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How Not to Act in the Presence of a Celebrity

photo: orin zebest on flickr

photo: orin zebest on flickr

What’s the best way to act in the presence of someone famous?

Should you bow down at their feet in deference to their superiority and godliness?

Or should you ignore them, proving that you’re not impressed by their status?

Or how about a combination of the two, alternating between fawning all over them and pretending they don’t exist?

In the case of my recent celebrity encounter, I am happy to report that I managed to employ all three of these techniques!

My brother lives in Los Angeles. As you know, there are loads of celebrities in L.A. So many, in fact, that one can get caught off guard by their presence.

My brother’s best story about this was the time he saw a Brad Pitt look-a-like strolling down the street. Man, that guy is really working the Brad Pitt vibe, my brother thought.

Then he realized it really was Brad Pitt.

brad pitt done

I would love to say that I am always totally cool in the presence of the rich and famous. But there are all kinds of things I’d love to say. And I can’t. Because they would be lies.

To claim that I am always calm, cool, and collected in the presence of celebrities would be one of those lies.

My brother has his share of famous friends, and for the most part, I’ve been pretty cool about it. After all, they’re just people! Just like you and me!

Indeed, the fact that the famous person is friends with my brother makes it easier. Less of a big deal.

But what about the Free-Range Celebrities? Those folks who are just walking around, being famous, and don’t have any connection with my brother?

It’s the Free-Range brand that throws me off. And it was the Free-Range brand that tripped me up on a recent trip to L.A.

photo: Les Chatfield on flickr

photo: Les Chatfield on flickr

There I was, minding my own business at a school event for my niece and nephew, feeling all peaceful and relaxed.

Actually, no. That’s not entirely true.

I always feel a little weird when I’m in L.A. Women don’t look like me in L.A. Every time I see a woman in L.A. who looks like me – short-haired, androgynous – it’s like spotting a unicorn.

Whoah! I thought they didn’t exist!

Unicorn one done

So I’m already a little off my game when I’m in Los Angeles. Already feeling a little less than chipper.

But I digress.

There I was, minding my own business at a school event for my niece and nephew, feeling all peaceful and relaxed like a shunned unicorn, and in walked The Celebrity.

Not only is this woman famous, she starred in a show I used to watch all the time. This is a face I’ve gazed at for countless hours. And here she was, busting out that face in broad daylight! Right in front of me!

And because the Universe likes to mess with me loves me so much, I found myself immediately being introduced to her.

Turned out The Celebrity was at the event because she was friends with one of the parents at the school.

Did I care? No! I was just trying to make my mouth work in a regular, conversational way. As opposed to drooling and stuttering.

Even though I didn’t actually bow down at her feet in deference to her superiority and godliness, I might as well have. I was clearly in awe of her.

photo: typexnick on flickr

photo: typexnick on flickr

Thinking back on it now, I realize that part of the problem is that I’m a visual person. When faced (so to speak) with this famous person, I just wanted to stare at her. I wanted to examine the beautiful and alluring face I’d seen so many times in the comfort of my own home and was now viewing in real life. It was a fascinating prospect, and I wanted to be able to give in to my fascination.

But I couldn’t. I had to blink my eyes like a regular person and pretend I was coherent.

Finally, after much stammering and stuttering on my part, The Celebrity moved on. I tried to convince myself that I hadn’t made a total fool out of myself, but this was difficult.

Mostly because I had made a total fool out of myself.

In order to make myself feel better, I decided that the best thing to do would be to try another approach: ignoring her. The fact that she was no longer talking to me made this a little easier. But still, I tried to prove my point.

I could see her out of the corner of my eye. She was displaying her gorgeous and alluring face to other people at the event and they were, apparently, taking it much better than I had. I couldn’t look directly at her, though, because then she would know I was stalking her.

But let’s face it. I was stalking her, so I finally gave in to my impulses.

I snuck a peek at her.

And when I did, she caught me looking!

Christ! I was trying to be subtle. But now she knew that I was Utterly and Totally Not-Cool-At-All.

photo: orin zebest on flickr

photo: orin zebest on flickr

Luckily, the event ended soon after and I was able to sneak away without further damage.

