As Seth Rogen says about Vince Vaughn in Knocked Up, “I really feel like we’d get along well. He seems like a fun guy, I feel like we’d hang together well.” My question is, what celebrity do you think would make a good best friend? I’ve personally alway felt that Zach Galifianakis and I would make great best buddies. —Ben
Well, reader Ben, I think you hit it on the head right there in your question, so I'm just going to steal your answer. I interviewed Zach Galifianakis once, and I’ve met him a couple of times, and he seemed like a really down-to-earth, nice-as-hell dude. Now that he’s a bigtime movie man, maybe he’d be a little more guarded, but I think a perfect evening would be watching Zach Galifianakis get high and do a really weird set full of new jokes, then having a frosty mug of root beer and watching Schizopolis together. Wait, the question was “Describe your ideal date with a celebrity,” right?
It’s sort of funny that you’d ask this just after Funny People came out and taught us that being best buds with a celeb is a horrible, gruelingly unpredictable process of awesomeness alternating with feeding a desperate ego and absorbing all the anger and frustration that the celeb has to hide in public. That likelihood acknowledged, I’ve long felt that Joss Whedon would make an awesome best friend, based on my interviews with him and with people associated with him. He’s funny, smart, wry, endlessly enthusiastic, and perpetually involved in something interesting, whether he’s creating a TV show or hosting Shakespeare readings in his back yard. He just seems like he’d be fun to be around. Granted, you might have to pat his back and tell him everything’s going to be okay 30 times a day whenever Fox is screwing over his latest show, but that seems like a small price to pay to hang with him.
I get asked this question with some regularity, since I interview a lot of people my friends are fans of, and they’re usually eager to hear whether I think they’re decent sorts in the real world—and even more eager to hear if they’re horrible assholes. Unfortunately, I never quite know how to answer, not only because sizing up someone’s personality while I’m trying to talk to them about their career makes me feel like Hannibal Lecter (“I think it would be quite something to know you in private life, Clarice”), but because I am good friends with one actual celebrity (don’t ask), and I’ve known him since before he was particularly famous. And not in a million years would I be able to draw out what I know to be his real personality from the many interviews and profiles I’ve read of him. Most of the people whose work I really enjoy would probably bug the shit out of me if we were friends. With all those caveats in place, though, and assuming I have to eliminate Robert Benchley for being dead and the 1990s writing staff of The Simpsons for not actually being celebrities, I’ve always had the notion that it would be pretty fun to hang around with John Lithgow. He’s a terrific actor, a Renaissance man, and a guy who always comes across as having a pretty solid sense of humor about himself and where he belongs in the celebrity spectrum. Someone who knows him might well tell me he’s a monster, but every time I see him, whether it’s in performance or gabbing with some infotainment reporter, he seems like someone you’d want hanging around at your cocktail parties.
“They are not your friends,” Lester Bangs tells the budding young music journalist in Almost Famous. “These are people who want you to write sanctimonious stories about the genius of rock stars, and they will ruin rock ’n’ roll and strangle everything we love about it.” As someone who both interviews celebrities and reviews the work they do, those are words to live by. In my experience, celebrities—and actors especially—are expert at making you a friend for 20 or 30 minutes, and I know plenty of entertainment writers who believe that connection is real and are given to throwing their interviewees’ first names around as if they were old chums. But to quote Bangs in the movie a second time, you’ve got to be “honest and unmerciful,” and that means taking a wrecking ball to any illusions that you might hang with Vince Vaughn after he’s coughed up a 20 minutes worth of talking points. That said, I’m off to stalk Paul Rudd. He’s cool, he’s friendly, and he’s a handsome devil to boot.
