Tourists board a TMZ bus for a gossip-laden voyage around Hollywood and… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)
I'm not sure of the singular form of paparazzi — papa...nazi? papa...ratzo? pizza...piehole? — but I have to confess a certain minor pleasure in turning the tables on one of them, known as they are for bursting into other people's lives and making them miserable.
I'm talking about TMZ, the TV show and website, which gained prominence with the scoop aboutMichael Jackson'sdeath and hasn't shut up since.
At the end of its new Hollywood bus tour, hosted by one of the scandal site's actual photographers, I asked him for a comment, at which point the ultra-cool 25-year-old turned sort of Jane Fonda-jittery as he got on his cellphone to the home office.
In my mind, I was thinking that TMZ overlord Harvey Levin, the William Randolph Hearst of celebrity news, must have a mighty big boot.
"You have to go through a publicist for this," the guide said after he hung up.
But it was too late — I'd already taken the breezy, sleazy tour. Plus, the publicist never cooperates with requests. She's more of an anti-publicist. How ironic is that, given the nature of what the company does?
Thing is, I actually enjoyed the tour of scandalous venues and popular party spots. I'd recommend it to anyone between the ages of 19 and 20. Just make sure you have a high tolerance for exclamation points — a TMZ staple.
Just over a year ago, TMZ decided to expand its burgeoning brand with a tabloid-infused approach to the standard Hollywood tour. What plastics once did for manufacturing, TMZ is now doing for L.A. tourism.
So seven days a week, these tours buzz through Hollywood and Beverly Hills in little open-air vans, the guide keeping his specially equipped iPhone camera nearby for any chance celebrity encounters. It's fake drama, to be sure. Which is our favorite kind, right?
"It's Cee Lo Green!" my guide yelled as he ordered the driver to pull over on Melrose.
Cee Lo Green? Really?
Turned out to be just another guy built like a bulldog, who was lightly amused when a bunch of tourists from New York and Missouri pointed their cameras his way. I know the feeling, because folks are always mistaking me for Zac Efron.
"False alarm," the guide said, and on we went.
I've been on all sorts of sightseeing tours in all sorts of cities — even a Jack the Ripper tour in London — and this might be the most novel of all, a two-hour mixture of comedy, insight, gossip and good old hard-nosed journalism.
For instance, we got the inside poop about some story involving a meeting between Gloria Allred and one of Tiger Wood's alleged girlfriends, a tale that the guide said even TMZ wouldn't publish. Hard as I tried, I couldn't quite follow the convoluted story. Which might be the real reason they didn't publish it.
Other stops/stories involved Brad Pitt's early career as a stripper-gram delivery boy, a place where Michael Jackson attended grade school (behind Guitar Center on Sunset) and the comedy club where Michael Richards' racist tirade ruined his career (Laugh Factory).
"Fabio was the only celebrity ever rejected by the TMZ Hollywood tour," the guide said, describing how a tour once sighted the male Repunzel, and then everyone aboard voted to keep going.
I'm sure that just ruined Fabio's day.
In the end, TMZ puts on a pretty interesting tour ($49), though not for the 12 and younger crowd, given the adult nature of the humor. For anyone who has to play tour guide in this town, it provides excellent info. Or just pile them on this bus.
Note that the video pieces that play throughout the tour, mimicking the TMZ TV show, turned out to be a lot less entertaining than the tour guide himself, who had a nice way with a joke and an enjoyably ironic perspective on the whole Hollywood scene.
"It's madness on Rodeo Drive," he said wryly after we spot an exuberantly expensive sports car on the world's most repulsive street. "It's madness."
This tour is also a reminder that celebrities are our most delicate local treasures. They need constant primping, alcohol and, when their behavior becomes especially abhorent, a mugshot and a timeout. Seems that being talented and famous is actually kind of a curse.
It's no wonder that the TMZ tour includes three jails, a couple of courts and a mental ward.
"A lot of celebrities go crazy at Cedars-Sinai," the guide said when we passed the landmark hospital.
Must be the food.