Chance Encounters

Celebrities definitely don’t hate it when you wait outside their house for ten or eleven hours.


Photo courtesy of gabork

A few weeks ago I was in a coffee shop and I noticed that B.J. Novak from The Office was standing in line behind me. Most people, upon discovering a celebrity in their midst, are unsure how to behave and I’m no exception. Should I say hi? Introduce myself? Avoid all contact? I happen to be a big B.J. Novak fan and I very much wanted to acknowledge him in some way. At the same time, I didn’t want to be a nuisance. I was torn.

In the end, I settled on the following course of action: I turned around and stared directly at his face until our eyes met. Then I nodded slowly, never breaking eye contact. He quickly looked back down at his phone.

That interaction went pretty well, but it just as easily could have been a disaster. Approaching a celebrity is an art, not a science, and each celebrity sighting is a unique situation. There are a number of factors to consider when deciding how to proceed.

Another example: just yesterday, I happened to run into Daniel Craig in the gym I’ve heard he frequents. “Daniel Craig!” I called from across the room. “What are the odds?” This was the wrong thing to say. In my excitement and haste, I had made the crucial error of equating the celebrity with myself — for me, the odds of stepping into a gym and spotting Daniel Craig are slim to none, whereas for Daniel Craig they are close to one hundred percent, because gyms have lots of mirrors. Mr. Craig was kind enough not to acknowledge my mistake and instead slipped out an emergency exit, sparing us both the humiliation of having to parse my faulty logic.

Not every celebrity is so kind, however. Once, I was crouching in the stairwell of the Brooklyn Heights building where Lena Dunham owns a third-floor co-op. I’d only been there for ten or eleven hours when who should walk through the door but Lena Dunham!

“Lena,” I began, “what a coincidence to run into you here.”

“I live here?” she responded, rudely.

“True, but you just as easily could have taken the elevator,” I countered. This wasn’t entirely accurate since I had disabled both of the building’s elevators earlier in the evening, but as anyone in my place would have been, I was a little star-struck. Nevertheless, the conversation was progressing smoothly, so it was a real shock when she bolted into the lobby and instructed the doorman to call the police. The lesson here is that not everyone is as nice as she seems on TV.

Many celebrities, however, are every bit as lovely and gracious as you would expect them to be. Among those that have gone out of their way to respond to the written letters, packages, paper bags full of toenail clippings, burning effigies, and jars of semen that I sent to their homes are George Clooney, Chris Bosh, Don Cheadle, Kristen Chenoweth, Katy Perry, and Werner Herzog, all of whom took the time to correspond with me through their attorneys. Mr. Clooney, a true gentleman, went so far as to brag about our acquaintanceship to a grand jury.

Look, I’m no fool. I know that celebrities are guarded people, often times literally. Verne Troyer, for instance, employs a hefty bodyguard named Chaz with whom I’ve had a number of encounters. Chaz doesn’t like me very much, but in my defense, I just keep randomly running into them and would Verne Troyer not want to hear about my recurring dream where he and I rub hummus all over each others’ genitals? One of these days I’m going to catch Chaz napping and then Verne and I are going to share a good laugh about that dream, and see where things go from there.

Jeremiah Budin is an editor at Curbed NY, a blog about real estate that's more fun than it sounds. Here is his Twitter.