This is a hard question to answer, since I actually think a lot of my favorite celebrities would be terrible friends. They’d be too busy, or not want to eat or drink, or want to talk about their weirdo religion/causes, or be too lost in celebrity-dom to actually know what regular friends are like. So I tried to think of a celebrity who is about my age, talented, doesn't seem to eat paparazzi flashbulbs for dinner, seems a tiny bit square (because I am) and yet who doesn't seem to be the type to turn down a couple of Coronas and a basket of tortilla chips. I came up with Kelly Clarkson. The girl seems like she has a good head on her shoulders, yet isn't afraid to talk a little shit and have some fun. It probably helps that I’ve enjoyed some of her songs but I'm not a rabid fan, so I don't think there would be that weirdness where I know way too much about her. Also, I could finally see about getting a second source on that rumor I heard about Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest hooking up during the first season of Idol.
I sometimes think everything I’ve written since I was 12 has been part of an elaborate, hopelessly quixotic attempt to get to hang out with Stephen King. I’m sure if I ever actually met him, I’d be embarrassed and tongue-tied, and I’d probably end up apologizing endlessly for not liking his last few books. (Giving a mediocre review to Just After Sunset last fall made me feel like an asshole.) Besides, there’s no way anyone could live up to the idea I have in my mind. King’s novels were a huge part of my creative development (to the point where it took me ages to write anything that didn’t sound like a cheap imitation), and just as importantly, the introductions and essays he’s written over the years are charming and smart, and hit just the right note of laid-back friendliness to appeal to the lonely, self-loathing teenager I used to be. As I get older, I lose the desperate need to worship strangers, which defined most of my adolescence, but I still think it would be pretty great to sit down with Mr. King and just chat about movies and good books and such. Even if I was embarrassed, I could at least say “Thank you.”
I’ve written about this before for a Hater column, but if I had to choose a celebrity best friend, I’d pick Mandy Moore. I have no real reason to like her. I’m not familiar with her post-Center Stage-soundtrack musical output, and the only movie of hers I remember even halfway enjoying was Saved. In fact, I think she’s done some pretty irritating things during her career—starting an overpriced-T-shirt company called mblem, Because I Said So, a guest arc on Entourage, some promotional tour about how the scent of Gain changes lives—but even through all that, she just seems really likeable, and cool, and down-to-earth, and all those other fairly vague descriptors that add up to “would probably be fun to hang out with.” And something tells me that there’s a touch of acidity beneath that sweet exterior. For one thing, she wrote a number of kiss-off songs about her asshole ex-boyfriend, Zach Braff, and while I don’t plan on ever listening to them, I like that those songs exist. Really, there should be more of that in the world. Also, I think we’re the same height. So, you know, there’s that.
I’ve become friendly with a lot of my adolescent musical heroes, which is a lot easier to do when they reside in the relatively accessible world of punk and indie music. With this job, you develop friendly acquaintances with a lot of people, many hovering around a level of semi-fame where they’re titans to a small niche, but mostly unknown to the world at large. Circa 1983, I would’ve been psyched to have been tight bros with the dudes in Quiet Riot, but nowadays, I don’t think about it too much, aside from being bummed I missed out on the trip to Hot Doug’s with Patton Oswalt (who I figured would be the answer to this AVQA for a few of us). Otherwise, I’m not sure. Maybe the Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and Rob McElhenney from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia? Like Rogen says, I bet we’d hang well together. And maybe while we're in Philly, we could meet up with my other man-crush, Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of The Roots.
I think I could hang with Jon Hamm and Tina Fey. In fact, when I think about them together in that one glorious arc from 30 Rock this past season, I get a huge goofy grin on my face. What could be more enjoyable than a floppy-haired yet impossibly steely guy pal and a ditzy yet insecure gal pal? We’d go to chain restaurants and order knock-offs of trendy cocktails. We’d see Hollywood movies and either fall head over heels for them, or crack wise about them in the front rows, causing annoyed shushing from the other patrons either way. We’d text each other funny stuff that happened to us in meetings, and plot our get-togethers for marathon Risk games, and do pub crawls of all the cupcake places in Manhattan. (Did I mention we’d live in Manhattan?) I would also be 20 pounds lighter and have a wardrobe assistant. But yeah, the three of us would hit it off immediately, if I could just get an introduction. One of y’all can hook me up, right?
