by Adam Thas and Mike Pomaro
Dear Growing Up Nerdy,
You guys have written about some of the cool experiences you’ve had meeting celebrities over the years, usually at conventions. But have you guys had any bad or awkward experiences meeting famous people?
-Alicia in Gold Beach
Adam: I think there's a slight problem with referring to the guests as “famous people” when talking about conventions. When you go to some of these ComiCons, you can get the dredges of fame -- people that who aren’t even on the B, C or D list, but somewhere near the “M” list. It is almost sad seeing Virgil (he’s a wrestler) going to every ComiCon for the past 10 years, sitting at a table by himself. However, it definitely is exhilarating being able to have one of your childhood heroes shake your hand. A few years ago, Mike and I paid the Iron Sheik $20 to call our friend Bryan and talk shit to him… it was amazing and one of those moments you go to Cons for.
I have had a few of my embarrassing run-ins with famous people. I’ll share this first one with you, but you have to know that I feel like an absolute asshole for it. About 7-8 years ago, Mike and I were at Wizard World Chicago. It was a Saturday and I was venturing off by myself, trying to find something to spend a few dollars on. Saturday of any Convention is usually the busiest, and this was no exception. My eyes are up high, I’m looking around the Con and WHAM!! I run into something—HARD. Whatever it was hit me below my hips, right at the knee, causing me to lose my balance. I stumbled and caught myself on the front of one of the t-shirt stands.
I’m kind of dazed and looking around. I can’t see what the hell I just hit. Then I see it. A dwarf, little-person -- whatevever he was, I just fucking nailed with my knee, knocking the poor little guy right down. I hit him so hard that he flew about five feet in the other direction. Panicking, I race over to see if he’s all right. The guy turns around and I realize I know this person. Warwick Davis.
I JUST KICKED FUCKING WILLOW IN THE FACE!
“Oh my God! I’m so sorry Mr. Davis, I didn’t even see you!” I said reaching my hand out to help him up.
He looked around at everyone, brushed off his knees and smiled at me. “It’s okay, it’s okay. You wouldn’t believe how many times this happens to me.” He reached down and picked up a bag he had next to him and said, “Don’t feel bad, really.” He quickly walked over to one of the signing areas. I grabbed my bag and continued walking, feeling like the worst person in the world.
Okay assholes… I said don’t judge me. It was an accident!
Sometimes, though, you can have an utterly embarrassing run-in with a celebrity and it has absolutely nothing to do with a ComiCon. In 1997, I had just begun classes at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I was young, just turned 18, and was starting to get to know the downtown area. While at the Art Institute, I didn’t live at the school. I lived in a suburb (Rosemont) with my grandparents. I couldn’t go home, so I would have these crazy long breaks in between classes where I would find myself wandering around the city exploring my new “campus.”
One day, I found myself at a Subway on Lake Street in the middle of the afternoon. I’m standing in line, waiting for my moment to order and I look to the right of me and had my first celebrity run-in—Gene Siskel was standing right next to me! We were both waiting to order, so I turned to him and said very excitedly, “Excuse me. You’re Gene Siskel!”
Siskel turned and stared at me for a second, wrinkled his forehead, and said “I’m Gene Siskel?”
Siskel then shook his head, grabbed the sandwich he had just paid for, and with a “Pheh” sound, glanced back at me, and continued walking.
I ordered my sandwich and walked out onto the street very disappointed by my first celebrity run-in.
Gene Siskel was a dick.
I went to my next class and after a few hours met up with my “Nerd Soul Mate” Mike (Mike went to school down the street at Columbia). We were walking with each other to the train, shooting the shit and talking about our day. About half way through the conversation I said to Mike how I ran into Gene Siskel at Subway. Mike, being a film student, was very excited about this. I continued to tell Mike the story about how I thought Gene Siskel was an asshole. Mike then asked me, “Are you sure it was actually Gene Siskel and not just a guy that looked like him?”
“Yeah, I’m sure it was him.” I responded. “I’ve seen him on TV plenty of time! Short guy, glasses, kind of pudgy.”
Mike stopped in the middle of the street and doubled over as if he had just been shot. He was laughing so hysterically that he could barely breath!
“What!?” I asked.
“He’s not the fucking asshole, you’re the fucking asshole.” Mike responded.
Mike finally got control of himself, stood up and punched me in the shoulder.
“WHAT!?” I asked again.
“That was Roger Ebert you dick! You just met Roger Ebert and called him Gene Siskel!” Mike barely got out the statement before he started laughing again.
So there you have it, guys and girls. A guy who writes for a movie website met one of the greatest and most famous movie critics of all time and called him by the wrong name. I’m sorry, Mr. Ebert. I was young.
Some years ago, I took my dad to the Peninsula Hotel in downtown Chicago for a function put on by the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. At one point during the evening, my dad had to use the washroom. We were the only ones in there until we were getting ready to leave. As we were washing our hands, the door to the bathroom swung open and in walked Dave Matthews. Now I’m in a bathroom with an old blind man and a multi-million album-selling artist.
To be fair, I was the first to make this moment awkward. I should have just left Dave Matthews alone so the man could do his business in peace. Besides, while I don’t hate the guy or his music, I’m not a huge fan either. I had no business bothering him. Oh well.
I had just dried my hands when he walked towards us. As he got closer I said, “Excuse me, are you Dave Matthews?” I have douche chills as I type this. Dave smiled and said, “Yes, I am.” I stuck out my hand to shake his, not giving any thought to the notion that the last thing he wants to do is shake a stranger's hand in a bathroom. He was very kind, however, and shook my hand back. Now at this moment, my father has just finished washing his hands and is searching for a towel to dry them. I quickly hand him a towel, all the while Dave Matthews is kind of lingering, maybe figuring he should say something to my dad. As my dad dried his hands, thinking our bathroom guest must have walked away (when in reality he’s a foot away), my father says to me, and in a volume WAY TOO LOUD, “Michael, who the hell is Dave Matthews?”
I froze and stared Dave Matthews in the eyes. He looked back, unsure what to do or say. I panicked and mumbled something like, “Nice to meet you” before grabbing my dad by the arm and dragging him out. For good measure, before we exited the bathroom, my dad said, “Seriously, who’s Dave Matthews?”
To this day my dad doesn’t know why he did that. He’s always felt bad about it, but I’ve told him not to. If nothing else, we gave Dave Matthews a story.