December 15, 2010

“€œI always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘Try being rich first,’”€ Bill Murray once said. “€œThere’s not much downside to being rich….But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job.”€

I know celebrities in the same way a sound engineer knows rock stars or a hairdresser knows supermodels. I”€™m not famous, but after 15 years in publishing and dozens of interviews with celebrities, my view from the outside is that fame blows. But though celebrities don”€™t deserve our sympathy, we can gasp in horror at the bizarre lifestyle they”€™ve chosen for themselves. They may be pretty, but they”€™re living the freakish life of a cranial dysplasia victim.

I was recently at a Halloween party for kids in the small upstate town of Callicoon, NY. Heath Ledger’s widow Michelle Williams showed up with her kid, and it was like a burn victim walked into the room. Everyone stopped what they were doing and spoke in hushed tones while staring out the corners of their eyes at her. She let her kid play around while standing there alone like someone with intense facial tattoos until it was time to leave.

A year earlier in the neighboring town of Barryville, I was at a busy local bar with my neighbor, comedian David Cross. We were having a normal conversation until, as is always the case, somebody recognized him. It was a drunk frat-boy type who was obviously a big fan, and the kid’s eyes opened up like someone shot adrenaline into his chest. He even fell off his chair while rushing to get up. David motioned for us to leave quickly. You”€™d think I was hanging out with America’s most notorious child-killer. As we bolted out the door, the startled fan scrambled through the crowd but didn”€™t make it out until we were well across the street. “€œDAAAAVID,”€ he yelled like we were at war in the 1600s, “€œI KNOW IT’s YOU!”€ We avoided Camilla’s fate and sped away unscathed.

When I first met David, I used to encourage these guys and say things such as, “€œWell, if you love him so much, why don”€™t you buy him a drink”€”and one for me while you”€™re at it?”€ I quickly learned this only prolongs an already uncomfortable moment, as the guy thinks we”€™re all friends now. 

This need to bro-down with the famous reminds me of another thing I can”€™t quite wrap my head around”€”autographs. All an autograph says is that you were next to a notable person for a split second. So were millions of other people. Congratulations. After seeing Sarah Silverman perform standup in New York, I left with her to get something to eat. Before we got far, a man ran up and asked her to sign his playbill. “€œWhat is he going to do with that?”€ I asked after he left. “€œI don”€™t get it, either,”€ she said. “€œSigning it is just quicker than saying no.”€ Sarah told me about the time her mother gave her a huge stack of playbills to sign. She later learned they were for her cousin who sells them on eBay. “€œIt’s all he’s got,”€ her mother pleaded when Sarah protested. That was the only time I remotely understood autographs: They”€™re for selling to crazy people on the Internet.

“€œReality stars are particularly confusing factors in the rich-and-famous equation, as they opt out of the money part and focus exclusively on being well-known.”€

I met Johnny Knoxville via a book I did many years ago. We arranged to meet at a small Lower East Side bar. A friend insisted on coming along and called me a snob when I hesitated. When we got to the bar, Johnny was trying to play pool with his friend Luke Wilson, but some drunk chick was up in Luke’s grill telling him to “€œbe funny.”€ She was pretending she didn”€™t know who he was and wanted to show the world she wasn”€™t intimidated by the famous funnyman.

Luke managed to elude the drunk lady and almost finished his game before some other chick butted in with more passive-aggressive banter. Knoxville and I sat down, and the friend I was forced to bring along refused to let us speak, insisting on challenging Knoxville to a trivia contest. My friend was too drunk to let this go, so I eventually had to take him home.


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