Later that day, I was reviewing my little celebrity adventure. I had tried the fawning approach. I had tried the ignoring approach. I had tried a mix of the two. None of it was very effective.

Ultimately, all of my approaches were based on the idea that I was a Loser Unicorn and The Celebrity was an Utterly Awesome And Incredible Person.

What a set up! No wonder I felt so bad!

Even though I knew that these crazy premises were false, I still believed them. I was in L.A., land of the Beautiful People. And I had bought the lie that I was not one of the Beautiful People.

And then it hit me.

The reason The Celebrity caught me looking at her is because she was looking at me. I had assumed this meant I was a stalker. And a loser. (Not necessarily in that order.)

But what if she was looking at me for another reason? After all, if I was making up stories, why not make up a story with a more positive outcome?

Why not tell a story that she was looking at me because she was intrigued by my Outlaw Unicorn Status?!

I have no idea why The Celebrity was looking at me. But turning my speculation in a direction that affirmed me instead of denigrated me was an amazing turnaround.

Just like that, I felt better. I realized that I’m just as groovy and interesting as The Celebrity. And she’s pretty groovy and interesting, so I’m in good company! How about that?!

I’m not saying I’ll never slip up in the presence of a Free-Range Celebrity again.

But I did learn something really, really important:

Everyone on this planet is valuable. Celebrity and non-celebrity alike.

Also, there really are unicorns in L.A.

I know.

I was one.

photo: thinkgeek.com

photo: thinkgeek.com

How have you fared in your celebrity encounters? Share your comments below!

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20 Responses to How Not to Act in the Presence of a Celebrity

  1. River July 29, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Hi Z,
    Ok…how can I say how much I relate but you will never guess who it was that I felt so goofy about! You! Yep! Don’t faint.

    But when I met you at our woman’s retreat, I was really fascinated by your androgynous happy deep self. And frankly I have always had that little tingle of how kewl musicians are no matter if they are on world stages or just concrete floors of retreat centers. Yes, I did sincerely want to ask you those things I asked you about (ministerial school, etc.) but I also was trying to related to this wonderful person who was giving me a deeper look into my soul. I wanted to make friends with you but I had to remember an old saying “She puts her pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else.” So we talked. It was good. I didn’t feel like I had been goofy where you could see so I passed my own test of “I can be kewl around really kewl musician spiritual types.”

    Therefore (what a word!) this is your fan mail! From one of your admiring fans who wasn’t goofy in your face but does want to share goofiness is a good thing too because now I know you wouldn’t have been put off by it. More importantly I am happy with me and how I responded and remembered that we are all just people. So yeah, I relate.

    Your fan,

    • Z Egloff July 29, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

      Hi River,

      Well, how about that! I guess you never know what’s going on inside someone else’s head. And it’s also a great turnaround for me, given the topic of this post. Ha! And you gave no hint of being in anyway intimidated by my Awesome and Mighty Kewlness! :)

      I also like that you point out that there’s nothing wrong with being goofy in the face of anything. It’s all good, as the kids say!


  2. Squirrel July 29, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    Hey Z! Happy Tuesday!
    Ahh, the hero worship trap. I am familiar. While it is not a practice in which I have engaged in quite some time, I totally get it. What worked for me was getting to know some of our local celebrities. I realized they were just people and I was over it. That said, if I were to meet one of my childhood heroes, I’m not saying I wouldn’t drool and stutter, because I have never been in that situation. I’d like to think I’d handle it cooly and calmly, but I make no promises. 😉


    • Z Egloff July 29, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

      Hi Squirrel!

      Happy Toos to you too! :)

      I like that you make no promises when it come to drooling and stuttering. An astute practice, if ever there was one.

      I also like that you were able to overcome the whole celebrity intimidation thang by simply getting to know them as people. What a concept! In my case, the drooling and stuttering got in the way. Ah well.


  3. tanya July 29, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    I only met two celebrities / successful actors face to face. With one, even though I had watched and been a fan of their work, I did not recognize them. I thought I knew them from Woods Hole, or a former work place, etc. I am really glad I did not ask, “HEY are you from Cape Cod too?!! Because I am pretty sure I recognize your face but I don’t know why!” The only thing worse than having someone uncool and fawning in your face would be someone who completely did not recognize your status and thought you had bumped into each other at the coffee shop or Cap’n Kidd years ago.

