Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Top 5 Comic-Con Celebrity Sightings: 2010 Edition!

Just like last year, Comic-Con 2010 ended up being a hyper-real parade of strange late night encounters with people most of us would vaguely describe as "famous." I'm not the kind of dude who watches TMZ or clicks to People.com in my spare moments, but even I got a little giddy during the show when I'd bump into Jerry O'Connell while heading to dinner in the Gaslamp or bump into Matt Groening and the cast of "V" in my hotel lobby (though part of that giddiness was obviously sleep deprivation).

Though aside from the "aww shucks! weren't that neat?" aspect of bumping into celebrities at The Big Show, I think the thing I like the most about rubbing elbows with minor TV stars and other people too pretty to be nerds is the fact that Comic-Con somehow becomes the ultimate equalizer in terms of how we interact with the people we usually only see on Letterman. The Hollywoodization of San Diego doesn't just mean that these celebs get big panels where their names are cheered for. It also means that they have to share the same hotels, restaurants and pedicabs as people who come to the show to dress up like Power Girl or buy slabbed issues of My Greatest Adventure. And even with the supposedly awesome yet inaccessible studio parties, I think seeing a celebrity at Comic-Con is more like seeing a celebrity at Taco Bell than anything else. Let me show you what I mean with my Top 5 famous folk sightings from this year's show...

5. Erik Estrada

After the first day of the show, Rickey came out to the CBR Yacht after his stint at the DC booth so we could live the glamorous dream of eating Subway and buying beers at Ralph's together. But before we took off on that envy-inducing adventure, we took a quick walk from the slip where CBR's boat was docked to my room at the Marriott Marina Hotel. That path took us just past this spaceship-shaped, Hawaiian-themed restaurant called Ray's. And as we strolled past, Rickey looked up and declared, "Erik Estrada!" and sure enough, the "CHiPS" star was standing by the hostess table being rapidly circled by his nine children (okay, maybe not that many, but there were at least four of them, and they were ALL bouncing off the walls).

As we moseyed on by, I couldn't help but notice that the double E seemed to be quite exasperated with the wait staff. In my mind, I imagined him going, "Look man, I know it's busy here, but I was fucking Ponch...can't I just get goddamned table?!?!" Maybe it was going easier than it looked, but it didn't look that easy on the dude.

In any event, I was glad when I heard that Estrada got some love from members of the Scott Pilgrim cast later in the weekend.

4. LeVar Burton

When I told people that we had LeVar Burton out to the CBR boat for a video interview, they'd do one of two things: sing the theme from "Reading Rainbow" or go "Did he wear a barette over his eyes?" That's about as clear a nerd divide as one can get when you think about it. And really, I'd wondered a little myself whether the real guy was more the imaginatively happy man whose word I didn't have to take for it when it came to picture books or more the no-nonsense problem solver that was Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge.

Though as it turns out, the real LeVar Burton is more like when he shows up on "The Soup" or "Tim & Eric" – a boisterously loud and kind of bonkers joker who doesn't sit still and loves ever minute of it. While most of the staff sat below deck during the on camera CBR interviews, we might as well have been lounging beside him on the captain's chair during his chat with Jonah (which you can see here) as Burton was cracking jokes and rocking the complimentary CBR kazoo at full volume the entire time he was aboard. After the shoot was done, Burton bound down into the cabin for the briefest of moments and declared in the cartooniest pirate voice imaginable "I's just wanted to see what the crew in the bowels of the ship was like. ARRRRRRRRR!" before shooting back up the stair and out of our lives.

I won't lie. It was pretty rad.

3. Donald Glover

Like I said, I've never been really high on trying to get into the big Hollywood parties like the infamous EW shindig or whatever, but one exception I used to make was getting to the United Talent Agency party because the booze was free and it was co-sponored by Oni Press so I got to hang with cool comics people of my acquaintance while gawking at movie stars. This year, the UTA party went on its own way and the Oni crew had their own Scott Pilgrim-themed shindig sponsored by the Toronto Tourism Board. That was great for a few reasons:

1 - As I made my way to the location of the Oni party, I just happened to bump into the Man of the Hour himself – Bryan Lee O'Malley – in the middle of the street. When I asked O'Malley if he was coming from or going to his party, he said, "Going to...follow me!" From there on out, I was led to the entrance where a quick "He's with me" from O'Malley got me a VIP pass and direct entrance into the party (thanks again, dude). I've got to say, for all the bitching I've done about people cutting to the front, acting like a big whig myself for five minutes was kind of awesome.

