I Took a Piss Next to Gerard Butler
by Dan Walsh
I took a piss next to Gerard Butler Monday night. It’s been bothering me all week.
I got lucky and scored free tickets to the screening of his new movie Machine Gun Preacher. I was somewhat interested in seeing the film after watching the trailer, but the flyer for the screening said that both Gerard and costar Michelle Monoghan would in attendance. Of course I had to go.
Just before the movie was scheduled to begin I decided I should hit the head. I jumped out of my seat and made a beeline for the bathroom. There were two men at the urinals when I walked in. One of them was bald and wearing black. The other had longish hair and a leather jacket. The bald one was talking about someone’s cat’s hairball problem. Leather Jacket responded with a medium-thick Scottish accent and I realized I was draining the lizard next to King Leonidas himself.
I couldn’t think of anything to say.
Granted, there is a certain urinal etiquette that discourages conversation, but I remained at a loss even when we were washing our hands at the same sink. I had nothing when their conversation moved on to the girl with a four pound hairball in her stomach, and I had nothing at the end of the movie. I like most of Gerard’s movies, but I was by no means star-struck. I pride myself on being a pretty social animal, so how could I have nothing to say?
In retrospect, I guess I got tripped up by the cliche image of fans surrounding a celebrity and having nothing to say but “I love your movies!” I didn’t want to be one of those people. It seems embarrassing to me – almost like making a failed, cliche pass at the hot brunette sitting at the end of the bar.
So I guess the question that’s been bothering me ever since I took a piss next to Gerard Butler and wound up speechless is, what do you say to someone like that? How do you strike up a conversation that isn’t a complete failure with someone who’s constantly inundated with attention?
Someone like that could really be anyone, I guess. It could be a celebrity at a premiere, a musician at the bar after a gig, a hot girl at a night club, a VC at a launch party, an artist at a gallery opening, a hiring manager during a job interview, or a friend at his sister’s funeral – basically anyone who is in some way, shape, or form a center of attention. This especially applies anywhere platitudes, truisms, or cliches abound.
Rule Number 1
My first inclination is to assume that no one will want to continue a conversation if it doesn’t seem interesting. So I guess the first rule of thumb would be to NEVER say what everyone else is saying. I’ve tried to abide by this rule ever since I thought I was witty and called my freshman-year floor-mate Woody, and got a withering look in response. His name was Forest. If it’s obvious, it’s not worth saying.
Rule Number 2
My second thought is to NEVER treat them as special. They’re already sick of being treated special, and doing so will again make you seem like the rest of the crowd – forgettable. Besides, no one worth engaging wants to be surrounded by sycophants. Why BE one?
Rule Number 3
Third, open up with one of the following: an observation about the surroundings, a benign question about the person or surroundings, or (maybe) mildly interject into the current conversation. In retrospect, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a successful opener that was anything other than these three.
If the gourmet mini corndogs at a launch party are delicious, mention it to Wolfgang Puck when he winds up next to you at the hours d’oeuvre table. Idle conversation can be incredibly disarming.
Benign questions are equally effective. A homeless man skillfully struck up a conversation with me the other day in Union Square by asking me what I was reading (after he made eye contact). It’s hard to snub someone when they ask such an innocent question, especially when it’s ABOUT me. When was the last time I got a nasty look from someone for asking if they had the time? Never.
When Gerry and his buddy were discussing the 4 lb hairball, I should have interjected by saying “I heard it was 6…”