Media

Dealing With Celebrity in the Social-Media Age

by

These days, it’s hard to know where I end and the internet begins. And somehow, this was even before the 24-hour news cycle became the government’s rendition of the Saw movie franchise. Granted, if I found myself waking up in one of the pile of puppy videos I’ve taken to as of late, there would definitely be worse fates. The truth is, recently I’ve caught myself in such a mindless cycle of “Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, repeat” that I think the concept of “free will” flew out the window about fifteen browser tabs ago. Best-case scenario, I then see a post has been “liked” or “shared” by the right user, and I’m back on track, justifying my time through meaningless statistics and gif benders. That old philosophical puzzle, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is now more like “If you post something on Snapchat and no one sees it, will your day be ruined?” with the follow-up question of “And how quickly will you take it down?”

One question I’m often asked as a professional comedian (and I use this term with one eyebrow permanently arched) is “How important is social media to building a career these days?” I would say it’s been a real alphabet block with me — setting the foundation — as much as putting in time at open mics. The flip side of this is that digital technology evolves as fast as we embrace it. I’ve barely gotten a grip on how accessible my words are once I post them, but — given the number of social-media gaffes we’re knee-deep in on a regular basis — neither have corporations or celebrities.

On the dark end of the spectrum, you post an off-color remark or an insensitive joke, and the peanut gallery makes quick work of tarring and feathering you, as detailed in journalist Jon Ronson’s fascinating book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. In addition to a book, however, you also then go on to inspire a Black Mirror season finale. Not too shabby for a Wednesday afternoon’s thought-vomit.

Way on the other side of the Web Kingdom, a movie star reposts something you wrote, and you are elevated, through no real achievement of your own, but simply because the power of mega-celebrity wafted down from on high to briefly smile upon you. This happened to me recently with Tom Hanks and a guest food blog I wrote for New York magazine. Weeks later, I still look at that sentence with disbelief. Not only did I doubt many people would read this extracurricular column, but at first the very idea that Tom Hanks read it led me to extreme embarrassment. As silly as it all is, there exists a distinct hierarchy with celebrity in our culture, and if you were told one of “them” might have a minute with you, you would definitely want a second to powder your nose. Learn too late that those on Mount Olympus are always watching, and you may find yourself with your T-zone unaccounted for.

To me, the funniest part of all this was my own reaction, closely followed by other people’s. For days, I walked around feeling as if I had experienced a spiritual encounter and it was not mine to question. I didn’t know what it meant but I had to accept it, humbly yet fully. It really threw my mental demons a curveball, that’s for sure. Internet trolls are on-brand for them, but this? This was new territory. I generally don’t like talking about such frivolity with friends, but this time I kept bringing it up, simply because I myself couldn’t, wouldn’t, believe it was real. And then my peers! I’ve been in comedy for over ten years now and I’ve been lucky enough to get to perform on TV and with a good number of my heroes, but never have I received the amount of widespread congrats that I did for this recognition. People were shaking my hand as if the mayor had given me the key to the city AND his apartment. I was Hanks-approved. I got that Gump bump. That was why, when I walked into my local coffee shop and the barista (who knows me) squealed and said, “Oh my God! You’re famous!” I prepared to sheepishly accept another set of kind words, but much to my delight, she said, “I couldn’t believe it! You’re person of the week on my period tracker app!” Somehow the idea that my words or persona were guiding women through their bodily schedules felt truly like the accomplishment I never sought but now couldn’t imagine living without.

Don’t worry. In the following days, I’ve received enough mean comments to balance the universe out again. But the idea that you just never know who might find you all the way on the other side of a satellite connection, well, it’s enough to keep me posting. I’ve got cycles to regulate, dammit.