2 - As expected, the event was chock full of cool people to hang out with. Off the top of my head, I can recall chatting up Matt Loux, Abbie Denson, Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman, Doug Sherwood and Chris Butcher, and I KNOW there are people I'm forgetting who I'll want to add back in later. I don't care what people say about comics people getting pushed out by Hollywood – I fucking rocked out with some of the best comics folks I know that night, thank you very much.

3 - At one point in the evening, I came across Oni Editor-in-Chief James Lucas Jones and his super keen wife Jennie (who was MEGA helpful all weekend whenever I was covering Oni and Scott Pilgrim stuff or just bumming around near their booth), and it just so happened at that moment they were hanging with "Community" star and would-be Spider-Man Donald Glover. I snapped the above photo and chatted up the trio for a minute, and while I didn't really get to talk much to Glover in any real way, I have to say that the company he kept made him A-list in my book. I mean, I'm pretty sure dude was the only star in attendance at that party, meaning he bailed on the flashier UTA gig to drink with a cabal of cartoonists and Canadians. Gold star for Donald Glover.

2. Stan Lee

I'm sure EVERYONE who spends some time wandering around Comic-Con gets a Stan Lee sighting at some point – the Man is everywhere at the show! – but it can't be said enough that if anyone from the comics side of the aisle whose crossed over into the broader celebrity, it's Lee (pictured here being awesome thanks to UGO and Robot 6). On Thursday morning, I got dragged to the local Fox affiliate at 5:00 AM to be their "Comic-Con expert" for a 12-second segment, and even though most of the staff (even the ones who dressed in costume) had little to no idea what went on at Comic-Con, there was a buzz at the station because THE Stan Lee was coming in later that morning for his own segment.

Anyway, I crossed paths with Stan The Man early on Friday morning when I was running around seeing folks in the Marriott. While waiting at the elevator bank for a trip down to the lobby, Lee and a young man who I have to assume is one of his POW! Entertainment employees came around the corner and stood next to me. They were talking about another of the countless interviews he'd done for the show.

"So how'd that piece for the newspaper go," Lee's aide said.

"Oh, pretty good. Pretty good," he chuckled in reply.

"Do you think they'll run it tomorrow?"

"I don't know. Probably they will. They get those newspapers out pretty fast these days."

"Do you think they'll run it on the front page?" asked the young man, kind of half checking his Blackberry.

"I don't know about that. Maybe they will. Maybe it'll be on the front page," said Lee, absent-mindedly staring at the floor. Then, he sort of mumbled more to himself than anyone else "Maybe they'll put Obama on page two!"

God bless you, sir.

1. Charlie & The Waitress

You'll never hear me complain about this really, but experiencing Comic-Con as a working reporter is a marathon of running about to the point of exhaustion each and every day, staying out late socializing and forgoing sleep and most meals in the name of work and/or partying. And hey, the negative effects the show takes on your body and brain won't ever outweigh how awesome it is to get paid to party for free at the Scott Pilgrim affair or chat up Kieron Gillen on camera or just plop down in a panel room and hang off Mike Mignola's every word. The job is fucking great, and I won't deny that. But I can't gloss over how bedraggled you end up being by week's end either – mostly because said bedraggling led to my most bad ass celebrity encounter of the show.

Saturday night, despite my extreme exhaustion I found myself in a state of total insomnia after nabbing a few hours of fitful sleep (Comic-Con fucks with your circadian rhythm like whoa) and was wandering about the lobby of my hotel into the wee hours trying to occupy my mind. After chatting up the similarly unsleepy Mike Choi and hacking my way through a draft of my Jeff Parker Red Hulk interview (which I'm still not sure is AT ALL readable but whatever), I was heading back to my room for a power cord at around 4:00 AM when I ran into a problem at the elevator bank.

A young lady and I had both pressed the button to head up to our rooms, but after moments of waiting the only doors that opened were to an elevator containing a cleaning lady, hard at work on her hands and knees scrubbing the entryway to the lift. After a moment of awkward silence, the girl said to me, "I'll just wait for the next one" and I agreed. As the doors slid shut, we hit the up button again and the down button (a trip down would be just one floor before going back up) and waited patiently for a ride that wasn't being waxed for tomorrow's guests.

