When I was a kid, I watched a very disturbing and influential episode of Growing Pains. In that show, Ben Seaver went backstage at a cock rock concert to meet his hero, the lead singer—let’s call him Lightning Rod Pants because I can’t remember his name, and that one cracks me up—and the guy acted like a total asshole to poor little Ben.
And perhaps even more memorably, during that scene Lightning Rod Pants said, “Get me a cup.” Now, a “cup” turned out to be slang for “groupie slut,” I’m guessing, because three big-haired women in mini-skirts came into the dressing room and started making out with L.R. Pants right in front of 12-year-old Ben. Maybe that’s just one of those weird impressions that childhood twists, but I still remember watching that and hoping maybe I’d understand why Lightning Rod referred to the girls as “cups” when I got older. I’m 28 now, and it still makes no sense to me. Regardless, I consider this surprisingly racy episode of Growing Pains the sole reason why I’m afraid of interacting with marginally famous people.
You may be thinking, “Leah, it’s perfectly natural to be nervous around famous people,” and while that’s true, I don’t think the way I react qualifies under the umbrella of what normal people consider symptoms of anxiety. My brand of “nervous” makes me act, for lack of a better description, completely retarded.
Exhibit A: Tracy Morgan
In the spring of 2001, Tracy Morgan came to the OU dorms to do stand-up, and I went to the show with my friends Rockey and Cher. Morgan wasn’t super-famous at the time. I knew him from Saturday Night Live, but I had no special interest in him before or after that day until he played Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock years later. We watched his set, which I thought was pretty hardcore X-rated (now I’d probably label it “family friendly” since I’m all jaded and desensitized), but I remember very little about his show. In fact, the only thing I do remember is that I liked the guy that opened for him better (good ol’ What’s-His-Name), and that Cher howled with laughter at every single thing Tracy Morgan said, so I thought, Oh, this must be really, really funny when you’re black.
After the show, my friends and I made our way to the backstage area where Tracy Morgan and Other Guy were signing autographs and taking pictures. We waited in line, and I cared very little about meeting Tracy Morgan, but when we got to the front, and I was actually face to face with him, I freaked the fuck out. I became so starstruck that I couldn’t talk. Instead, I just froze and stared at him with my mouth open while he tried to interact with me. I couldn’t even force myself to move from the spot, so Rockey pushed me toward Mr. Morgan, and said, “She loves you,” which wasn’t really true. I mean, I respected him, but I liked him about as much as crunchy Cheetos—I’ll eat them when that’s all there is, but if there’s a fuckin’ cheese puff around, I wouldn’t give them a second thought.
Without hesitating for even a second, Tracy Morgan pulled me into a bear hug, kissed my cheek, and said, “I love you, too, Baby.” That’s right, he’s the shit, and I was still afraid of him.
Exhibit B: Dr. Dog
I met the band Dr. Dog a few months after they performed on The Tonight Show and made it semi-big (for an indie band). I got wasted, marched backstage into their band area, and announced, “I don’t know who you think you are, but you need to go thank my friend Whitney for being such a kickass fan. She’s the reason you’re even here.” I think that announcement may have carried much more weight if they hadn’t, in fact, signed Whitney’s album and thanked her profusely just minutes before, all within my line of vision.
This occurred shortly after I made the bass guitarist pose for a picture with my friend April for at least three minutes, the amount of time it took me to realize that no, I wasn’t just suffering from blurry alco-vision, I actually had fucked up the focus of my new camera when I dropped it on the floor. I remember the mortified expression on April’s face as the guy tried to leave, and I said something along the lines of, “No, no, no, you’re not going anywhere. Try to stop being so out of focus.”
Exhibit C: Doug Benson
In June, my friends put on a special comedy show in Oklahoma City, and they brought in Doug Benson from VH1’s Best Week Ever, Last Comic Standing, and Super High Me as the headliner. They asked me to open for him, which I pretended they did because I’m funny, but they probably did because I’m the natural choice for anything that has to do with pot. I wasn’t too nervous about performing—I only had to do ten minutes—but I was definitely sweating the possibility of making a fool of myself again. I decided the best way to deal with the situation would be not to talk to him at all. So when Benson and his feature, Graham Elwood, walked into the backstage area, I put on my invisible face and stood in the corner. And it must’ve worked because I heard Graham Elwood talking to the other opener, Cameron Buchholtz, and saying, “So what, you’re going on, then some girl, then me?”
I tried to stay invisible, but my pride wouldn’t let me. I walked right up to Graham and said, “Hi, I’m some girl.”
His face flared red with shame. “Oh my God, I’m sorry. I don’t even know why I said that.” He continued to apologize to me profusely for the rest of the night, and I could tell that he didn’t mean anything by the comment.
After Elwood’s embarrassed apology, I told myself to stop being ridiculous. These were obviously just people like me. They weren’t that special. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt to try and network with them. After I did my set, I entered the dressing room with purpose, determined to strike up some sort of interesting conversation with Benson, but got immediately sidetracked by a vaporizer and some weed by the name of “Whispering Willow” or “Walking Willow,” or something else that sounded like the name of the color of my gay best friend’s draperies. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with pot paraphernalia, a vaporizer works much differently than any other smoking apparatus. When you pull from a pipe or a bong, you can feel the smoke entering your lungs, so you can tell when you’re getting a good hit. However, when you take a hit from a vaporizer, it feels like you’re getting nothing. So I sucked in vapors for, oh, about 30 straight seconds, while the others just stared at me.
Finally, I handed off the tube, and I coughed, a giant puff of smoke like a cumulus rain cloud hovering in the tiny dressing room.
“You’re gonna be soooo fucked up,” one of the girls who supplied the pot said.
