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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On famous friends.


I'm going to debunk one lie you hear a lot from anyone who's friends with a well-known personality: 'I don't see a celebrity, I just see a person.' Unfortunately, there's no way for that to be true.

Person-to-person, of course, I don't treat my well-known friends any different from my friends who live and work under the radar. I have silly conversations with them. I hug them. I insult their taste in beer. Our conversations tend to be on points of mutual interest.

But to say 'I don't see a celebrity'... is admirable, but not entirely true. Because just as I look at these people and see my buddies who are into the same comics as me or work in the same field as me or had a rough flight and just want to go grab a scotch, I am also acutely aware of the world that follows them around. I know that when a fan comes up to them and they opt to engage, it is my job to sink slightly into the background for them. I know that some of my closest friends may only speak to me a couple times a year because their career has just exploded (in a good way) and they're being pulled in all directions, and I have to be okay with that. I know that, if the person happens to be Japanese and of a certain age, I can't just post photos of the nice gift they gave me because there is a Decorum for younger Japanese celebrities whose stock-in-trade is in being 'equally available.'

Hanging out with my better-known friends, I see a person, and I see the notoriety they have achieved for themselves, because failing to would be a disservice to them and their ability to function.

I realise what it's meant to mean. I do. It's more a statement on how we treat them. We don't fawn. We don't go 'Oh my god, you're so great' (well, sometimes, but usually either a genuine massive achievement or in a fit of sarcasm). Simultaneously, I do keep in mind that many of these people are in a field I'm finding myself in and I can learn quite a bit from them.

Here's the thing, though: the person I heard that statement from most, for many years, was probably one of the most guilty of seeing celebrity friends as... how can I put this delicately?... Well, I can't, so I won't. They saw celebrity friends as trophies. Decorations. Achievements. And even at a time when I was a nobody whose friends all sailed happily through life with only banks and employers knowing their personal info, it rubbed me the wrong way.

Then, I fell in with someone that this person had heard of.

I won't give his name. I consider him a close friend and a mentor, but it's not about who he is. He's one of my many friends -- it's just my demographic is likely to have seen his name on a TV screen. He also worked on many projects that this Person is a fan of. So when I was given license to roll with project news, I would tell Person. Because, well, Person was a friend. Person liked my friend's work. Of course Person would want to hear.

'So-and-so is working on such-and-such -- it sounds like your jam.' I said it because I thought Person would be happy.

What I got back: 'Why do you get to have cool friends?'

Even years later, I'm not done picking apart this statement. Just the layers of malice and misunderstanding in it. The failure to notice that the information was for Person. The identification of my friend not as my friend, but as a Cool Friend, an achievement I got. The undertone that my being friends with him and Person not having a friend of equal or greater notoriety was unfair.

I stopped telling Person things.

Of course, Person started hunting.

'Any of your friends working on stuff you can't talk about?' 'Yes.' 'Like what.' '... I... can't talk about it.'

It got worse. Person saw my increasing connections (which I was slightly terrified about because I was -- and still am -- a bit of a goose at meeting new people when I've already seen them on television). Person asked for access. Demanded access. Joked about how I'd totally just give them access. With regards to one of these friends, a young model approximately half Person's height, Person made uncouth remarks about a growing crush on that friend.

I imagine it's hard to be known at any level. I'm learning that slowly; people are starting to recognise me and I'm realising it's probably time to stop scratching my butt in public. But there's something acutely weird -- not easier, not harder, just weird -- about being friend to a known entity. Because you run into the narcissists, the try-hards, the people who think five seconds and a handshake with their fave will make their fave become their best friend... and they see you as a gateway. And if you won't be that gateway, things get ugly.

My call used to be that I'm selective about which friends I am willing to introduce to any well-known contacts. My call now is that I refuse to be close friends with anyone I would be afraid to introduce. Acquaintances, gaming group buds, sure. But the fact is, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Seventeen, I don't have friends clamoring for my more 'notable' email addresses because I don't hang out with the people who think having them would make a difference.

It is important to see celebrity as at least a side aspect of your well known friends. To understand their lives, their careers, and what they put up with -- but also to understand that there are things they'll need and want (and not need and not want) that won't apply to friends in more private lines of work.

I care deeply for all my friends, in all their businesses. I afford all of them the exact levels of privacy they desire, be it from my other friends, from me, or from the people one table over at the bar. Should I ever have the fortune or misfortune to be widely known to strangers, I hope my friends will afford me the same.

That said... if you 'know someone who knows someone,' show respect. My well-known friends do not exist for the entertainment of my lesser-known friends. Excitement gets the better of us all, and we all want those few seconds to say we met someone. But when there are friendships at stake... be kind.