And thank the Lord we did because moments after that, the husband and wife team of Charlie Day and Mary Elizabeth Ellis (also known as Charlie Kelly and the waitress from "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia") walked right up next to me.

Now, I'm not sure how familiar all of y'all are with the series, but I'm a big "It's Always Sunny" supporter in part because I think Day's Charlie character is primed to go down as the first truly great sitcom character of the 21st Century. Some day we'll talk about Charlie Kelly in the same way we do about Ralph Kramden, Arthur Fonzarelli, Latka Gravas and Cosmo Kramer. Dude is that funny and that unique. So needless to say, the second the pair of them turned the corner and came my way, I started to freak out a little.

And as I sat there debating whether or not to say anything, of course the elevator door that opens ready to go down a floor is the same one where the cleaning lady continued to scrub at the brass step into the unit. After everyone stood there for a minute, the woman looked up from her task and kind of waved us towards the elevator, to which Charlie replied, "Really? Well, yeah okay...it's only one floor down. Come on everybody!" and kind of skipped over the woman into place.

Once we were there, shoulder-to-shoulder with the cleaning lady still scrubbing the elevator's bottom, I couldn't help it and I turned with as much restraint as I could to tell them both how much I loved the show. As the thanked me, Charlie's hand shot right out to shake mine, and he pulled me in a bit with a sly 4:00 AM grin saying, "Did you have a good night tonight, man?"

"Yeah, I had a pretty good night. Now I've just got to get through tomorrow so I can catch my plane back to Chicago."

At this point, Charlie broke out into song in a way which I can only describe as "total Charlie" where the lyrics were "Ohhhhh, he's flyin back to the Ol' CHI-TOWN!" and I had to literally bite my tongue to stop from bursting out laughing. Ellis dragged her (somewhat faded) husband to their room a few floors later with a tossed back "Good night." And with the grin on my face, it was pretty certain that I wouldn't be getting any sleep that last night of the show.

I wish you could've been there with me.


Honorable Mention:

All right, I know this has been going on for a while, and I've used up all my semi-interesting celebrity stories, but I've got one related anecdote I thought I'd share for posterity's sake.

As I said in my "What I Wrote" roundup, the CBR coverage of the whole Hall H eye-stabbing was a really harried and surreal experience all around. Though one humorous bright spot to that sad incident came as I rushed over towards the Hall H doors in hopes of getting word from con officials or the police on what exactly had happened.

After I arrived on the scene and fell into a photo of the suspect doing a perp walk, I made my way over to the big glass doors for the hall where a few journalists and some of the Marvel Comics staff arriving in bewilderment for their own delayed movie panel were milling about. After tapping on the glass and getting the attention of a con staffer, I asked whether a statement would be released, who with the police might go on the record, etc. He didn't seem to know but told me that they'd start letting folks into Hall H in a few minutes so maybe I should wait around.

As I stood there trying to call the San Diego Police's media line, I felt a gentle tug at my sleeve. I turned to find an older woman with red hair and a smile on her face. "Excuse me, young man," she said. "I was wondering if you could help me?"

"I can try," I said. "What can I do for you, ma'am?"

"You see, I'm Mark Ruffalo's mother, and I'm trying to figure out where the Marvel panel is."

At that moment, a gentlemen with the lady started to whisper "He can't help you!" in her ear and pull her away as I thought, "Oh fuck! This poor lady has no idea someone's been stabbed in the eye with a pen! She just wants to see her son become the Hulk!"

Luckily, I was able to wave down Marvel's C.B. Cebulski and Mike Pasciullo who put her in the hands of who I'm pretty sure was Marvel Studio's PR contact Melissa Zukerman. I heard later that she was front and center for her son's big moment. Not a celebrity sighting really, but a sweet lady all around.

Her kid's SUPER dreamy too, right?

See you next year!


Rickey said...

re: Charlie story:

I'm glad it happened to one of us!!

Rickey said...

Oh, and I'd seen Estrada THAT morning on the local Fox affiliate sitting with Lou Ferigno and Charisma Carpenter talking about their new Butterfinger spokespeople gig (Butterfinger Defense League) and how they were going to unveil their "4th member" at the con. I think it ended up being Sir Mix-A-Lot or something.

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