    Remind my dad or mom to tell you about their famous Kurt Vonnegut encounter. It is a true classic.

    And, Renegade Unicorns Unite! I feel like I don’t fit in in LA either. Yay for us non-conformists.

    • Z Egloff July 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

      Hi Tanya,

      I have to tell you that you said something to me in LA that was awesome and really helpful, as far as dealing with the Renegade Unicorn status. You said that, when you go to LA, the version of LA that you generally see is not the whole celebrity-saturated thang at all. It reminded me that there are TONS of different LAs. And yes, I still feel like a Unicorn when I’m there, but it eases the discomfort somehow. So thanks for that!

      I can’t wait to hear the Kurt V. story – thanks for letting me know that I have a great story coming my way. 😉


      • tanya July 29, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

        I cannot resist telling a good story. So, one morning my parents were in the elevator of the Claremont hotel in Berkeley.

        A tall, shaggy, odd looking man got on the elevator with them. My dad, who has never read fiction if he could possibly help it; and indeed, calls fiction (I think jokingly) “a pack of lies”, says to the shaggy man, “Boy, you really have that Kurt Vonnegut Look!” Because it WAS Kurt Vonnegut.

        We all wondered 1. How my dad not only knew the name, but also the appearance, of a writer of fiction; 2. My mom, who was a huge fan of KV’s, did not recognize him at all; and 3. Droopy eyed, shaggy men in corduroy trousers are a dime a dozen in Berkeley — how exactly does someone have a KV look? Begs so many questions.

        It was, to all accounts, a very awkward ride down to the lobby.

        • Z Egloff July 30, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

          Ha!! That is awesome. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard that one before. I’ll have to get a live rendition of it the next time I see your folks.

          I like to think that, had KV not been playing the role of himself in the situation, he would have gotten a kick out of it. At least, I like to think so. But what do I know? I don’t know KV at all – I probably wouldn’t have recognized him either. Or maybe I would have blurted out the same thing as your dad. 😉

  4. Janet July 29, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    Hi Z! I loved this one…I used to run into a well-known folk singer down on the Peninsula occasionally, and she was so real, meaning not celebrity-like, that I never realized who she was until I walked away. I met her in a book store one day, and she told me my baby was beautiful (she was, and is). I smiled and thanked her, and went back to looking at books…and we know what it’s like with those of us who really love our books!

    • Z Egloff July 29, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

      Hi Janet,

      I love it – once an introvert, always an introvert! Maybe if I’d had a book with me, that could have helped! Or a baby. :)


  5. Jo July 29, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Okay, so I met Van Cliburn when I was about 13. I mean how awkward are you at 13 anyway, then to throw my absolute musical hero into the mix. I waited for an autograph (a practice that makes me squirm with discomfort now) after the performance. He asked if I played the piano. I nodded, then shook my head, then shrugged my skinny shoulders… and probably drooled while muttering something incoherent. He smiled indulgently–but he actually looked me in the eyes–and said, “Keep practicing.” I’m no more a scintillating conversationalist now than I was back then, but I’ve truly learned that we’re all just people with different roles or jobs or backgrounds or economic status… but, just plain old folks. Then again, I’ve never walked the streets of LA.

    • Z Egloff July 30, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

      Hi Jo!

      Yeah, thirteen is such a tough age anyway. I mean, it was for me. I do like that he looked you in the eyes and said something encouraging. At least there was that!

      As for the streets of LA, they’re there – waiting! But the streets of Sonoma County are as well. :)


  6. Fran July 29, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    Hi Z,
    I have had many celebrity encounters, too numerous to count. All with different reactions on my part, some where I was in total control, like when I had to give a very famous person an injection in his posterior and some where I was a drooling idiot because I was so enamored (not by the posterior!) I have to admit, I am kind of attracted to celebrity, all kinds of celebrity – where people have gained stasis at the top of the pyramid. I know a lot of people who are very famous and accomplished, but, at the same time not recognized by the general public. I am just as impressed by them. Yes, I know they are just people, but people who have achieved greatness in their field. I see that same greatness in some of my friends and colleagues, knowing that they are in the process of ascending to the top of their game – not mentioning any names, but you may know some of them. And, yes, there are those who make me blubber and spit because I have a school girl crush on them, I totally recognize their greatness, but cannot be around them without making a fool of myself.

