The difference between being famous and not being famous is as enormous as the chasm between Staten Island and Hollywood, and I should know because I’ve had a teensy taste of both realms. I’ve known complete anonymity, which is the most horrible feeling in the world, and I’ve also been on TV enough to have people chase me down the street for autographs, ask me to host their events, and make up lies about me on websites. I never convince myself that I’m really famous—I just happen to enjoy a modest celebrity fallout because I write about actual stars—but I do sometimes get a lower-level sense of the rush that the biggies must feel, a sweeping sensation of validation that stems from the fact that swarms of people you’ve never seen before suddenly swear they want to have your babies.
Of course the weird thing about my job is that moments after I experience that rush, I can get a deafening wake-up call, achieving the rare feat of feeling dizzying notoriety and complete nothingness in the very same day! At a downtowny event, I’ll be photographed and gushed over because people recognize me from all sorts of credits, but at the next to-do, the clipboard girl will ask my name 10 times before letting me inside, where a publicist tells me to line up for a possible interview with a B-list celebrity, which is then summarily denied. With more celebs than ever—and more journos to cover them—the press are generally sequestered droogs who have to wait for sound bites that need to be approved in advance by three separate flacks, and which you ultimately can’t use anyway. “But I get asked for sound bites myself,” I want to yell at the assembled in a fit of pique. The extremes of pride and shame can make you absolutely schizo.
Life as “talent” is so much more delightful, as I found out when I was booked as a guest on a late-night talk show a couple of years ago. That’s not something most mere writers ever get to do in their lifetimes. This was the kind of opportunity reserved for large-scale icons with glittery careers and multiple homes. I was finally going to be asked about myself, not my feelings regarding various reality show siblings. It was so surreal to sit there and schmooze with the host, feeling like Anne Hathaway talking about her latest movie or maybe Katie Holmes telling cute stories about Suri (though I had no agenda whatsoever to push. I just wanted to be adored by millions).
The only problem is I got all sweaty-palmed and didn’t do well at all. The 45-minute pre-interview with the producer had spanned virtually every topic that’s ever affected my life, so I was prepared to be zingy on any and all of that stuff. But the host barely addressed those subjects at all! He was verbally darting around in a way that threw me, and I was finding it hard to keep up the line of happy horseshit that’s required to project authenticity on these shows. I bombed bigger than Hiroshima. And the result proved that I’m not really a star at all, I’m more of a writer who’s also a sort-of personality. And I will have to deal with the fact that I will forever veer between B-minus attention and complete obscurity verging on cultdom.
But last year, against all odds, I got the call again! I was asked to shoot a cameo as myself in a party scene in The Smurfs! This was sheer fantasy time. What fun it was to be a star for one night, even if I ran the risk of my large head being seen in 3-D all around the world.
When I showed up on the set, my heart raced as I found that I had my own trailer, and what’s more, I was costarring with really famous people like Sofia Vergara, Tim Gunn, and Joan Rivers. I’d finally crossed the threshold from pad holder to script holder, and I never wanted to go back to my life on the wrong side of the red carpet.
This time, I wasn’t nervous—I was pulsing with movie-star professionalism. And it turned out I was only partially cut! The bit where us notables interacted with Vergara was smurfed out of the picture—gone is my line, “Olivia and I are such huge fans of your products”—but I’m still seen applauding the blue moon and I’m heard saying, “How did she do that?” Alas, since I ended up working the premiere as a reporter, not a celebrity, schizophrenia struck again, and by 8 p.m., I was just another weirdo heading home on a bike.
Obviously there will never be any consistency for me, and I’ve come to make peace with that situation. I know full well that when I leave the house, I will be greeted with a mixture of blank stares, shrieks of recognition, and an occasional “Ain’t you some actor or something?” I also know that, like real celebrities, I will go through periods of hotness, frigidity, and everything in between. When my cameos are more scattershot and obscure, that ups the quizzical blurtings of “I know I know you from somewhere, but who exactly are you?”
Sometimes people will simply approach me to say they like my writing, which is the best kind of recognition of all. After all, writing is what I do. The rest is psychologically dizzying gravy whose temperature you can’t control. And having sampled it, I have all-new respect for the really famous. They go through hell sometimes!