I am by no means a professional celebrity friender (I just made up that word and I have no idea if those people exist, but I mean, probably right?). But I have during my life hit on some celebrities (a yummy night in a fancy hotel room), been hit on by some celebrities (ick, ew, no way, please leave me alone), and become friends with others (hey, let’s grab lunch next time you’re in town, I love what you’re doing). I’ve learned there are ways to talk to people who are famous that will get you results and a relationship with them, and ways to talk to them that will get you treated like just one of the fans (in other words, “thank you NEXT!”)
Here are some tips for the next time you find yourself in the presence of greatness (or in the presence of someone totally ordinary who happens to have caught the attention of a lot of the media). As you read through them, bear in mind that anyone super fucking hot is often times a minor celebrity in any social situation so these tips are useful for those situation too, but scaled down to the appropriate level of course.
1. You only have 30 seconds to make an impression big enough to warrant an invitation for future contact. Be prepared and make it count. Whether it’s at a book signing or other public event with Q&A or time for personal contact, the person you are connecting with is going to be swamped and you aren’t the only person or even the most important person there. You have maybe 30 seconds to say something that will stop them enough to ask for more. Most of the time I’ve connected with celebrities we’ve exchanged only a few sentences before I get invited out for drinks or get their phone number/email to follow-up. If you go into it thinking you are going to be making a big sales presentation, you won’t even get past your first notecard before you’re being politely (or not so politely) asked to keep the line moving. In every scenario I knew I was going to see this person and I prepared an opening statement. Now is the time to dust off those elevator speech skills you practiced in your high school speech class. Be succinct, interesting and to the point.
2. Don’t flatter celebrities. Everyone tells famous people how great they are at everything. If you want to stand out, this won’t help you to do that. For some reason people think that flattery will make them stand out or get them something. But if you are really used to hearing how great you are, honestly it’s a bit boring. “Yes, yes, my pop song changed your life. That is really cool and really sweet, but you sound JUST LIKE the last fan I met. I hope you have a wonderful night, here’s a signed copy of a picture of me.” Celebrities are real people who respond really well to being treated like real people (hint, EVERYONE prefers to be treated like a real person and not an object of adoration or scorn).
3. Don’t insult celebrities, or pretend you don’t know they are famous. Some people think they’ll be edgy and say something sort of shitty to someone famous or they’ll pretend they don’t know the person is famous, or feign indifference. First of all, people can smell ingenuity a mile a way. Second of all, the person KNOWS they are famous. It’s not like this is a shocker to them. If you don’t know they are famous, you aren’t interesting, you live in a cave. And insulting someone in the hopes that they will like you is a jackass move no matter who’s on the receiving in. So this begs the question, what do you say?
4. Connect what they do and what you do in an interesting way. In your 30 seconds you want to comment on something about them that demonstrates a deeper understanding of how they work as a person. Then you want to connect that thing to something interesting about you. This doesn’t work if you are like “Hey, you are a musician and I also like music!” No one cares. It’s important that you pick something more subtle and minute to connect with them. I’m not going to use any ACTUAL conversations where I’ve picked up a celebrity (as a friend, colleague or more), because I would never use our relationship like that (which could almost be a whole point on it’s own. In fact I think it will be, so keep reading), but I will give you a hypothetical example.
A celebrity I admire and would love to connect with is Tim Ferriss. When I launched my business, my business coach recommended The Four Hour Work Week and almost 2 years later I’m off to travel and write and work wherever I want thanks to much of the tips in there. I just started reading The Four Hour Body and I dig it as well. I also loved A Day in The Life featuring Tim and a lot of his blog articles and general way of going about things really make sense to me. If/when we ever happen to be in the same room, here’s a sample of something I might say to him. (And if any of you steal this and use it on him before me, I will totally find out and come kick your ass. Also, it wouldn’t work because it wouldn’t be genuine for YOU.)
“Hey Tim, I’m Charlie. Nice to meet you. I’m a big fan of your work. This is probably weird, but in particular I really geek out about your excessive footnotes. I’m a real academic kind of geek and I just really love long foot notes. I remember one time in college when I actually cited a footnote in a paper and had a geek-gasm. Man, tracking down the proper method for citing a footnote was almost a whole other research project in and of itself.”