    • Z Egloff July 30, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

      Hi Fran,

      That’s right – you live in Celebrity Central! :)

      I am the same as you, in that I am impressed by people who have achieved greatness in their field. In a spiritual respect, those folks are invariably tapping into something Bigger than them in order to achieve all those things that we attribute to them. Many of them will say as such.

      I also like that, even with all your celebrity encounters, there are still those who make you blubber and spit. At least I’m not alone in my drooling tendencies. 😉


  7. Karen July 29, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    Such a fun post, along with some hilarious comments. Kurt Vonnegut in the elevator with the dad saying remarkable things! Too funny!!!!

    Free-range celebrities. Hahahaha!

    It is pretty funny how we can turn to gelatinous blobs of ecoplasm around a famous person.

    I once met a famous Quaker philosopher, D. Elton Trueblood, at a writer’s conference. Desperate for something — anything — intelligent to say, I hastily strung together some words that came out as an utter rude insult of the famous theologian! If he hadn’t been a Quaker, he would have probably punched me!

    One of my favorite celeb sightings was decades ago in London. A British friend and I were headed to a sandwich shop when she whispered to me, “Don’t look now, but I think that’s Peter Sellers right behind us!”

    I did an immediate about-face, and it WAS Peter Sellers, looking dapper in a suit and bowler derby. And he had to jump to the side to keep from walking right into me. Smiling, he uttered a chuckle. Thus, I’ve always taken immense pride in making the great comedian laugh.

    I know they’re all just like us, but I do enjoy a bit of hero worship from time to time — adds to the spice of life.

    • Z Egloff July 30, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

      Hi Karen,

      Gelatinous blobs of ecoplasm – oh my!! So true!! :)

      I love that your oh-so-human reactions to the famous Quaker and Peter Sellers resulted in insults and stunned immobility. And that you got a chuckle out of Sellers. Great stuff!

      And I agree with you that it all adds to this amazing and wonderful thing we’re doing here. Which sometimes includes insults and stunned immobility. Followed by a chuckle.


  8. Natalia July 30, 2014 at 9:08 am #

    My encounter was an athlete I grew up watching from the time I was a toddler, led us to 4 superbowl victories. The man is known for being very nice and appreciates his fans, but when out and about wants to just blend in and not be a celebrity. I was at the gym if of all places had just finished one tough long session on the elliptical was dripping in sweat, I was on the cool down phase, which I rarely did by the way, but did that day because the workout was so intense. Suddenly two men walked on my direction, one looked exactly like my quarterback I grew up watching, I said “hi” it was all I could mumble out and he replied” hello” and that was the brief encounter. As he walked away I had my reaction I thought oh my goodness, was that Joe Montana? It most certainly was. I am glad I was sweaty and tired on that machine and could barely talk because I know he could have been annoyed had I approached differently. Months later I went to a book signing and got 2 books one for myself and one for my father.

    • Z Egloff July 30, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

      Hi Natalia,

      I saw Joe as well! He was eating with his family in restaurant in Santa Rosa that’s since closed down. When I saw him, I tried not to stare excessively, but I’m not sure I succeeded. I’m glad that you were able to manage a sane and not-at-all embarrassing response to Joe. Sometimes being exhausted has its perks! :)


  9. Rev. Lorna July 30, 2014 at 9:58 am #

    Ya know, women in LA don’t look much like me, either. I went out with a celebrity in NYC for about 6 months. The whole time my self-talk was what could he possibly want with a woman like me(!). Needless to say, my low self-esteem consciousness killed the relationship.

    • Z Egloff July 30, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

      Hi Rev. Lorna,

      I’ve had experiences similar to yours with being with someone where I couldn’t believe they wanted to be with me. And I had the same result.

      Also, I appreciate your point that women in LA don’t look like you either – the Hollywood LA standard of “beauty” leaves out a lot of us. We have a long way to go, as far as visibility of women outside the Hollywood standard.


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