Celebrity: Jeffrey Tambour Edition

Don't know who Jeffrey Tambour is? Here's a super old picture of him that won't help you at all, then!

After a year in Los Angeles, eight months of which I spent working directly in the entertainment industry, I am officially the worst at encountering celebrities. Literally everybody else out here has a handful of awesome celebrity encounter stories except for me. Maybe, when celebrities see me arriving someplace, they all flee the area, and then because of the displacement there’s so many everywhere else that all my friends are statistically guaranteed to bump into them at Payless or Fatburger.

I’m really not exaggerating here – I have multiple friends who have all had their own individual encounters with Danny Pudi from Community, who is apparently as friendly as Mr. Rogers and at least two and a half times as charismatic. One girl I know bumped into him at a coffee shop, and in the process of gushing to him about how much she loved Community she mentioned that it was her birthday. In response, he reportedly gave her a big hug and did a little dance for her.

This is what I’m missing out on! Hugs from strangers and dancing, things that I’m normally not so keen on, are totally awesome in my book if they’re coming from famous people. Hopefully this casts a light on the true depth of my shallowness.  

Yesterday, while driving to Pacific Palisades for a 4th of July party/concert at the local high school, I caught myself daydreaming about how I’d react if I wound up standing in line behind, say, Samuel L. Jackson at, say, Boston Market. (Because the top grossing actor of all time obviously pays $7.99 for 2nd rate meatloaf.)

It’s a worthwhile thing to wonder, because talking to strangers out of the blue has never been a skill I’ve had. I’ve got roughly as much anxiety about approaching a celebrity as I’ve got about approaching a girl in a bar, because in both cases there’s really no reason for you to be talking to them, short of fulfilling some selfish desire of your own. If anything, your motives are probably more pure talking to a woman in a bar than talking to a celebrity:

”Hey there – we’ve never met before, but you’re so attractive that I’m willing to risk absolute humiliation and spend upwards of $25 on drinks on the off-chance that you’ll let me see you naked.”

”Hey there – I, just like the other seven complete strangers who have interrupted you this evening, really liked when you did that thing on TV that time. The only reason I’m telling you this is so I can tell my friends about it later. Now let’s get a picture with your arm around me so people will think we’re actually friends!”

Because really, that’s the only reason why anybody approaches a famous actor in public. It’d be another story if you were doing something useful for them, like stopping them from walking through a spider web or offering them some gum when you can tell they really want some gum, but that’s never the case. You’re just wasting their time for your own benefit.

The picture thing is what really makes me uncomfortable – I got my picture taken in front of the Tower of London because that’s an inanimate object of historical significance and I wanted to prove that I’d seen it. It’s been there for almost a millennium; it’s not like it’s in a hurry to get anywhere.

Celebrities, on the other hand, are living, breathing human beings, and to me the idea of flagging one down in the middle of his or her day just to get your picture taken together is essentially relegating them to the level of living, breathing tourist attractions. It’s golden calf-style idolatry – and as we all remember from the Bible, when we worship golden calves the Virgin Mary gets so angry that she turns us into pillars of salt.

All of this self-righteous, sour grapes, anti-celebrity glorification bullshit was percolating in my head yesterday as I wandered around the 4th of July extravaganza with my friends. Onstage, the mediocre warm-up band stopped playing, and one of the event organizers stepped up to the microphone.

”And now, to tell you more about tonight’s schedule of events and introduce our next band, you may know him as George Bluth from Arrested Development, I know him as my good friend and neighbor, Jeffrey Tambour, everybody!”

I whipped around in delight as Jeffrey Tambour mounted the stage and began to lightheartedly explain to us where the bathrooms were in his goofy, friendly baritone voice. After several seconds of a pure and indescribable glee that transcends all words, I regained my senses, and the first thought I had was:

I should go say hi to him! Maybe get a picture together that I could post on Reddit to score some karma!

I’m very principled right up until I see something I want, and then all bets are off.

I picked him out in the crowd from a distance once he’d left the stage and slowly ambled closer to him, desperately trying to think of something original to say as I watched him talk with a couple of his friends. I had almost immediately ruled out the photo idea – some of my principles remained in the post-Tambour discovery glow – but I knew I couldn’t leave this high school football field without saying something to the man.

Finally, at the moment he appeared to be least busy, I strode up to him, catching his eye.

“Excuse me, Mr. Tambour,” I said, keeping a respectable distance and making no effort to touch him. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to let you know that the episode of the Mark Maron podcast you were on was absolutely hysterical.”*

*Listen to it. Seriously. I don’t ask you guys to listen to lots of stuff, so believe me when I say that this is an hour of Jeffrey Tambour being hilarious in every sense of the word while talking about his career and Judaism.   

He smiled and nodded. “That guy’s a riot, isn’t he? Thank you.”

“No – thank you, Mr. Tambour.”

And I stone cold walked away, right into a restricted area by the stage where a cop yelled at me to get out.

My principles returned immediately after I’d done the deed, and I spent the rest of the evening feeling bad for having bothered the poor guy when he was just trying to be a bro and help his friend out with the high school 4th of July fundraiser. Upon further analysis of what made me run up and make some utterly useless comment to a man who probably forgot that I existed as I was speaking to him, I came to this:

When they asked Sir Edmund Hillary why he climbed Mt. Everest, he famously responded, ”Because it’s there.” I think the same is true – or perhaps truer -for celebrities.

When you’re sharing space with a celebrity, it’s easy to walk up and say hello – way easier than climbing the tallest mountain on Earth, unless the celebrity in question is Jack Nicholson and he’s got a golf club. In return for saying hello, you get a story about a celebrity’s one-on-one personal skills that, good or bad, might actually be more interesting than a story about climbing a mountain - especially if you irked Jack Nicholson within reach of a golf club.

Truman Capps resisted the urge to greet Jeffrey Tambour with a hearty, “HEY now!”