If you want to see behind the mirage of show business, all you need to do is attend the circus that is a red carpet. I once had an ex-boyfriend who also worked in the media say that if he attended one, he had to be heavily sedated. Yeah, I pretty much get that.
In fact, I wasn't planning on going to Howard Stern's birthday celebration, but about an hour before it was slated to begin, I found myself wanting to check out the unique near-anthropological Hollywood as Zoo Experiment that occurs when a true red carpet madhouse is in full swing.
Ryan Phillippe, Lena Dunham, Jewel, Jenny McCarthy, Katie Couric, David Spade, Nick Cannon, Steven Tyler, Tracy Morgan, Jimmy Kimmel, Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, David Spade, Jeff Probst, Rachael Ray, Larry King, Fred Armisen -- and of course, Howard Stern and Robin Quivers were all there.
Needless to say, it was chaos. Reporters elbowing other reporters and yelling to get out of their sightline, a million selfies with celebrities, a lot of tustling with cheatsheets to figure out which Beach Boy was walking down the carpet, and at a certain point, the rope just gave way completely.
And there I was, at the very last minute on Friday, where I headed over to check out the festivities at the Hammerstein Ballroom. What I saw made me think about the games that reporters and celebrities play with one another to make the sausage of celebrity news. It's all pretty hilarious when it comes right down to it.
1. Smart celebrities know their brand, and they stay on message.
What does Howard Stern want for his birthday? "Pens," he says. What does he use them for? "Writing dick jokes," he answered. And there we have it: a soundbite to feed the beast. For an added element of DGAF, Stern says he likes self-help books, too. Nice.
2. If you are Lena Dunham and you get asked what you are doing for Valentine's Day, just keep on walking.
One of the last arrivals for the party was "Girls" creator Dunham. It made me genuinely laugh to see her just keep on trucking as a reporter tried to grab a soundbite with a provocative question to Keep the News Cycle A'Running and she was just like, "Bye."
3. Reporters will namecheck anyone and anybody to get that precious few minutes of Bite to generate a clip or a story.
Steven Tyler was hit with a barrage of "I know so and so please can I just have a minute," and he gave a very hilarious nonsensical reply all while dressed like a pirate. This exchange made my night.
4. It's a bit Darwinian, but when you are attached to someone more famous, be prepared for all the questions to be about that other celebrity.
God bless Nick Cannon. What does Mariah want for Valentine's Day? What does Mariah think of this? What about that? Mariah, Mariah, Mariah. I have to say, though, I thought his "poetry" answer was pretty funny.
5. Even if you make fun of the celebrity news cycle with a specific example of some of the silly questions you get asked as a celebrity, expect to be asked a silly question as a follow-up.
This exchange with Jewel was classic. She talked about how great it was to steer clear of questions that were fluffy when she did Stern's show. This observation was followed up with exactly the kind of question she had just ridiculed. Pure red carpet.
6. The only thing that matters on a red carpet is using your brief window of access to get that topical news item quote about what's been generating headlines -- even if it leads to an awkward exchange.
At first Fred Armisen declined a question about the newest cast member to "Saturday Night Live" from a reporter because he was there to talk about Howard Stern, but then he returned to talk about how awesome and funny Sasheer Zamata is as a comic. I loved his response and exactly how he handled it.
7. If you want to get attention, then refuse to lavish praise on the person being widely praised on the red carpet.
There was a certain satirical quality to David Spade's response to the question "WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT HOWARD STERN?" in a sea of "Howard is the best!" "Howard is God!" "No one is better than Howard!" to hear his flat-line, "Who said I loved anything? I think he's fine. He's OK."
8. Read between the lines because that's where celebrity responses get really interesting.
Are all the late-night hosts friends now? "Not everyone," Jimmy Kimmel said with a smile and then, "I gotta go." Oh. There's an item.
9. Even though you've answered the same question a million times, expect to be asked it a million and one more times.
Robin Quivers is the best hype woman in the business, and there doesn't get a more loyal sidekick than she is to Stern. Part of her duties? Answering again and again that yes, she stared death in the face. Next question? Yes, she stared death in the face.
10. Have a bunch of topical jokes written before you do the red carpet -- especially if you are Joan Rivers.
This woman blows me away with her ability to sling one-liners. Justin Bieber? Jennifer Lawrence? Lindsay Lohan? Done, done and done.
11. You can't go wrong with "love."
What did Sandra Bernhard get Howard Stern, the man who has everything? Her love. Short and sweet.
12. If you are Ryan Phillippe, there's no need to take a minute for Bill O'Reilly.
"Um, I'm all right," he says as Rachael Ray talks bonding over Stern and Nirvana with her husband.
13. Good questions are incredibly specific -- as demonstrated by the fun "What is the last text you sent?"
I'm always impressed by reporters who don't go for the "What are you doing for [Insert Upcoming Holiday]?" but instead come up with something highly specific and interesting. That's exactly what Jeff Probst got. And, now you know how he pronounces "GIF," too.
14. You might as well claim credit for everything.
Larry King demonstrated his wit in a matter of seconds. Yeah, he invented Twitter. Deal with it.
15: When a red carpet is an actual zoo, there's no need to be a part of it.
Gilbert Gottfried and his wife Dara peeked out from inside to watch the insanity. Dara also manages a pretty great "look at this dress I'm rocking" dance to go with it. And seriously, look at that dress she is rocking.
16. Realize the absurdity of the red carpet and have fun with it.
"What are you doing here?" Fred Armisen asked me because he recognized me from having just done my podcast and I guess didn't know I was a Red Carpet Soldier, too. Then he turned the camera on me where I proceeded to giggle hysterically in a very sophisticated and professional manner. Yeah, that pretty much sums the whole zoo up: It's all just a game. So you might as well let yourself crack up.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.