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JOEL STEIN | [Love Your Work]

'Tommyland' and our sense of what's boring

October 23, 2005|JOEL STEIN

THE BEST THING about being famous must be that everything you do is interesting. Imagine being so fascinating that if a stranger sees you at a restaurant, he can amuse his friends just by telling them about it. An entire nation talks about you if you name your baby Kal-el. Actually, we'd all talk about that even if it weren't Nicolas Cage and just some random Superman geek, but you get my point.

The problem is, when you're used to people listening attentively to everything you say, you start to lose any sense of what's boring. Which makes it all the more cruel that publishers are always asking actors to write their autobiographies. It's like putting Iowa voters on the national news during the caucuses. After five minutes of Scooter babbling about ethanol, you're praying that Brian Williams throws to an in-depth report on identity theft.

But with the public appetite for gossip info at an all-time high, celebrity autobiographies are coming out a whole lot faster than ... well, you know who. Wanting to keep up with the culture, but too lazy to read, I went to In Their Own Words, a shockingly funny series of dramatic readings from celebrity autobiographies that Eugene Pack has been putting on for the last six years. He's landed guests such as Nathan Lane, Fred Willard and Molly Shannon to read from other actors' books. And last Monday, Bravo taped a show that will air in December, partly because it's entertaining and partly as penance for James Lipton.

When I went to the reading, I learned things that changed my life. Tommy Lee's book, "Tommyland," informed me that a menage a trois is emotionally difficult because someone always feels left out. That's why, Lee explains in great detail, he always brings home three women! That way everyone always has something to do! I don't see how Pammy could have left someone so considerate.

In "Sly Moves: My Proven Program to Lose Weight, Build Strength, Gain Will Power, and Live Your Dream," I was informed of every single item that Sylvester Stallone keeps in his refrigerator, which took a lot longer than you'd think. Then he listed everything in his freezer.

The vast majority of the excerpts were shocking in their mundanity. In "Good Morning I'm Joan Lunden," the former morning-show host explains how she chooses her clothes for the next day. "I stack them in the order that I put them on, that is, panties on top, then bra, skirt or pants. Some kind of casual shirt or sweater, socks and shoes." It was like she was purposely ruining all my Joan Lunden fantasies. Mostly by revealing that she wears panties.

Pack, however, thinks these details are fascinating. "We want to know what's in their refrigerator. Even if we can't believe that it's written, we kind of want to know," he says. "And we have to admit that. If you're in somebody's house, you want to look at his medicine cabinet." Especially if it's Tommy Lee's. I'm guessing he has more stuff with the suffix "ine" than I've ever heard of.

But the excerpts weren't compelling just because they were written by a struggling journalist underpaid by someone famous. They're fascinating because, unlike newspaper columnists who only tell you enough so they seem honest while still coming off cool, celebrities aren't adept enough at writing to be careful.

These are exactly the kinds of memoirs anyone would write if they were taking a UCLA extension class on writing. The weightlifter guy would list everything in his fridge, the beauty queen would write about her clothes and the drugged-out drummer would use a lot of explanation points to detail his sexual exploits. I'm not sure, in this analogy, exactly why Tommy Lee would spend his evenings in adult education, but I like to believe it was state-ordered. Or a desperate plea by VH1 executives to goose the ratings on his lame reality show.

Maybe the most revealing moment in Pack's show was when one celebrity, in her honesty, revealed that she was just as captivated by famous people as the rest of us. In her book, "My Life," Debbie Reynolds goes into painful detail about how her husband, Eddie Fisher, left her, and how she had begun to feel selfish about trying to hang on to him after Elizabeth Taylor publicly coveted the man.

"You can actually feel the pressure when Elizabeth Taylor tells the world that you're depriving her of a lover. I guess you ... feel Elizabeth should always have a lover, even if it is yours. She wanted to be married. I didn't blame her, so did I." No matter how famous you are, other people's lives are always more fascinating.

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