Joel McHale Is Terrifying

Ok, not really. It’s not like he has tentacles or body spikes (at least not that I could see). But I was able to sort-of meet him at his local book signing, and, judging by my reaction, he’s a bloody alarming fellow. (This is ALL ME, folks. My weirdness. For the record, Joel really couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious and welcoming to the fans who came to the book signing.)

I do not do well with famous people. While my experiences have been limited, it generally involves me rehearsing in my head something to say, not saying it, and being completely out-of-the-moment.

A number of years ago, I went to see Eddie Izzard in concert. He is, and was, brilliant, and would come out after the show and meet and take a photo with anyone who wanted one. I was with some friends, and we were one of the first people in line, and I just knew that if I could just come up with a winning line, he’d instantly see how fabulous I was and we’d be best friends. Should I talk about his movie work? Previous comedy shows? Make a bon mot about the state of European politics? (Never mind that all of this would have to be accomplished in less than 90 seconds. Details!) “No” on all those points. When my big moment came, what did I spew forth?

“How do you stand in these high heel boots? My feet are killing me!”

My friend Patti shot me a look, asked him about Shakespeare, and we took the picture.

Went to a book signing last spring with Nick Offerman, from “Parks & Recreation.” (Well, not WITH him. He was the featured author. It’s not like we hung out beforehand and went to Build-A-Bear.) He spoke first in front of the group, then we lined up for autographs in our newly-purchased books. He and I actually know some people in common through the Chicago theater community, so I had an “in.” But all that came out at the crucial moment was some sort of incoherent sentence about being a fellow thespian.

Well, fuck me.

He grunted, signed the book, and said “Thank you for coming.” I moved along, feeling very dopey, until I realized he probably didn’t actually hear a word I said. I felt slightly better.

Last Wednesday, I spotted Dr. Ian Smith, celebrity diet doctor, at my local Whole Foods. He was there promoting his new line of healthy popcorn. Nobody had really discovered him in the store yet, so I sauntered over.

“Excuse me,” I said gently, “Are you Dr. Ian Smith?”

He smiled shyly and said, “Yes, I am.”

“What a thrill. I’m an admirer of yours, and I’ve read a few of your books.”

So far, so good, right?

“Well, this is my new popcorn, mentioned in the books…” he began.

All of a sudden, I felt like I was The Woman Who Wouldn’t Leave, and I panicked. Would he see the box holding the pizza slice in my cart? Did I have obvious wax buildup coming out of my ear? WAS I BLOCKING THE WAY OF SOMEONE MUCH MORE POPCORN-WORTHY?

“Ha Ha, Ok, BYE!”

I smiled, pushed my card forward, and got the hell outta Dodge. I did manage to put together a much more coherent Tweet about the encounter, which Dr. Ian was very kind to respond to. I also can’t believe there was food involved and I totally missed the opportunity.

So, yeah. McHale. He’s got a new book out, “Thanks For The Money.” It’s got a green cover and pages in it, as well as words and illustrations. So, book. He spoke to a crowd of about 200 at the Naperville Marriott, and everyone had a good time. Then, we lined up to get our books signed and a picture. I tried not to plan conversation in my head pre-encounter, because, as I’ve mentioned, it tends to go slightly on the diagonal. I was actually more concerned with my purse. More specifically, the size of my purse and it’s proportion to my hips. I’m kinda pushing maximum density these days with my weight (that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post. Or seven.) so I was literally standing in line in Ballroom B of the Marriott, holding my wallet-sized bag, thinking, “Purse on? Purse off? Hold it under my arm?” and wondering how much bigger the stupid thing would make my hips look.

Then, it was my turn. (PS I held the purse like a clutch.) Joel asked my name, and gave me a hug, which surprised the hell out of me, and was kind of awkward as I’ve never actually mastered hugging. (WHERE DO THE ARMS GO???) Then he asked where I was from, and what I did in said town.

“I’m a writer,” I responded.

So far, so good. And I’m not sweating much.

“What do you write?”

“I wrote a book of essays, and I recently finished a novel.”

“What’s it called?”

Wow, he’s listening? Cool.

“Girls Who Wear Glasses. It’s kind of a rom-com.”

“How’s it doing?”

“Well, I’m shopping it around. It’s being considered by an indie publishing house.”

This is when things took a turn.

I turned to the nice lady from the bookstore.

“So maybe I’ll be having a book signing, too!”

Shit.

“Just kidding!” I paused. “And I’ve taken classes at Second City!”

“You’ve gone up there to study?”

“I have…” It sounded more question than statement, as I hit the word “have” with just a little too much emphasis, then paused like I was going to add more but couldn’t quite manage.

Then it was time to pose for the picture. The sun was at just the wrong angle, so I had to awkwardly switch to his left side. He’s really quite handsome, more so in person, and I was very aware that my chin was blushing (yes, that’s a thing) and my purse felt even smaller in my hands, thereby widening my hips exponentially.

Click.

I knew I had to move on and let others have their turn. I turned and said, “I hope we get to work together professionally some day.”

“It’s will cost a lot of money,” he joked.

“Well, for you.” It was not the witticism I hoped for. I was going for dry wit; I think I landed in something snark-adjacent. My heart was pounding a little more than the situation probably called for.

Save it, save it, save it…

I looked up at him, smiled (I think) and said, “Thank you for doing this. I really enjoyed it.” I think he said “You’re welcome,” but I was pretty much checked out at that point.

Then I walked away. And let out a breath for the first time in about three minutes.

I do hope I figure this sort of thing out, because I’m getting to the point where I’m actually afraid of meeting another famous person. Like the next time I’ll just stand there holding my shoe in my hands or something. Or speak in some weird accent. It’s probably a lack of confidence in myself that causes all this, because I have dork episodes with “regular” people too. But with people I admire, it’s like I somehow want to stand out, to appear like I belong in some pseudo-rarified air. I think I want them to think, “I’d want to be friends with her,” and not, “Oh dear, she dropped her unusually small purse.”

Well, maybe next time. Unless I somehow run into Benedict Cumberbatch. In that case, all bets are off. I’d probably just stand there, humming.

And maybe he’d hum too. Stranger things, you know.

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