I want Jonathan Richman to be my friend. Like, really bad. I once spent a couple days in his adopted hometown of Grass Valley, California, and I hoped like hell I’d have a Richman sighting (which sadly never happened). I’ve trekked to locales as exotic as Texas and New Mexico to see the man perform. Since discovering his music in my early 20s (my first album of his was Rockin’ & Romance, a particularly giddy, skittishly crafted slab of folk-pop from his underrated ’80s catalogue), I’ve come to adore Richman’s doe-eyed, nasal-voiced, angelically weird Americana. That is, when he’s not singing in Boston-accented French. Over the years, I’ve laughed, danced, and cried my ass off to his songs; if you’re wondering where the tears came from, go back and listen to “Affection.” What would it be like, though, to actually hang out with such a spastic, excruciatingly unguarded genius whose heart seems permanently fused to his sleeve? I’d sure love to find out—perhaps while Richman and I split one of his beloved, immortalized-in-song, double-chocolate malteds. (Yes, you may now issue the restraining order.)
If there's one thing I've learned after my years of interviewing the staaahs, it's that the people you expect to get along with famously (based solely on the fact that you appreciate their work and you’ve gathered from it the impression that you may share a similar mindset) are usually the ones most likely to hold you at arm’s length, probably because they’re sick of journalists who’ve done their dutiful research and suddenly think they really understand their subjects. It’s always been the totally unexpected ones (and in my case, as my colleagues have often pointed out, the older ladies) who tend to propose meeting up for coffee afterward, probably because no one’s paid this much attention to them in years. So even though I’ve long been convinced that Joel McHale and I could be buddies, he’s probably already been exhausted by every other tabloid-mining twerp out there who wants to hang with him and shoot the sarcastic shit. But if not, Joel, drop me an e-mail. We could drink some beers, watch some shitty TV, and then have a belabored-metaphor-off. It’ll be fun.
It's tempting to pick a celebrity I really admire, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that my pop-culture heroes are the last people I'd want to hang out with. Like, how could I ever relax over beers with Martin freaking Scorsese? I'd constantly feel the need to prove that I deserved to hang out with him, and I'm sure Marty—that's what pals call Martin Scorsese, right?—would question whether my friendship was based on the celebrity Marty or the "real" Marty. No, it's best to pick a celebrity whose celebrity means nothing to me, so I guess I'll go with John Mayer. He seems like a decent enough guy, he has a good sense of humor, and I bet he has a killer pad for hanging out and stuff. Oh, and I don't give two shits about his music, so we won't be stuck talking about work all the time.
I've certainly indulged in the self-aggrandizing fiction that if I hit it off with an interview subject, we'd become BFFs in real life, if given a chance. Appropriately enough, I've had that experience with Mr. Seth Rogen himself. I think it'd be enormous fun to hang out with him, though first I would stage an intervention to try to free him of his debilitating marijuana addiction. Rogen is a harrowing walking cautionary warning that smoking a shit-ton of weed will render you popular, famous, rich beyond your wildest dreams, and prolific. I think it'd be fun to hang out with a lot of the people I interview for Random Roles, like Margot Kidder or Austin Pendleton. They've almost all been around the block a few times and have great stories and a wonderful sense of perspective. That said, if I could befriend a single celebrity, it'd probably be Mindy Kaling, on account of she's funny and smart and talented and almost oppressively adorable. If you aren't following her on Twitter, you definitely should, as she is totes the Dorothy Parker of cyber-space.
Honestly, I feel like I have enough friends as it is. And I feel like the older I get, the more I realize that friendship is rooted in knowing people for a while, and not just based on sharing the same taste in, say, ’60s Italian soundtracks. I’ve also learned that meeting people whose work you admire can be incredibly awkward, no matter how deep a connection you feel with their work. You know what else I’ve learned? You really have no idea what people are like based on their personas onscreen or in interviews. They could all be Phil Spector beneath the surface. Stay away from celebrities. All of them. You’ve been warned.