting at a table just a few feet away from you. I tried to think of something nice to say that would acknowledge her recent success while not seeming too intrusive (people were interrupting her meal to get autographs). On our way out, I looked in her direction and said “Good luck with everything”, thinking this would be a pleasant thing to say to someone hoping to capitalize on their newfound fame, that they might appreciate. My wife still makes fun of me for this. Based on my wife’s reaction, Diana DeGarmo is somewhere right now, at this very moment, laughing hysterically at my faux pas while hanging out with Fantasia Barrino and Paula Abdul (maybe MC Skat Kat too).
So celebrities, be forewarned: I may run over to you and then stare at you or say gibberish that randomly includes your name before you are forced to either acknowledge me or have your security taze me. But if someone standing nearby gets a picture of me in the same frame as you first, then that will at least comfort me while I’m spasming on the ground.