Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My 14 minutes and 12 seconds of fame

It’s always bizarre to be recognized. Celebrities get used to it and expect it (or demand it). But I’m not a celebrity. Even in my radio days, I was able to move about incognito.

I did a few improv shows but always as part of a group. And I was the warm-up man on CHEERS so a few thousand people in total saw me do that. I’ve been able to lead a pretty stealth life.

The first time I was recognized was a few weeks after I began broadcasting for the Mariners in 1992. I was primarily on the radio but we had a few TV games and I would be on-camera during the openings. So that was what, 90 seconds of face time? I went to the Bellvue Mall to pick up some things one morning. I was wearing a ratty t-shirt, shorts, and needed a shave – in other words, my usual attire. Three people stopped me and said they enjoyed me on the Mariner games. I was gobsmacked.

After that I had to actual look presentable when I went outside in Seattle. Fortunately, when we went on the road I was once again anonymous and could dress like a bum in Milwaukee.

However, in Seattle I would get stopped all the time. At restaurants, my wife was always astounded when anybody wanted my autograph.

Same in San Diego when I did the Padres radio and TV. Of course the minute I stopped doing TV I was immediately forgotten. We all get our fifteen minutes, right?

Over the last few years I’ve been occasionally stopped by fans of this blog. I’m always amazed (and DELIGHTED by the way). It’s not like my photo is on the masthead. What’s been particularly nice is that on several of these occasions my daughter, Annie was with me. So it gives her the false illusion that her father is somebody.

But of all the times I’ve been recognized, the strangest was in Des Moines, Iowa. It was 1988, I was broadcasting for the Syracuse Chiefs minor league baseball team. We were in Des Moines to play the mighty Iowa Cubs. I wandered into the Cubs’ clubhouse. The players were all at their lockers (probably calling their agents). I didn’t know anybody. I was seeking out their manager. And then, from one of the players I hear, “Hey, it’s the CHEERS warm-up guy!”

Holy shit!

Cubs’ pitcher, Jeff Hirsch had grown up in LA, went to UCLA, and was a regular in the audience the first season of CHEERS. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him.  (Ironically, we since have become lifelong friends.) 

I must admit it’s kind of fun to be recognized. But then the paparazzi is not hanging out in trees across the street, no one who isn't hungry is going through my garbage, and embarrassing selfies are not circulating around the internet. And I bet George Wendt is just a tad weary of people shouting “Norm!” at him wherever he goes.

So if you should ever see me, please stop and say hello. I apologize in advance for how I’m dressed.


Mike Barer said...

You do have a distinguished look, so I would probably recognize you if you were walking around the Seattle area.
Coming from a smaill town, I did not run into celebrities until I moved up here.
Michael Kinsley was a customer at The UPS Store where I worked, a super nice guy, who you would like no matter what your political stripe. When he was in the store, people would often just stare at him, it was kind of embarassing, but he would laugh it off.

VP81955 said...

Jeff Hirsch played in the Cubs organization from 1985 to 1990 but never made the show, and a brief stint with Iowa was his lone time in AAA. He turned 50 earlier this month.

Ben Koch said...

Friday Question:

Speaking of 15 minutes of fame and the recent Emmys... Do you expect to be remembered someday during the "In Memoriam". Do you want to be? Would you prefer they clapped, kept quiet, or sang over you?

Al said...

I used to do quite a bit of Community Theatre when I lived in a small Central California City called Merced (my hometown).

My 16 year old nephew and I were at the drive-thru of a McDonald's and, as uncles are required by law to do, I was telling him about how famous I was and how all the women in town clearly wanted to sleep with me because I was doing Bye Bye Birdie or whatever show was on at the time. Of course, my tongue was so firmly planted in my cheek as to be painful.

When we pulled up to the window to get the food, the cashier looked at me and said "Hey, weren't you in Bye Bye Birdie at Playhouse Merced? That show was really great!".

I politely thanked her for her kind regards and pulled forward. As I turned to look at my nephew, he made his fingers into a gun shape, and mimed blowing his head clean off.

Best day of my life.

badhatharry said...

I was one of the people who recognized you and approached you while you were eating dinner with your daughter at Enterprise in Santa Monica. You were very polite, and kept the conversation going to the point where I felt a little uncomfortable because I had interrupted your dinner for about ten minutes. I just wanted to say I was a fan of your blog and then leave you alone. But you kept asking me questions. When I got back to my table, my mojito had melted, but I’ll survive.

