A few years ago, I was at the farmers market with Emily when I spotted a celebrity I’ve loved for years. As soon as I saw the comedian Tig Notaro, strolling through the produce with her wife and twins, I froze. It didn’t take long for Emily, who knows how much I adore her, to notice. My love for Tig began six years ago, when I saw her open for Kenan Thompson at a comedy event in college. Tig stole the show to the point that Jonah and I still quote from her mostly improvised set. To this day, I’ll listen to any podcast she’s a guest on (and only because hers no longer airs), will take any opportunity to see her live, and recommend the documentary Tig to anyone who will listen. (You, reading! Go watch Tig!) Now that she was standing five feet away from me, I didn’t know what to do.
Asking for a photo was out of the question. I stopped doing that after I scared the living daylights out of Sarah Koenig in New York at the height of Serial (she was, understandably, not used to being recognized…), and also once I realized that just because paparazzi take photos of celebrities doesn’t mean I should too. After hesitating for a moment, Emily encouraged me to tell Tig how much her comedy has meant to me.
I hovered a respectful distance away, as she paid for her rutabagas, before pouncing, i.e., saying in the meekest voice ever: “Excuse me? Tig?” To be honest, I blacked out a little when she turned around, but I’m pretty sure I said something along the lines of, “I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ and tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your comedy.”
She couldn’t have been nicer, but her response surprised me. “Thank you! How do you like One Mississippi?” she asked, referencing her then-new television show. As much as I worship her, I hadn’t watched an episode and told her so, apologizing.
The conversation was quick, and I walked away feeling dumb. I’m glad I approached her—in no way do I compare myself to Tig, but this job has made me recognize the value of IRL interactions with people who would otherwise remain separated by a screen or stage—but the whole interaction felt weird. It was impossible to feel authentic when we were both playing out such common tropes: Over-excited fan and gracious celebrity.
In a city where you truly do see celebrities on a weekly basis, I still wonder if it’s ever appropriate to go up to them? Does it depend on their star power? How about on the amount they’ve personally impacted your life? Whether they’re with their kids or not? Is it more appropriate to approach a celebrity at a grocery store than it is at dinner? Is it kinder to let them know how much of a personal impact they’ve had on you, or let them continue their errand interruption-free?
Most of the time I see a celebrity, I text my girlfriends about whatever mundane task I just witnessed a demigod performing: I saw Lake Bell buying cereal! Brad Pitt was putting gas in his car! (Actually, Geoffrey’s the one who saw Brad, and our entire office will forever be jealous.) Gwyneth Paltrow was eating dinner with her family! I once almost face-planted off a treadmill when Kevin Hart walked in front of it at the same time I was listening to him coach me on the Nike Run Club app. For some reason, every one of my friends has seen Conan O’Brien (his height and red hair does make him easier to spot) and Dave Franco is at the same restaurant every time I go (in fact, Anne saw him there yesterday).
At least when it comes to Tig, I finally found my answer. In her book I’m Just a Person (the title is meant to mock the “Stars! They’re just like us!” culture), she recounts an interaction with a fan:
She was standing on a moving walkway at an airport in North Carolina when a man walked past her and said, “Tig, what’s up!” then kept rolling on. She wrote in her deadpan humor, “Near-daily I think about him, and I hope if I tell this story enough I can reach him somehow. We could be friends.”
Maybe that’s the answer, but I still can’t see myself being suave enough to say, “Gwyneth! What’s up?” I’ll probably just end up texting my friends.
I’d love to hear: What’s your take? Would you ever approach a celebrity? Have you regretted talking to a celebrity? Share in the comments below so we can all reminisce and name drop together.