Sitting Next to a Celebrity

I never let on that I knew who she was

Barry Lyons

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I saw this question posed at Quora: “Have you ever been at an event and found yourself sitting next to someone famous?” My response:

It was in the early 1990s and I was sitting by myself in a Broadway theater waiting for a play to begin, minding my own business as I read a book. There were two empty seats next to me that were soon taken by a woman and her friend. A few minutes after they got settled the woman began chatting with me and was curious to know what I was reading. I don’t recall what the book was. What matters is that the woman was famous, but I said nothing to indicate that I knew who she was. No fawning, no gushing, no “I love your work.” Nothing. So we chatted about this and that, and I said something that made her laugh. I can still see her throwing her head back. A small achievement, given who she was. After the play was over I said I enjoyed talking to her and as we parted ways my attitude remained the same: I was “supposed” to be starstruck by this television icon but chose to play it deadpan instead. I later wondered if she had asked her friend, “Did that young man know who I was?” It was Carol Burnett.

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It’s been said that famous people — well, some famous people — miss being anonymous. That makes sense to me. Consider Tom Cruise, who might just have the most recognizable face on the planet. There’s no way he could lollygag around Times Square and not be recognized. Ditto for Julia Roberts or Bruce Springsteen or just about any famous actor or musician you care to name (less so for writers — well, maybe not for Stephen King). You might think that at the end of the play I could have let Ms. Burnett know that I knew who she was by saying “Thank you for all the laughs” or something to that effect. Sure. Maybe. But if Ms. Burnett has any longing to be anonymous, if only for just a moment, well, I gave her that moment.

Barry Lyons is a freelance writer living in New York City. Here’s a piece he wrote on a particular group of four famous men.

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Barry Lyons

Not a fan of sports or religion. I guess that makes me a bad American.