I was there with my aunt, and when I sat back down, she asked me how I knew you. I told her you were a writer, the blog, etc. She turned around and looked at you, and said, “That must be his new wife.”

I said, “No, that’s his daughter.”

“Oh. I thought maybe he traded in for a newer model.”

I decided not to re-tell that story in front of her when you stopped by on your way out to say good bye.

benson said...

@Al, great story. Timing is everything.

@Ben Can't speak for Ken, but for me, I'll take the silence or the singing over the clap, anytime.


Anonymous said...

Bad hat Said:
"I said, “No, that’s his daughter.”

“Oh. I thought maybe he traded in for a newer model.”"

Tell your aunt that likely won't be happening unless ken produces one more network hit series.

Tim W. said...

I get recognized all the time. It's around the house and our neighbourhood, but still....

Carol said...

When I was acting in college, I had a woman come up to me during intermission at a ballet show where I was an audience member to tell me how much she enjoyed me in whatever show we were doing at the time. I was on cloud 9 for weeks.

Happened a couple of times when I was with my Shakespeare Group in New Jersey, once even with someone who wasn't related to someone in the cast.

Also Ben Vereen once told me I looked familiar.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I once - mid/late-80s maybe - asked Ernie Harwell for an autograph on a Tigers program after a game. (He happened to be in the concourse after coming down from the booth.) He seemed very less than delighted, and I actually wished I hadn't approached him. Maybe it was just an off night, but it made me feel a little stupid. I was polite, I really was.

I thought about that later when I saw Michael Moore at a Borders. (I was living -- if it could be called that -- in Flint, Mich., at the time.) It was not long after he was booed at the Oscars for saying things about the Iraq war that we all ended up saying a few years later anyway, and I thought about just saying "Hi" or "Keep your chins up" or something semi-supportive to him, but I thought "Oh, hell, just let the man look at the magazines. Shit, I'm nowhere near famous and I hate running into people who know me, and actually I know them."

So, Ken, if I ever saw you, I'd just walk on by. I enjoy and appreciate your work and envy your career choices. (Comedy writer AND baseball broadcaster? Jeez, dude.) If I feel compelled to say something to you, well, look at this little digital avenue you've provided. Thank you for that, and for being so gracious with us.

However, if you ever need something to depress and/or annoy you -- and we all do from time time -- I like to keep an IV drip of it -- here's a link to this week's New Yorker article written by Lena Dunham:

It's all about her! Amazing!

Pooky Jenkins said...

Working for a Hotel close to Safeco Field and would see Mr.Levine from time to time. I was already a long time fan of his Blog. I didn't want to be the creepy stalkerazzi guy that
jumps the poor victim in a hallway/sidewalk/men's room with five seconds of rushed accolades that include the phrase"big fan" at least three times followed by a slow drawn out uncomfortable silence. But F- that. I mugged him by the Elevators while wearing my 3xl Chef mu-mu. I told him I was a big fan and some other babble that thankfully I can't remember. What I DO remember is how nice of a guy he was.He totally disarmed my nervousness by asking me a few questions. It is hard to explain but just that few minutes I could tell he was smart,funny and classy.

Anonymous said...

Would you consider writing a novel outlining the months Niles spent in the "Shangri-La Apartments", because they were briefly alluded to in Frasier and it seems like an area rich in comedy.

chas said...

I am another fan of yours who was thrilled to see you at the mall and speak to you for a couple of minutes. I was even lucky enough to meet your daughter. You were very gracious. So much so that my wife doesn't complain as much when I tell her what's in your blog everyday.

Katherine @ Grass Stains said...

My blog is so small compared to yours -- SO SMALL -- so you can imagine how gobsmacked my family and I were when one of my readers ran up to us at Disney World in February, delighted to see us! She said she felt like she was meeting real celebrities and that her husband had BEGGED her not to come over and say hello. Ha! We live in Alabama and the LAST place I would have expected to be recognized was at Disney World, so that was a real treat. :-)

Mary Stella said...

I'm a writer, so to me, writers are celebrities. I was thrilled to meet you a few years ago in L.A. when you and Lee Goldberg joined Beth Ciotta and me for lunch. Fangirl moment!

donald said...

I was taking a wizz in a bathroom at Hartsfield in Atlanta, turned my head and Jon Waters was peeing right next to me.

Me: "Fancy meeting you here".

Him: "That's funny"!

Top that.