HOME   BACK to the Columnist INDEX DEC 2005 ISSUE

"The Hackiest
Place on Earth"

"Mundane in
the Membrane"


ADAM GROPMAN is a standup comic and writer who lives in Silver Lake, over there where the 101, the Glendale Fwy and I-5 come together.


Name Groppin'

From The A-List to the F-List With a Guy Who's Unlisted

In L.A. you can meet the stars. I've met a few my self, but my celebrity run-ins are peculiar and random. I come across the rich and famous despite-- not because of-- my social routine in the City of Angles. So come along and enjoy a chapter from my star-studded path of serendipity, awkwardness and occasional backhanded fawning...


I was having a drink one night in the Formosa Café, the Chinese restaurant and bar/lounge made famous by decades of Hollywood hangers-out, and also as a notable backdrop in the film "Hollywood Confidential".

Standing next to me was actor and comedian John Henson, Talk Soup's host at that time. I found his hosting on that show to be hilarious-- an accomplishment considering he had to fill the giant shoes left by the previous and original host, Greg Kinnear. I tapped Henson on the shoulder and said: "I really like your show, man. It's great." He seemed genuine and warm: "Thank you." Then I threw in this quick addendum: "Is it still on the air?" He registered a slight awkward stutter: "Uh... yeah. It is" and then turned away in a manner of surprise bordering on outright befuddlement.

At that instant I realized that perhaps my question made me look like a jerk and a wise ass, trying to take a backhanded swipe at a TV celebrity. In fact I was just curious and ignorant, since I had previously lost my cable service when the company caught me pirating it out of the building's splitter box and I hadn't seen the E! Network for months. This incident taught me something about financial prioritization in Hollywood-- The cost of getting Cable TV: maybe $40 a month. The cost of looking like a jackass in front of an entertainment celebrity: Priceless.

CELEBRITY LEVEL: C+, WHAT I LEARNED: Do your TV research before you approach a TV personality.


My sister was visiting from New York and house-sitting in the Hollywood Hills home of a vacationing producer friend. Staying in the guest house in the rear of the property was Molly Ringwald. I stopped by one morning and the anticipation was palpable and electric as we quietly wondered if and when this goddess Athena of 1980's teen-movie culture would appear. It seemed highly likely that Molly would come by the main house for some reason or other, or maybe she'd just enter our line of sight while walking down the driveway, which would still have been mind-blowingly fantastic. It was as if we were waiting for a fabled and skittish chinchilla to pop up out of its hole and make a cautious appearance in our backyard-- except in this case it was the extremely rare specimen known as 'Brat Pack actress.'

Sure enough, the North American Redheaded Ringwald crept out of its lair and scampered toward the main house, where we all waited, nearly drooling with starstruck anticipation. Molly agreed to my sister's invitation to have coffee and breakfast with us. With the house refrigerator and countertop fruit bowl both virtually empty of produce, I came up with a clever plan to remedy the situation. A large grapefruit tree brushed up right against the rear of the house. I ventured out onto the overhanging roof under one of the second floor bedrooms and shook the tree until a fruit or two fell to the ground. Then I reached out daringly-- risking a Jackie Chan-like fall onto the paved patio below-- and snatched a few more of the grapefruits, tearing them off their twigs and tossing them down to land at the feet of the auburn haired ingénue. The scene felt somehow exotic and Blue Lagoonish-- except with clothes on.

We sat around in the backyard and listened as Molly told us of her recent life in France and her "amazing" French fiancée. Of course, this latter subject stabbed my heart like a rusty bread knife, because all men are susceptible to the grand delusion that any woman-- no matter how famous or beautiful-- could be theirs if they merely turn on the charm and make eye contact. I must say, Ms. Ringwald was looking very good. A little maturation has worked well for her features, because whereas she was a cute-as-a-button girl in the 80's, she is now quite an attractive grown woman. I managed to get a few sentences out of my mouth, but was intensely self-conscious and judicious with my words, as one part of my brain kept on screaming at the other: "You're talking to MOLLY F*%$#*ING RINGWALD!!"

At one point, she mentioned that her eyeglasses were broken, specifically the hinge where the earpiece meets the lens frame. I had some experience dealing with this problem on my own glasses, and so I volunteered to fix them for her. I managed to do the old paper clip trick, which not only works well, but gives the wearer Weezer-like nerd-punk credibility. Molly thanked me heartily. This woman brought out both the Robinson Crusoe and the McGyver in me. Perhaps she was meant to be my muse. Who the hell knows what I could accomplish with her at my side?

CELEBRITY LEVEL: B, WHAT I LEARNED: Not all child actors lose their looks as they get older.


