1. Tig Notaro meets Taylor Dayne
Comedians tend to get great mileage out of stories about celebrities, especially when those stories involve awkward personal encounters. For some unspoken reason, it’s become acceptable for stand-ups to incorporate into their acts stories about meeting famous people in real life—and the results are frequently hilarious. The gold standard might be Tig Notaro’s brilliant tale of the time she ran into forgotten singer Taylor Dayne—one of Notaro’s favorite performers, of “Tell It To My Heart” fame—and completely embarrassed herself. Then she saw Dayne again, and in true Notaro fashion, the embarrassment became something to celebrate. The serendipity of her multiple encounters sounds almost too perfect to be true, but the beauty of her simple retelling is that it is. (On a live This American Life, Notaro did the bit, and was surprised by the real Taylor Dayne coming out to sing for her.)
2. Hannibal Buress is cornered by Jimmy Carter
Sometimes a person has no choice about meeting a celebrity, because the celebrity automatically assumes people want to meet him or her. Such a situation happened to Hannibal Buress on a flight: Jimmy Carter boarded the plane, then proceeded to walk up and down the aisle, shaking everyone’s hand. Who wouldn’t want to greet an ex-president? Well, Buress for one, who realized early on that he was sitting way back in 34D, which meant that plenty of germs would be exchanged before it was his turn to shake that legendary hand. He couldn’t say no, because he’d be the only one. Carter’s insistence on making his presence known put Buress in an uncomfortable spot, and there’s squeamish delight in hearing how he mentally dug himself out.
3. Mitch Hedberg smokes fake weed with Peter Frampton
The faces of celebrities are so ubiquitous that someone could be forgiven for vaguely recognizing a famous person without immediately placing him. That’s embarrassing for both, but mostly for the famous person, who must then justify why he deserves to be recognized in the first place. When Mitch Hedberg met rocker Peter Frampton on the set of a TV show—where they smoked fake pot together—he figured out the perfectly absurd solution to this very situation, specifically tailoring his conversation to make Frampton feel included without tipping his hand that he didn’t know much about the musician other than that the name was something he should know. It took some mental gymnastics, but Hedberg was limber enough to hop over even this towering pommel horse.
4. Mike Birbiglia meets Dennis Eckersley
When Mike Birbiglia was asked to speak at Major League Baseball’s MVP Awards, he made a few jokes at the expense of sports writers, then headed to the bathroom as one of said writers was speaking. He returned just in time to hear jokes at his own expense, and made the split-second decision to be a good sport and offer a handshake, at which point he was snubbed. He slinked back to his chair, next to MVP recipient Dennis Eckersley, who offered these encouraging words: “Eh, fuck him.” But that’s not the end of the story: Birbiglia realized that Eckersley was actually kind of a dick. That one remark, like most celebrity quips, speaks volumes once the true context of the situation is revealed.
5-7. Paul F. Tompkins acts opposite Daniel Day-Lewis and Tom Cruise, then jokingly yells at “Weird” Al Yankovic
When Paul F. Tompkins met Daniel Day-Lewis on the set of There Will Be Blood—Tompkins and director Paul Thomas Anderson are friends—he learned that sometimes the reputation of a celebrity accurately precedes him. Day-Lewis is not just a very intense person, he is the most intense person Tompkins has ever met, and Tompkins was placed in the unenviable position of performing a scene with the man in which he got yelled at. A lot. Unlike most day players on a movie set, Tompkins was able to excavate these fascinating Day-Lewis moments and lay out what makes him an intimidating figure, whether he’s yelling or simply seething silently.
Previously, Tompkins had met Tom Cruise at a reading of the Magnolia script at Anderson’s home, and was humbled by Cruise’s attempt to be just one of the guys. “Hi, I’m Tom,” is how Cruise introduced himself, to which Tompkins replied in his head, “Oh, hello, most famous person in the world.” When Tompkins missed a bunch of his line cues, Cruise was there to rib him, thinking he was doing him a favor—though the shame of being chastised by the most famous person in the world did Tompkins more harm than good.
