My Five Most Awkward Celebrity Encounters

I spent the last decade working in a bookstore, in the hometown of its corporate headquarters. This meant that a lot of authors (or other various people with book deals) popped into my store to sign their books. Over the years I met some pretty cool people from Stephen King to Rachael Ray (seriously she was really nice). And also some not so cool ones that I will not mention here…yet.

This list is not just comprised of folks I met while working in the bookstore, but I thought I would add some perspective. I met the master of horror, but I couldn’t talk to Zach Galifianakis.

5) Radiohead Concert

A friend of mine actually won a contest from MTV for six of us to travel to Los Angeles, and see Radiohead in concert in 2000. It was pretty awesome. We had better seats than Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola were sitting right behind us and Beck was in the area as well. We also had passes for the after party.

Most of the band was at the after party (I don’t remember seeing Thom Yorke), and so were many celebrities. None of the previously mentioned celebs were there, but Patricia Arquette was. Somehow I ended up standing with Patricia Arquette, Ed O’Brien (he plays guitar for Radiohead), and possibly Robin Tunney. I was jetlagged and somewhat drunk, but I definitely remember Patricia and Ed. I also think some of my friends were also in this group, but either way I just stood there. I could not tell you what was being talked about, or anything about the encounter. I am pretty sure no one even noticed the bearded guy standing there with his cup of beer.

Either way it was short-lived. I received word that our Capitol Records chaperone was going to take our limo and leave, so I picked myself to go wait in the limo. I was dead tired, and relaxing in a limo by myself sounded nice. Plus, it was stocked full of liquor. As I am sitting in the limo this girl with a Radiohead sign kept inching closer to the car. I asked the limo driver (who was this incredibly cool guy, and loved the fact he was driving around kids and not famous folks) who she was. He told me she was at every show he worked at the Greek Theatre, and he would ask her to leave. He got out and walked up to her, and she left. When he got back in he told me she thought I was in the band, but that she thinks everyone in a limo is “in the band.”

So the Radiohead concert experience almost ended with me talking with numerous celebrities, and hanging with a weird groupie. Instead I fell asleep in a limo until my friends returned.

4) Tom Brokaw

Tom Brokaw might have the softest hands I have ever touched. I am sure they are softer than Dan Rather’s, and possibly softer than Rachel Maddow’s. Anyway, it was not the soft hands of Brokaw that made this encounter awkward it was what I said.

I was ringing at the register when I heard this familiar voice to the left of me. I looked up and Tom Brokaw was standing to my left having some books rung up. My fellow bookseller was smart enough to ask if he would mind signing some books for the store. As we waited for someone to bring up copies of The Greatest Generation and Boom! some of us started talking with the news anchor.

He told us he was in town to interview Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, and that he was driving himself around town. As he finished signing, and we started to break up our meeting I stuck out my hand, and said, “I’m a big fan. Great to meet you.”

Awkward silence followed. I do not even think he said, “Thanks.” He probably did, but all I could think about was how stupid I just sounded. I had never read his books, I always watched Peter Jennings on ABC and now I just spouted out the most cliched thing ever. I was not a big fan. In fact, all I could think about the whole time afterward was that Dana Carvey really nailed that impression on Saturday Night Live, and that I sounded like an idiot.

It give me a reason to tell my wife that I met Tom Brokaw every single time he is on the TV.

3) Kevin Nash a.k.a. Diesel

Very few people actually know of my past as a pro wrestling fan. I am not talking back when I was a kid watching The Iron Sheik take on Hulk Hogan; more like the late 1990’s when I had ringside seats for a taping of WCW Monday Nitro in Saginaw, Michigan. I slapped Booker T and Randy “Macho Man” Savage on the back, and recently found an Eric Bischoff pamphlet they dropped from the rafters that I kept. 

A couple years after my moment in basic cable wrestling history my family and I were at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.We were nearing the end of our day, and were in the Terminator 2 ride. It is this kind of strange 360 degree movie set where you basically stand with a group of people, and stuff blows up around you. The group of us is standing and moving with the action and among this throng of tourists is this gigantic man. He was towering over everyone with his kid on his shoulders. It is dark, so no one can really see anyone, but when we begin to exit a bunch of us realize the large man is Kevin Nash. 

At this time Nash is one of the most popular wrestlers in the industry. Nash was one of the leaders of the nWo in WCW, and was recently that league’s champion. He was one of the WCW’s big stars during the height of its popularity, so naturally the guy could not take his kid to Universal Studios. He got swamped by people. My dad wanted us to go up and talk to him, and snapped a picture of him walking away from us. I felt sorry that the guy could not enjoy a day with his son, and left him alone. 

Nash is still wrestling today at the age of 52. 

2) Chuck Klosterman

Klosterman is hands-down my favorite writer. I had a subscription to Esquire just to read his column, and when he joined Grantland with Bill Simmons I almost blew up. I think my wife made fun of me for days because of how excited I was. Klosterman is one of my favorites because he moves from subject to subject with relative ease. He is a pop culture junkie, but he is also a big sports fan. 

About five years ago Klosterman was doing a book signing in Ann Arbor, so naturally I wanted to go. I had been working at a bookstore for about awhile, and had met my share of authors so I thought this will be great. I will get a book signed, and get to say something to my favorite writer.

Klosterman did a little reading, a quick Q&A and then we all lined up to get our stuff signed. I had a copy of Chuck Klosterman IV (a collection of essays) and an ESPN magazine where he wrote a pretty awesome piece on Barry Bonds. Myself and a friend wait in line, and finally get our chance. I walk up and ask him if he ever thought about writing a book exclusively on “the sports.”

What? The sports? Jesus Christ.

Before I can say anything Klosterman says, “The sports?” And for some reason I went with it. Yeah, the sports. Like that is what I call sports because I am some cool sports hipster or something. What an idiot. I have regretted this since the moment I said it. I worried (or wished) that he was going to write a column about the moron who calls it “the sports.” If I ever get the chance to meet him again we are going to fix this quickly. 

On a side note, I have the ESPN magazine signed and framed. It hangs in my man cave basement that just screams “the sports.”

1) Zach Galifianakis

In 2007, my wife and I were in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We were walking along Bedford Avenue checking out the shops. It was a great day, and then we walked past Zach Galifianakis, and the day became magical. 

Up to this point Galifianakis was probably best known as a stand-up comedian, or for his stellar turn as “Bus Stop Man” in Bubble Boy. As comedy nerds my wife and I were huge fans, and this could have been a really cool story except my wife darted into a clothing store, missing him, and I froze in my tracks. This led to the most awkward, funniest celebrity encounter in my life. 

As I am standing there Galifianakis totally notices me staring at him. It was kind of like that scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High where Phoebe Cates is getting out of the pool, but without the nakedness or the masturbation. It was slow motion. I like to tell people that our beards had a moment. In reality, he looked at me like, “Damn this guy knows who I am,” and I stood there like, “Oh my god. It’s Zach Galifianakis!” It probably lasted 15 seconds, but it seriously felt longer.

He continued walking down Bedford, and I turned to where I thought my wife was. It was probably the only time I actually stared down a celebrity, but I honestly could not believe he was walking past me on the street. And looking back I probably could have gotten away with saying something, but I was stunned. Stuff like that does not happen in Michigan. 

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