The Joel Stein Show

Fame Excuse

Just what makes celebs go to such great lengths (or depths) to recapture the warmth of the lost spotlight?

Before we make fun of M.C. Hammer and Corey Feldman for living in a house on The WB's celebrified Real World knockoff, The Surreal Life, let's first make fun of them for being M.C. Hammer and Corey Feldman. I mean, one guy used his balloon pants to fly over Taco Bells in a commercial and the other preaches about the morality of vegetarianism while wearing leather. And then, and only then, let us ask ourselves if we wouldn't do whatever it took to regain the spotlight, to have another chance to be loved.

I myself have drunk from that sweet chalice of fame, and it's a hard brew to put back in the closet, or even to avoid mixed metaphors with. I was one of the commentators on last month's 10-hour VH1 series I Love the 80s. The nation winced as I wondered if John Hinckley's attempt to land a date with Jodie Foster wasn't sexually misguided and didn't notice when I recycled the same jokes I used in my Dungeons & Dragons column. Basking in the white-hot spotlight of VH1 fame, I received an e-mail from someone I went to high school with, a ''Did I see you on TV somewhere?'' from a colleague at a meeting, and what seemed to be a knowing nod from a waitress. I miss that nod. I need that nod.

So I called Michael Hirschorn, an exec producer of I Love the 80s, and asked if he would put me on I Love the 90s, where I could cleverly question how someone could drink a whiskey drink, a vodka drink, a lager drink, and a cider drink -- twice -- and still get up again. But in a move conservative even for a TV exec, Hirschorn told me he is more likely to do a second 10-hour I Love the 80s series.

I told him I had a whole lot more '80s material, like how the subtext of Budweiser's Spuds MacKenzie ads is that if you get hot girls drunk enough, they'll get turned on by anyone -- even a dog. Hirschorn seemed impressed enough with the MacKenzie material to offer me more air time. What he really said was ''We might actually interview you and not use you.'' About 20 minutes later, in a desperate attempt to get me off the phone, he added, ''There is a coterie of young women in the office who are desperate for more Steiniana.'' But other than my doing bits for said women in the Viacom cafeteria (Fridays at 1:30 by the frozen-yogurt machine), it seems the company doesn't need me, confident they can get A-listers for the next series. ''If Dustin Diamond wants to come back, that trumps all comers,'' Hirschorn said.

Sure, I may complain about being unable to go out in public without stares from waitresses and being the victim of unsubstantiated rumors about Angelina Jolie that I am starting right now, but the truth is, there is nothing better than being celebrated by society, being known before you even meet someone, feeling like the whole world is a tiny village you're on the council of. When I asked Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster, why he agreed to go on E!'s celebrity blind-date show Star Dates, he put it more succinctly: ''There was a paycheck involved.'' And Patrick is still dating one of his Star Dates setups, ''the good-looking one with the incredible body. Actually, it's not like she's my girlfriend; we just see each other when we're in town. I'm sure she has other beaus, and I've got other girls.'' When I entered journalism, never, in my wildest dreams, did I think I'd be breaking news on Eddie Munster's dating life.

If Patrick, Feldman, and I are so willing to debase ourselves to regain fame, then what would someone who tasted it only for a split second do for another chance? I called Rena Mero -- who appeared on the cover of Playboy twice in 1999 -- who was formerly known as Sable on the WWF, which is now known as the WWE, and right about there I lost my train of thought. But after stammering for a while, I asked the WWF/E's Sable/Mero if she would commit the ultimate humiliation to get her name back in the media: In return for putting her name in an EW article, would she say that she was physically attracted to me?

I e-mailed her some pictures, and after several hours, she called me back. ''I certainly appreciate the offer, but I think I'm going to pass on it,'' she said. ''I am probably one of the few people in this world who will not do anything for that big break or that celebrity status.'' To be fair, they weren't my best photos. ''I will keep your number,'' she added, ''and hopefully we'll be able to talk about a future project I have.'' Nobody gives up the plan to be a celebrity. Even if the plan is so weak it involves calling me for publicity.

Originally posted Jan 17, 2003 Published in issue #691 Jan 17, 2003 Order article reprints
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