A few summers ago, my friend took me to an outdoor pool party organized by a local public radio station. It was held on the ornately tiled back patio of an old Downtown hotel, and on this sweltering day the place was crammed with edgy artistes, bohemian socialites and socio-politically informed Rage Against The Machine listeners. They all looked oddly out of their dark, cavernous element, socializing on the blazingly sunlit Mediterranean tiles or frolicking in the sparkly pool, clad in flowery bathing suits, t-shirts and shorts.

While in the pool, I noticed a guy holding an underwater camera. He was having trouble seeing under the surface. It was the actor Richard Edson, whose work I greatly enjoyed in Stranger Than Paradise, Do The Right Thing and Strange Days. I trudged over and offered him the use of my nine dollar Speedo goggles. He was grateful. He then asked me to pose underwater for some experimental sub-aquatic shots. I gladly obliged, as one never knows which photo opportunity may launch one to stratospheric success. I figured that my exaggerated faces, wild-limbed gestures, and suspension of my body upside down-- all of it eight feet under water-- may have been what some talent agent needed to see in order to visualize the superstar potential of Adam Gropman. For Lana Turner, it was Schwab's Drugstore. For me it would be the Hotel Figueroa swimming pool.

I gave Richard my contact information and he promised to send me the photos. I never got them. Has he sold them to a respected photographic magazine? Are they on a pay website for people who dig looking at guys in bathing suits? All I know is, I could use a free underwater head shot. Or at least a gag photo for my next holiday card. Richard-- if you read this, "do the right thing" and send me the photos!

CELBRITY LEVEL: C, WHAT I LEARNED: Successful Hollywood actors sometimes maintain interesting, offbeat hobbies .


I was sitting in the Urth Café on Melrose, the best place to overpay for a latte and a vegan brownie-- if you're inclined to do such things. The place is full of vaguely Madeline Stowe-ish and Darryl Hannah-esque actress/yoga instructor/convertible BMW owner-types. It also has a fair share of cosmopolitan Persians; soap opera actor guys in sweatpants; purposeful, crisply serious script development women; and the odd computer consultant or corporate lawyer hoping to inhale some of that Melrose/Robertson Success-Adjacent vibe.

If you go to the place with any sort of frequency, you will occasionally spot a genuine celebrity. This is like the bonus platinum crouton on top of the gold-leafed arugula salad that is already your Urth Café visit. On this aforementioned day I found myself sitting next to actress Camryn Manheim and her gaggle of middle-aged women-friends. She was recounting a pro-Bill Clinton speech she had delivered on a televised event and the torrent of emails she received afterwards.

I engaged her in a brief conversation and told her that both the entire movie "Happiness," and her specific role in it were phenomenal. In it she plays a lonely, eccentric apartment-dweller that turns out to be a psychopathic murderer. I must say, she was nothing like that in real life. In fact, she was quite amiable and appreciative that I had even seen the movie at all. She told me that strangers always approach her to talk about The Practice but never "Happiness". I told her that I'd never even seen The Practice and said: "That's the lawyer show, right?" She actually smiled and said "Yeah, that's it," as if to say: "You dear, sweet pop-culture ignorant boy! God bless you for being a non-TV watching freak and instead seeing the hardcore indy film that's so much closer to my heart. " Then I shook her hand and retreated quickly back to my free ice water with lemon wedge before it got awkward.

CELEBRITY LEVEL: B, WHAT I LEARNED: Seeing hip, under-appreciated indy films sometimes pays off.


I was at the Cafe Bean & Tea Leaf on Hillhurst in Los Feliz-- the one nearest my apartment. I really like the atmosphere of that location, because it's outdoor sitting area has the perfect combination of assorted neighborhood characters, semi-pretentious Hollywood glamour types and genuinely hard-working writers and actors. A bagel and a latte there on a weekend morning with a few sections of the L.A. Times has always been an especially magical slice of heaven for me in this city which often resembles purgatory's vestibule.

I was standing at the counter awaiting my order and when I turned my head slightly I noticed that standing maybe five feet away from me is Leonardo DiCaprio. Let me repeat for proper effect: Leonardo DiCaprio. The one who seven years ago was more famous than Bill Clinton, O.J. Simpson or any of the twelve disciples.

I need to make something perfectly clear so that you, the reader, understands the psychological background of myself, the writer with regards to this situation. I have never been an especially starstruck or celebrity-chasing person. I've never done a Star Map tour. I really do not go to venues and establishments where one stands a high chance of rubbing elbows with famous people. When a sighting does happen, it is by accident and is a by-product of going to a place primarily for a particular activity or type of event.