“Really? Well, shit.” There went my ability to make small talk along with my ability to verbalize any thought that I might have within the next hour. And sure enough, ten minutes later, the pot won, and I slipped out of reality into my own mind, a horrible place to hang out when I’m already nervous.
I didn’t attempt to make any more conversation. Instead, I just watched the others talk and tried to lean against the wall like I think a cool person might lean, you know, with one arm cocked in a gun finger position, one eyebrow raised, and one leg pulled up like a flamingo. My leg got tired, so I commenced a pacing route from backstage to the dressing room to backstage to the food tray. I drank two bottles of water in 20 minutes, and then I had to pee.
The problem was, there was only one bathroom available, located right next to where Doug Benson and Cameron were sitting and chatting. I squeezed between them without making eye contact and went into the bathroom, but when I tried to shut the door, it wouldn’t close all the way. There was a two-inch gap left between the door and the frame.
Now, I knew Doug and Cameron couldn’t see me, but when I sat down on the toilet and tried to go, I could hear every word of the very audible conversation they were having about comedy in L.A. I kept thinking, If I can hear them, then…
Now might be a good time to explain another of my many unreasonable phobias: people listening to me pee. I have no real moment in my life that I can pinpoint as the origin of this fear. It’s not like I went to the bathroom one night, and six of my friends gathered around the door, pushing their faces against it, their hands cupped around their ears. Then, while I was washing my hands, they formed a discussion group comparing notes about how I pee. It’s not like one of them said something like, “I thought that sounded healthy.” And another said, “Really? I thought it was a little loud. I mean, she’s a girl, it should sound more tinkly. What does she have a penis in there? I mean, is she elevating herself over the toilet? What has she got, a garden hose and a well in there?”
Meanwhile, back to more recent nightmares in a lonely backstage bathroom, I heard Cameron walk away and then only the sound of Doug hitting the vaporizer, me with my pants around my ankles trying to pee, nothing between us but a thin door that didn’t close.
I tried rationalizing with myself. Leah, I thought. The longer you stay in here, the more it’s gonna seem like you’re taking a huge shit. And do you want to be remembered as the girl who took the dump in the dressing room while the door was a little open?
It worked, I guess, because I finally started to pee, all the time painfully aware that Benson could hear. That’s right, Doug Benson heard me pee, and because I was high off some gay-sounding hydroponic pot, I thought it was the end of my world.
Needless to say, I never made any significant conversation with Benson. You win again, incredible awkwardness that cripples my social interactions. You win again.
After the show, Benson and Elwood went to the lobby to sell merch and sign autographs, but I hung back in the dressing room alone to scarf down as much cheese and crackers as I possibly could. As I shoved handfuls of food in my mouth, a girl appeared in the doorway of the room. Her eyes darted back and forth around the space until they landed on me. “Who are you?” she asked.
She looked exactly like a street rat. I mean, she was pretty enough, and she was about my age, but her hair was long and greasy, and she had this homeless-girl look about her. She looked like what the real Aladdin probably looked like before Disney glamorized him in the movie.
“I’m no one,” I said.
She didn’t seem to hear me. Instead, she walked into the room and started searching every corner of it, throwing open doors, pushing coats and backpacks to the side. I thought she was looking for Benson, so I said, “Doug went out front to sign autographs.”
This time, she heard me. “Oh,” she said. “What, do you work here?”
“Kinda,” I said. “I was in the show.”
“Really?” She seemed intrigued, and she sidled up next to me. The rest of our conversation occurred with five inches of space between our faces. “You’re a comedian?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Uh, didn’t you watch the show?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Hey, is it tough being a girl and a comedian?”
“Not really. I mean, I just try not to let it dictate anything—”
“You know I’m really funny. I want to be a comedian.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, I guess we should head back up to the lobby now.”
She grabbed my arm and reached into her fanny pack. (Yes, you read that right. Her fanny pack.) I took a paranoid moment to envision her pulling out some kind of medical instrument and stabbing me repeatedly in the throat and then taking over my identity, but instead, her hand emerged gripping a sack of weed and a small bottle of Southern Comfort.
“Yeah, you’re probably looking for Doug.” I tried again to whisk her out of the dressing room. “How’d you get back here?”
She opened the top of the Southern Comfort and took a swig. “Oh, they were sold out of tickets, but I found this door that was barely locked, and I kicked it in.” She handed me the open bottle of SoCo, and I took a swallow—I have no idea why, just seemed natural for some reason.
“Can I say something that might piss you off?” she asked.
I sighed. “Sure.”
“I used to have a giant bump in the middle of my nose just like you.”
Four years of being a comic, and I have yet to get used to the brutal honesty people think they can drop on me whenever they feel like it. “Oh really?” I asked, the sarcasm dripping from my words. “Well, how did you possibly live like that?”
She shrugged. “I got a nose job.”
“All right,” I said. “Time to leave.” I grabbed her arm and escorted her out of the dressing room. She followed me backstage, on stage, through the theatre seating to the lobby where my friends stood, and all the while I responded half-heartedly to the ridiculous shit she kept saying. Our conversation went something like this:
“I want to be a comedian, but no one thinks slutty girls are funny,” Crazy said.
“Sure they do. Just yesterday, I laughed at three hookers.”
“But isn’t it hard to tell jokes when you’re a woman?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I mean, I can’t even say a word without thinking about my vagina and how sometimes things come out of it, and sometimes things go into it.”
At this point, we reached my friends, and I pointed to her and said, “Can somebody get this crazy girl away from me?” As the sentence escaped my lips and I watched her scurry off to find Doug, I realized the irony in my words: it was the exact sentence I’d been afraid that Doug Benson might say about me.
By the way, Doug Benson, you’re welcome for that “cup.” You’re welcome.
(c) Leah Kayajanian All rights reserved.