After Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad star Bob Odenkirk collapsed on set and was rushed to a hospital, the silence was deafening. As a small-j journalist, my spidey senses tingled and I anticipated bad news. Family gathered around his bedside. Maybe an aneurysm or so-called Widow Maker – a massive heart attack. It pleased me to be wrong.
His son finally broke the silence tweeting that his dad was going to be okay. Fans exhaled in unison. It was a small heart attack and quick intervention saved Bob who later tweeted that he will “be back soon”.
Have you ever wondered why we care about people we’ve never met? Every time Tom Hanks trends on social media the immediate reaction is, “I hope he’s okay”!
My own interest in celebrities has diminished and evolved over the years. Once, they were fodder for radio shows. Keeping up with them was fun. Early in my career, I carried around a file folder of magazine-clipped photos of Tom Cruise and other stars of the day. I’d lay them across the plexiglass in front of my microphone and imagine I was talking directly to them. It kept me from being boring and long-winded. I didn’t want to make Cruise roll his paper eyes.
Celebrity Interest Has Its Limits
I don’t feel envy toward the rich and famous. I also have no desire to see their yachts or virtually tour their giant closets. The last time I bought a tabloid was 2003 when I was quoted in it after the release of my book, Celebrity Tantrums. Instead of finding someone sexy, I’m more interested in whether they’re a good person. When talent and decency mix, I’ll check out other projects they’ve done.
Bob Odenkirk is a prime example. I knew he was a writer for the Ben Stiller Show and SNL before BB. He’s also universally praised as a decent human. So, I’ll try anything he’s in or has written. Even if that means going down a rabbit hole and watching his 90’s sketch series Mr. Show. (It had flashes of brilliance.) It’s not about worship, it’s an appreciation for talent. I have no desire to seek him out. My life is full enough, thank you. And psychologists say that’s the difference between a fan and a stalker. Plus, it’s younger folk who tend to blur the lines.
This identity factor may be why teenagers are so susceptible to worshipping Justin Bieber or their favorite sports star. Younger people, who are still establishing their identities, are more susceptible to celebrity obsession, psychologist Dr. James Houran said. “Celebrity worship, at its heart, seems to fill something in a person’s life,” he said. “It gives them a sense of identity, a sense of self. It feeds a psychological need.LiveScience
However, a brief, virtual reach-out-and-touch does offer a momentary kick and it is pretty cool that we can connect on social media. (Lewis Black and Will Forte, to name drop a couple!)
Compassion for a person whose work we enjoy isn’t weird at all. Celebrity culture dates back to monarchies. We’ve always looked to what we perceive as “the top” for behavioral norms. England is still doing it. When Kate wears a certain coat, it sells out in a day.
The now-ubiquitous white wedding dress caught on after Queen Victoria wore one in 1840.LiveScience
My Fave Celebrity Interviewer
My interest in celebrities has also narrowed. I’ll Google cast members of a movie we liked but be surprised by the current who’s-dating-whom. (Except Bennifer. You can’t escape that noise!) And when I find someone fascinating, my first stop when I have some time is Off Camera with Sam Jones on YouTube.
Sam is a photographer/director who has a Howard-Stern-like knack for making his guests open up, without Stern’s edge. Celebrities tell stories they haven’t told elsewhere. They come down to earth, talk about their job and reveal themselves as mere human beings, albeit fascinating ones. They discuss writing, acting, performing, whatever. It’s always a revelation and sometimes, for a writer, an education. And then there are little sidetracks that make it fun.
Ted Danson has talked about his hairpiece and his decision to stop dying his hair. He told a funny, self-deprecating story about a super fan who followed him around an event until she saw the back of his head and his bald spot. At that moment she loudly proclaimed, “Well, burst my bubble”!
Chris Pine explained the craft of starring in a big budget movie better than anyone I’ve heard. He said, the reason blockbuster movie stars are paid so much isn’t for their acting ability. Lots of people have that. It’s because they are on set waiting for 12-14 hours to do a 30 second scene. You’re tired, maybe hungry, bored – whatever. It’s 3:15 am and you’re finally called to do your scene. If you can bring it for that 30 seconds despite everything else that’s been going on, you earn your money. That is something that few people can do.
Jenna Fischer, Jake Gyllenhall, Edward Norton, Zach Galifanaikis – all fascinating in different ways. And yes, Bob Odenkirk has been on. Despite watching for months, with 200 episodes to choose from, I have barely scratched the surface. Full episodes are available on Sam’s website. I prefer YouTube so I can watch bits and pieces at a time.
To me, this isn’t kneeling at the altar of celebrity culture. I’m also seeking out videos about electricians for research purposes, with the same level of interest. It’s about learning how people do what they do. And it’s breaking down the wall that misleads us into thinking celebrities are a different species. Listen to Ted Danson explain how he feels about his bald spot and you’ll find out it’s not true.