As far as specific celebrities go, sure, I always expected that if I met DeNiro or Streep or Oldman, there'd be some kind of awestruck response on my part, an instinctive respect for the level of talent and virtuosity before me. But Leonardo Dicaprio? Never gave him a second thought. I'd barely seen any of his movies, and I'm clearly not in his demographic. I'm not a 14 year old girl, a 50 year old bored housewife or a gay pedophile. At that point I hadn't even seen Titanic.

But here I was standing in the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and I was FREAKING OUT. I mean, I was beyond trembling. My head felt as if I'd snorted PCP cut with borax. I was an inch away from catatonic.

At that time, Leo was arguably the most famous human being in the world. Titanic-mania was still sweeping the land like an emotional black plague. He was on the cover of every glossy publication in the newsstands. He was in every TV news show and every gossip column-- an inescapable icon that could command a chorus line of agents and producers to dance at the snap of his finger and a Beatles-size army of girls to squeal and faint with one ten second live appearance. As unassuming, regular and almost goofy he looked standing there slightly disheveled in T-shirt and sweat pants that afternoon, this guy was by far the most famous person I'd stood within spitting distance of in my entire life. And I'd be damned if I was going to pass up the opportunity to mentally implode and experience an irrational momentary breakdown!

As I clutched my latte on the counter and reached out for my scone, I felt as disoriented as a bug in a clothes dryer. "What do I do?" I asked myself, "Should I lift up the drink? Put it down? Knock it over and scream?" I experienced that incredibly uncomfortable sensation in which you want so badly to turn and look at the really famous person dead on-- to make that 100% I.D. confirmation and also to mentally record any interesting facial expressions or other peculiarities-- and yet you feel as if there is powerful and deadly force stopping you. By turning and staring into the Leo, I would be blinded, or turned to stone, or worse yet, he would say: "Hey, why you staring at me?"

I then started to go through the magnificent delusion whereby I-- the regular person-- turned the entire scenario around in my mind and imagined that Leo-- the big star-- was looking at me and scrutinizing my every move. I imagined that every tiny micro-movement I made would make the difference between a life of bland normalcy and a speaking role in Titanic II. I vividly heard this phone call in my mind, with Leo calling director James Cameron: "Hey, Jim. I saw this guy Gropman down at the Bean & Leaf. This kid can really handle a coffee and scone. You gotta' use him."

I then started going through the Five Stages of Being Near the Huge Celebrity. This is an accelerated degenerative disorder of the brain that passes through its entire cycle in about one minute.

First Stage: Confusion: "Who am I?," "What am I doing here?," "Did I get my coffee card punched?"

Second Stage: Denial: "That's just a guy wearing a Leonardo Dicaprio mask," "There is no Leonardo Dicaprio. He's just a media-created hoax like the moon landing.," "I don't exist. I'm really a spark on a computer chip."

Third Stage: Rationalization: "OK, he is a really good looking guy," "He's got the advantage of an unusual first name," "I'd be that famous if I grew up in Los Feliz."

Fourth Stage: Disappointment: "I feel so unsuccessful compared to him," "He was in a movie that made $600 million and I was in a short film that played at Pasadena City College," "He's over six feet tall! Couldn't he at least be short?!"

From here it's a short and slippery slope downhill to the Fifth Stage: Homicidal Rage: "Why the hell does he have to come into my goddamn coffee shop and ruin my day?! I'm sick and tired of the guy and his arrogant, conceited bullshit! He has to come into my Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and just rub my nose in it! 'Look at me, I'm so rich, I'm so famous, I'm so handsome!.' Why can't he just leave me the hell alone and let me feel marginally OK about myself!!"

Right then, as I seriously considered buying an automatic weapon, coming back and shooting up the place, I had an amazing moment of clarity. I calmed down, stepped back and got a little perspective. Perhaps, I thought, I was being unfairly hard on him. Maybe this was really just in my head. Maybe it wasn't so much Leo, Maybe it was me.

So I decided I had to go and apologize. I had to set things right between Leonardo and myself. In my mind I heard my voice saying, in a cool, nonchalant way: "Hey, man, I like the stuff you've done in those movies". But when I turned to face him he was already gone, like a wraith, and I felt horrible about all the hate, anger and jealousy I psychically assaulted him with. I knew in my heart that Leonardo was an innocent victim of my own inner darkness. So I decided to write an apology letter to Leo-- the kind that one doesn't actually send and yet it brings emotional healing-- and that letter ended up becoming this very essay.

So Leo, if by chance you are reading this, I am sorry for all the weird vibes that day at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. If I see you there again I will be friendly and let you buy me a frappuccino. And maybe a small house.

CELEBRITY LEVEL: A, WHAT I LEARNED: Maybe big stars are just people, too. HOME Back to the Top