Clear Comm Consulting

How to Act Around Famous People

Jun 29, 2017

Crew members on Steve Harvey’s TV shows were supposedly told they were not to talk to or bother Mr. Harvey. Similar stories I’ve heard go back to Dick Clark’s production company, where crew members were apparently told not to make eye contact with Dick unless he was talking to them. What’s up with these famous people? No eye contact? Don’t bother him/her? Where would these people be without the public, right?

Well, actually, there is more to this than you might think. Understanding the often-unspoken rules of the celebrity world is a good skill set to obtain, and it is there that I hope to share some insights. Being a “man of a certain age” I have interacted with everyone from Henry Fonda to Justin Timberlake and lots of people in between. Generally, I have had success connecting with them and it comes from a specific set of rules I’ve tried to follow.

This is just another day: While it is a big deal for us to run across a celebrity, it is just another day for them. If you can act the same, they often respond well. From former Presidents of the United States to famous actors to standout athletes, they get the “yelling, screaming, pointing” treatment a lot. After a while, strangely enough, it can get old. If you stay cool and just have a calm conversation they will often view it as a welcome relief. A USA Today columnist wrote about an encounter with Robin Williams where Williams walked up from behind him at a casual lunch spot and asked if he could share the table. The columnist didn’t even look up and simply said “Sure.” Suddenly he realized he was sitting across from the famous actor and comedian. Instead of making a big deal, they just talked about their shared interest in cycling. Williams seemed relieved. Simple rule: Catch your breath and act normal!

Are they working or off? If a celebrity is showing up for an advertised appearance, they are “on.” They know they are expected to be accessible and you should expect to get a “moment” with them if you get in line or pay the extra money for a backstage visit. The interaction will be short and controlled and don’t expect or ask for anything more. If they are “off,” then you should not expect a warm reception if you run up to them for a picture. They may just need a drug store prescription while trying to get over the flu. How would you feel? Some celebs seem to enjoy being “on” while others hate it. I had a chance to be around both Tonight Show hosts Johnny Carson and Jay Leno. Carson hated being in the spotlight unless he was taping his show, while I’ve never seen Leno not welcome a visit from a total stranger on the street. Second rule: Are they “on” or “off”? Act accordingly.

Finally, rules of the workplace: This is meant to explain why some celebs have very specific rules – especially when they are working. The Steve Harvey and Dick Clark situations referenced earlier don’t surprise me. To appear fresh and glib and “on” is not an easy skill. It all looks natural and fun, but it often requires a lot of effort. If, while taping a TV show for example, the star of the show is constantly stopping and getting pictures with crew members and passers-by, the work would never get done! It may sound controlling, but spend one day on a TV set and you can understand the need for some rules. Celebrities are just regular people with faces we recognize. They come with the same quirks and qualities we all share. Remember that the next time you spot one.  

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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