My Brushes With Fame

It’s always a thrill to meet someone famous. From Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to The Brady Bunch’s Barry Williams to Jerry Springer, here are my stories.

I was on my way to the bathroom when I accidentally woke up John Cleese. I had no idea he was napping on a couch in the lounge below the Taft Theatre stage, and my clops down the stairs made him sit up. I was horrified. Upstairs, the screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail had about 15 minutes to go, after which John (I can call him that now) would come on and answer written questions from the audience. The emcee (me) had sorted the cards and decided to squeeze in a quick bathroom run before meeting the guest of honor backstage. Our bleary-versus-bladder introduction wasn’t the one I’d hoped for.

Photographs by / Djomas/; photo illustration by Jen Kawanari

That was nothing compared to the actual physical assault I committed against Chris Cornell, now-deceased frontman for Soundgarden. He was recording an interview in a WEBN radio studio I thought was unoccupied, and since I was carrying some gear I opened the heavy soundproof door by kicking it. Hard. Cornell was sitting directly behind the door and got knocked to the floor. Hey, pleased to meet you, man, loved your album.

I’d talked with Alice Cooper in that same studio—without injuring him—when he stopped by one afternoon (musicians never stop by in the morning). It’s ironic that one of his hit songs is “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” because he was probably the warmest and most open rock star I’ve interviewed. He even stayed friendly when I tried to force a confession from him about his brief movie appearance in Wayne’s World. Alice Cooper doesn’t share a single frame with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in their brief scene “together,” but he wouldn’t explicitly admit to me that he’d been edited in.

I once interviewed Eddie Money on my radio show when he was in town to perform at Taste of Blue Ash. It’s rude to speak ill of the dead, but I cut the interview short because he was a dick. I wouldn’t bring this up if several other people in the biz hadn’t shared similar experiences with me about him.

I’ve met other celebrities in music, movies, TV, sports, and politics, and now it’s time I told some stories. There are no bombshells here for TMZ, just a collection of amusements. Should I ever feel that my life’s big dreams didn’t come true, this is my reminder that many small ones did. It’s always a thrill to meet someone famous. Herewith, a sampling.

Roger Waters was in the midst of blowing up Pink Floyd, suing his former bandmates for continuing to use that famous name, and was more interested in discussing his current solo projects. But he understood the game and was willing to talk with me on-air about Floyd times for his fans. I asked him this: Record companies are always hiring acts that copy whatever musical trend is hot, and you’d think they would have signed other artists to copy a monster act like Pink Floyd. But nobody else came along. Why not? Waters paused, and then said dryly, “Well, there does happen to be a rather mediocre copycat band on tour right now, calling themselves Pink Floyd.”

I spent the better part of a Thursday with Barry Williams, the guy who played Greg Brady on The Brady Bunch. He’d come to Cincinnati to record a song parody I’d written for him, “The Real Greg Brady,” based on Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.” Williams liked how my lyrics folded in fun references to classic moments from his old TV show, making me feel especially proud because I had never once watched The Brady Bunch. I’d spent the previous 24 hours cramming frantically. Thanks, internet. On a break we went to the UDF across the street, where I got to witness what happens when a cashier recognizes a former child star. Williams was gracious.

I learned how to converse with celebrities during my first year at WEBN, in a rather cheesy way. About every six weeks, a sort-of-famous actor promoting his or her new movie would parachute into Cincinnati for a one-day marathon at local radio and TV stations. When they arrived at WEBN, the interview was always assigned to me. I’d say hello, orient our microphones, press record on the tape machine—yes, that’s how long ago this was—and we’d chat about the new movie. Then I’d stop the tape, we’d exchange goodbyes, and I’d casually throw the reel into the trash.

We never aired these interviews. The true goal was to do a favor for the movie’s local promoter so he’d look good for the Hollywood home office. Then he’d buy ads on WEBN and, most importantly, keep giving us free tickets. I met some very engaging B-level actors this way—less psychotic than the A-level ones, who never did these promo tours—and I started developing good interview skills. By the time I got around to rudely awakening John Cleese at the Taft, I was a pro.

One of the many side gigs I had while also working at WEBN was for John Madden’s Sports Calendar, a syndicated today-in-sports-history radio show. I was hired to help produce episodes for specific dates, like, say, January 10. That was the day, in 1982, of the coldest game in pro football history, the legendary “Freezer Bowl,” between the Bengals and the (then) San Diego Chargers. My obvious move for this project was to talk to a guy who’d actually played in the game, Cris Collinsworth. He was right down the hall, still doing his local sports talk show on WLW, and readily agreed to make time in a nearby studio. (Collinsworth is as nice a guy as he seems on TV; not everyone is.) Of course he had great memories of winning that playoff game, but also etched in his mind was this: Inside the locker room prepping for a super-cold ordeal, someone delivered dozens of those egg-shaped L’eggs pantyhose for the players to wear under their uniforms. Collinsworth told me, “You have not lived until you’ve watched Anthony Muñoz struggle to pull on a pair of women’s pantyhose.”

In Cincinnati it’s not unusual to have a story about Jerry Springer. Here’s mine. During the peak of his notorious television career, I helped him with his radio ca­reer. Did you even know Springer had one? As infamous as the TV show was, that’s how unfamous the radio show was.

For two years, he scheduled his TV tapings so he could simultaneously do a live two-hour radio show on Air America, the short-lived liberal network. It allowed him to resurrect the politically-focused commentator he’d once been, as if the TV Jerry Springer didn’t exist. I supplied the show with comedy song parodies and fake commercials and occasionally subbed for Springer when he was busy. He gave me lots of creative freedom, and it was great working for him. With my lifelong writing partner Don Goldberg, we cranked out some of the best and funniest work of our careers but, dammit, almost nobody heard it. Ratings for the network were terrible, and it folded. Here’s your chance to hear at least one of the comedy bits Don and I made.

For several years, WEBN sent me to New York or Los Angeles just ahead of the Grammy Awards to interview an embarrassment of celebrities. Really, it was em­barrassing. Imagine a space like the Duke Energy Convention Center crammed with several dozen card tables. Imagine a radio personality at each table transmitting his or her local show back home. Now imagine an endless stream of performers being hysterically shuttled around to each table for exactly five minutes (handlers had stopwatches and no mercy). Imagine how smoothly that went.

My memory of these speed dates is a blur. Most people plunked in front of me weren’t even musicians, and to describe them as B-level would be extremely generous. Just like that first year at WEBN, I recorded and discarded most of them: unknown standup comedians, barely known bands, characters from forgotten sitcoms, shopping channel hosts, and adult film star Ron Jeremy. OK, I did air the one with him. Occasionally actual celebrities appeared— David Bowie, Gene Simmons, John Entwistle, Brian Wilson, Drew Carey, Donny Osmond, Kevin James—and they were worth everything. By the way, my seats at the Grammys were always horrible, so far from the stage that one year my aisle seat was directly across from Eddie Money.

I wish now I’d been one of those annoying people who coerces every famous person I encounter into posing for a picture, because I’ve forgotten so many. Chances are they’d have trouble remembering me, too, so I guess we’re even.

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