Now I have no idea what he would say to that, but why I would say that is that, first of all, that’s all true. I’m a total research whore and part of why I like his stuff is that it is sort of obsessively and almost inappropriately researched and documented. But I also think it would be a great opener because I suspect he mostly hears from people about the topics of his books, not the structure and method behind the books. And anyone who’s ever written a lengthy research paper knows that research is often times more than half the work – and in his case I suspect closer to 75% of the work. By commenting on that, I’m acknowledging hard work of his that doesn’t get mentioned a lot, demonstrating that I understand the process he goes through, and pointing out that we have a similar love of something sort of unusual and dorky. (And I REALLY do love footnotes. It’s why I think Chicago style formatting is superior to MLA. And while I like endnotes, I think I prefer footnotes for their immediacy and the way they let you interact with the researcher. I also really adore annotated bibliograhies *shudders*.)
Also, by commenting on something sort of weird like that and saying “I know this is weird, but..” I’m setting him up to reassure me that it’s not weird and then tell me why what I value is worth valuing – which further creates a bond between us – now we are two weirdos against the world. But once again remember, this phrasing only works if it’s genuinely a weird thing and it has to be a real weird thing about YOU (i.e. you have to be REALLY being weird and a little vulnerable, not faking it).
5. Be casual, un-entitled and understanding. In a big event, someone who isn’t freaking out at them and just wanting their 5 minutes will be so valuable. “How are you? This is crazy, huh?” can go a long way. If they get interrupted in the middle of talking to you, don’t be frustrated, just smile knowingly. Most of the time they will apologize and come back to the conversation and appreciate you not being upset. And when you are talking to them, manage your body posture, tone of voice and word choice as if you are talking to a new acquaintance (which you are), and not a celebrity. Remember the part where they are a real person?
6. Don’t use your relationship to get shit. Networking and social dynamics are fascinating and it’s great to utilize the resources you have around you, which includes calling in favors from people in a position to do you favors. But you can’t wave the relationship around like a free pass or like it means you are hot shit. Not if you want to keep the relationship anyway. Knowing someone famous doesn’t mean you are cool. If you are meeting someone and your only thought is about what they can do for you, walk away and take a little while to think about yourself as a person. That’s really exploitative and also highly ineffective.
7. Instead, think of connecting with them as a mutually beneficial relationship. And if you can’t see why they would want to connect with you, they probably won’t see a reason either. I know that I am funny, interesting, a great listener, a fabulous resource, and I know lots of things about lots of things. I’m also a super stellar friend and a great coach. It’s clear why someone might want to spend time hanging out with me. Maybe this sounds stuck up, but you can’t approach a famous person like they are better than you. The ones worth hanging out with don’t think they are better than people and it’s SO AWKWARD when someone treats you like you’re hot shit when you just want to get a beer and chat in the corner of a dive bar.
8. They don’t know you and you are not entitled to their time. Our brains can’t tell the difference between a real relationship and the relationship we have to celebrities. Which is why people are so die hard committed to soaps and tv shows and team this and camp that. But just because you know every detail of someone’s life does NOT mean you are closely and intimately related to them. They may have changed YOUR life, but you are a COMPLETE STRANGER to them. This is often a shocker for people, but if you want to hang out with them, you have to approach them from their reality. Which is that you are just some person off the street until you prove otherwise.
A disparity in the level of intimacy is WAY WORSE than a disparity in contact initiation and EVEN WORSE than being a stranger on the street. I’m by no means famous, but every once in a while someone comes up to me that I don’t really know and tells me they’ve read my stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I am always flattered and excited and happy to hear that. BUT, then sometimes they think we are best friends and treat me like we know everything about each other and I owe them one on one time together. It’s really awkward and alienating and I usually can’t escape fast enough.
Alright, those are my tips. What are you stories of making friends/lovers/colleagues out of famous people? Have you done it? Blundered a chance? Always wanted to? Who would you like to connect with if you had a chance?