Celebrities are pretty easy to find out east if you know where to look. A good place is Book Hampton where folks with recently published memoirs arrive to read chapters to prospective customers. BookHamptonwas where I met the late James Brady, the best-selling novelist. When Brady finished signing copies he peered up at the last person in line. That was me. I quickly invited him to appear on my new show.
“What’s the topic?” he asked.
“Well, the topic always changes. I ask a question, and you reply. It’s like a conversation.”
He looked at me.
“What channel is it on?” he asked.
“No channel,” I said. “It’s a live audience. At Guild Hall on Thursday nights.”
“We’ll sell your books!”
“Wonderful! E-mail me the date.” And he was wonderful the Thursday night he appeared. And, we sold his books.
Actually, all my celebrities were wonderful. And fabulous. That’s why they’re celebrities. Booking them turned out to be marvelous fun, once I got the knack of reacting quickly on spotting a famous face. I nabbed Jerry Della Femina, the ad man and restaurateur, greeting guests in his restaurant; Rona Jaffe, the author, at a book reading; Jane Wilson, the painter, at an art show; Robert A.M. Stern, the architect, through a phone call; Dan Rattiner, the newspaper publisher; after we met at a dinner; and many others in this way. I didn’t get them all; Tom Wolfe was crossing Job’s Lane in his dress whites when I spotted him; I parked, jumped out of the car and pitched him when he got to the other side. Alas, he got away, but later mailed charming “regrets” on engraved stationary.
Now we had the concept, the venue, and the guests. All that was missing was the audience. Dan’s Papers ran a series of detailed stories about out upcoming series, helping build a buzz. Other newspapers also covered the series: some enthusiastically, others unexpectedly hostile. One crustyEast Endweekly editorialized that choosingHamptonscelebrities was a privilege reserved for certain people, of whom clearly I was not one. Radio and TV shows invited me on to talk about the series. It all helped sell tickets, and selling tickets became the priority. A few dozen people will crowd your living room but look lost in your mid-sized theater. Some nights audiences were small;. I learned to play to those who were there, and I think these were some of the best shows. Other nights, I looked out and we had nearly filled the place.
I enjoyed the run immensely.
One late summer afternoon, after “Out of the Question” had its last episode, a thin woman wearing shorts and a sunhat stopped me onNewtown Lane.
“You’re the guy from that celebrity show.”
What should I say? Is this how I appeared to my prospective guests, a stranger stopping them on the street, talking about some show?
Apparently I didn’t respond quickly enough.
“It’s a good show. They’re celebrities and you’re not, an interesting concept,” she declared. “I saw your show twice. I want you to do it again next summer.”
She walked away. I guess you could say this was the summer I became an entry level celebrity.
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