How To Talk to Famous People, or Other Strangers Who You Incorrectly Assume Are Better Than You
Like everyone else on the planet, I’m full of insecurities. and I always feel awkward when I go to big parties where I don’t know many people. if that party includes famous people I recognize from movies and TV, it takes a very conscious effort not to act like a big fool.
I’m an actor, but I’m not the kind of actor who gets nominated for awards, or gets invited to fancy Hollywood parties for actors who are nominated for awards. but I have friends who do. One of my best friends, Lance, was invited to one of these fancy after parties at a recent awards show. and he called me, at the last minute, asking me if he would be his escort.
When I got your call, I was pulling clothes out of a dryer at my local laundromat. I couldn’t think of a valid reason to say no. so i rushed home to change into my only “formal” attire: a ready-to-wear charcoal gray suit from j. crew and black dress shoes that have been affectionately described by friends as “lesbian police shoes”.
(maybe kevin should consider investing in one of these 5 shoes every man should own).
As we drove to the party, Lance and I discussed what we wanted from this experience. this was so impromptu and out of the ordinary for both of us that we were both a bit nervous about what to expect. In addition to receiving a free drink and dessert, I had one goal for the night: I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of a celebrity.
my first experience with a party full of celebrities was in 2007, when my uncle (andy) and I went to see a live taping of saturday night live. At the time, I had some friends who worked on the show, which allowed us not only the tickets, but also what I was really looking forward to: an invitation to the exclusive afterparty.
We arrived at the restaurant where the party was to take place around 1:30 am. m. After securing our seats at one of the tables, my SNL friend walked Uncle Andy and me around the room and introduced us to some of his celebrities. -friends present, one of them a TV star he had specifically requested to meet.
When he and I were introduced, I was a combination of puppy dog/excited Christmas morning. I immediately started talking about how much I loved the TV show I was on, how it was the best TV show, and how amazing I thought his character was. he was very nice and thanked me for my compliment.
but he wasn’t done yet, oh no, not at all, now it was time to convince him how great he was. the words spewed out of my mouth as he described all my creative adventures, all the important projects I was working on. I talked about the books I was writing, and the scripts I was considering, and the amazing movie sets I was hanging out in. none of that was even close to the truth. (Except for the setting part of the movie. My friend Lance had a bit part in George Clooney’s movie Leatherheads and he invited me to come along. But none of that had anything to do with me.)
he seemed duly impressed with my unsolicited exaggerations and blatant fabrications. I asked for a picture of the two of us, and he kindly said yes. then he excused himself and left.
If you had asked me later that night about my run-in with a TV/movie star, I would have told you it was a resounding success.
The next morning, I met my Uncle Andy for breakfast at our hotel. As we sat down, I asked her smugly what she thought about the night before, feeling sure she’d tell me that it was unbelievably cool and that all of my new celebrity friends were clearly still stunned by the memory of my breath. -Taking awesomeness.
Instead, my uncle leaned forward in his chair, a stern look on his face, and said, “promise me you’ll never act like that again.”
“what are you talking about?” I asked, surprised. He and I were at the same party?
“I didn’t even recognize you last night,” he continued. “You acted like everyone in that room was better than you, so you licked their boots and then you came across as someone you’re not. you seemed desperate and it was disgusting to watch.”
twelve; It really cut to the bone, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. I tried to create a new version of myself that sounded like someone who deserved to be there, and I regretted the way I handled myself.
Uncle Andy gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since: Don’t be the guy who’s excited to be invited to the party. just be the guy you really are, who’s at this party.
lance and i walked into the beverly hilton. one security checkpoint and three registration tables later, we were inside and headed to the dessert table. We each took a plate and filled it with the bite-sized sweets. we secured some solid real estate in the corner so we could eat and get a good angle to see the room.
Within a couple of minutes, we were approached by two people who knew Lance: a man named John and a woman I immediately recognized from watching television for many years. I got really excited because she voices a character in a long-running cartoon and I’ve seen every episode at least twice. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan.
The four of us made the initial party talk: “how long have you been here? where did you park? how drunk are you?” After a couple of minutes, Lance offered to go to the bar for the group. john walked off with him, leaving me and lady tv star alone to talk.
“have you been to any of the other after parties?” she asked.
I answered honestly. “I did not say. “I had no idea I would end up here tonight. Two hours ago, I was spending a lonely afternoon in a laundromat, listening to a Henry Winkler podcast interview. then lance called me and asked me to come over and ‘no’ seemed like a pretty stupid answer.”
“yeah, why not, right?” She answered. “I didn’t decide to come until the last minute either.”
At that moment, Lance returned from the bar, deftly carrying everyone’s drinks in the expert hands of someone who spent a good number of years waiting tables. With him was a young man in his early 20s, who I’ll just call Tim.
lance handed out the drinks and said, “this is tim. he works at hbo and asked me to introduce them both.”
it was obvious that tim was more than excited to be in the presence of lady tv star. She shuddered with excitement as she talked about how much she loved her TV show, how it’s the best thing on TV and how her characters were the best things ever. she was very polite, but she seemed unsure how to respond to this obsequious and one-sided conversation.
She thanked him for his compliment, but he wasn’t done, oh no, not at all, now it was time for him to convince her how great he was. words spewed from her mouth as she described all of her creative adventures, all of the important projects she was working on. he dropped names of people she might know, and twice got it wrong; she had to uncomfortably correct him.
As I stood two feet away, listening to their conversation, I witnessed firsthand what Uncle Andy saw seven years ago. Tim seemed like a nice guy. but he was trying too hard. he was trying hard to impress, he was so excited to be invited to the party that he seemed desperate.
tim requested and received a photo with her and then politely excused himself.
turning back to the group, her eyes widened and she cocked her head to one side, silently indicating how awkward the whole exchange was and how glad she was it was over.
Not wanting to continue the awkwardness, I resumed the conversation we had started earlier with something we had in common.
“If coming here was last minute,” I asked, “how much time did you spend planning your outfit?
She admitted that she had improvised her outfit without much thought and was doing her best to avoid red carpet photos.
“I’ll make you a better one,” I said. “I’m wearing the only suit I have, complete with a pair of lesbian cop shoes.”
She laughed at my honesty and led to a 15-minute conversation that covered a multitude of topics, from the weirdness of TV fame to the weirdness of Florida. At no time did I present myself as someone I am not. And when the conversation came to a natural conclusion, I was able to walk away with my head held high: a personal goal accomplished.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you meet a celebrity or someone you’ve always looked up to, take the opportunity to talk to them as a person and not as a fan. Which is more memorable: that time you ran into a celebrity and told them how much you loved their movie, or the time you ran into a celebrity and the two of you talked about how you’re renovating your bathrooms?
But this isn’t just a lesson on how to talk to famous people. this is how you should speak to anyone who appears intimidating due to supposed superior status. maybe they are richer than you, or more attractive, or have done things with their life and career that you are still struggling to achieve. you can have a pointless conversational wrestling match with them to prove yourself. or you can talk to them as an equal. people are only better than you if you let them.
remember this: at the hollywood awards after party that is life, there are no stars. ‘Cause we’ve all gotten over the velvet rope we’re all inside, feasting on the free food. Whether you’re Tom Hanks or a guy who was doing laundry a few hours before getting a call from an old friend with an extra ticket, everyone was invited to the party. now it’s time to find other things in common.
never forget, each of us is just a gassy sack of meat housing a brain wracked with insecurity. don’t be ashamed of who you are, take charge.
(Hopefully not only are you learning this now, but self-confidence turns you on).