Not to be outdone by these celebrities making him feel bad, Tompkins ends his latest album, Laboring Under Delusions, with a bit about meeting “Weird” Al Yankovic and for once being the instigator. It was accidental: Tompkins began by making a big show of fake-yelling at Yankovic for being too loud, thinking that his clearly over-the-top attitude would translate into a joke. It didn’t, so Tompkins continued until he was way too deep into his rant to salvage his own dignity, or that of the couldn’t-be-nicer Yankovic.
8. Eddie Murphy gets an angry phone call from Bill Cosby
Eddie Murphy made lots of people uncomfortable with his language, but no offended party probably bothered him more than Bill Cosby, who called him up to yell at him about using profanity. The excitement of talking to his idol quickly turned sour, then surreal: Murphy wasn’t just being chewed out by some disgruntled celebrity; he was being yelled at by Cliff Huxtable himself. And the worst part was that Cosby had done his homework. His evisceration of Murphy got into the nitty-gritty of Murphy’s stand-up, and the attack lasted long enough that Murphy’s recounting puts across the same guttural terror that he probably felt during the call.
9. David Cross plays poker with Scott Stapp
“Scott Stapp is an asshole” leaves no mystery as to how David Cross feels about the frontman of Creed (“the third worst band in history”), whom he met while filming a celebrity poker game. Cross had said some terrible things about Stapp in his stand-up act, and when he found out the two would be playing cards together, he wondered if Stapp was aware. Answer: Yes, definitely. Stapp stepped to Cross with a lone passive-aggressive sentence (“Thanks for the words”), letting Cross know that he wasn’t too happy about the jokes. Let this be a lesson to all the commenters of the world: Celebrities are making lists.
10. Kathy Griffin hugs Celine Dion
By the time she actually met Celine Dion, Kathy Griffin had made a lot of pointed jokes about the French-Canadian singer and her manager/husband. Though she was understandably apprehensive about the meeting, Griffin was killed with kindness, as Dion met her with hugs and grins. At that point, Griffin realized that there are some people in the celebrity world that are simply too big to offend. Fame opens the door for mocking, but it can also provide a suit of armor.
11. James Adomian is saved by Joan Rivers
Opening for a famous comedian offers plenty of chances to see what they’re really like. James Adomian, during a gig opening for Joan Rivers in Las Vegas, learned that there’s very little difference between the brash and bawdy stand-up persona and the woman herself. When Adomian didn’t receive the reception he deserved from the elderly crowd, Rivers was there to save him from total humiliation. She chastised the audience for not giving Adomian a chance, and even had him re-enter and pretty much forced the audience to applaud. For some celebrities, fame doesn’t fundamentally change who they are; it merely gives them permission to kick it up a notch.
12. Aziz Ansari parties with R. Kelly
R. Kelly is a larger-than-life figure, and Aziz Ansari learned quickly that life with Kelly is a wild ride—and everyone around him is on board. Ansari was invited to hang out with Kelly after a show, and escorted to a private party for the singer, where Kelly leapt onstage to demand that the women in attendance give him lap dances, then sang reviews of each dance after it ended. Ansari, standing off to the side witnessing the madness, had to admire the pomposity, and his observations about R. Kelly’s unabashed confidence—especially in the face of wild rumors and allegations—speak to the influence certain celebrities can have over people.
13. Kumail Nanjiani is heckled by John Mayer
Kumail Nanjiani’s unfortunate exchange with John Mayer, which took the form of a weird, vaguely racist heckling, was ultimately empowering. Mayer had swung by a comedy club and asked to do some material—which turned out to be half-formed and very uncomfortable. Nanjiani took the stage right after, and in an attempt to swing the mood back in the right direction, riffed a bit on what he’d just seen. Mayer couldn’t take a joke, and decided to storm the stage and do what he thought would put Nanjiani in his place: heckle him, badly. Because John Mayer is batshit insane. Celebs: They’re just people! Stupid, entitled people.