“Don’t be a chicken” is something I said to myself quite a bit in the week leading up to Saturday, June 1st. “This weekend I’m going to see Reasons to be Happy which currently stars Jenna Fischer from The Office and I’m going to bring a copy of The Annual to give to her. I’m telling you this so that I won’t chicken out,” read the Facebook message I sent to friend and Annual editor, Kevin Cole. Meeting celebrities or a person that I admire has never been on top of my favorite things list. Asking for autographs always stresses me out and afterwards I’m left looking at the autograph thinking “so does this mean we’re friends?” and the answer is always an obvious no. I prefer admiring from a far. Wait, no, that’s what a peeping tom would say. Let me rephrase; I prefer to enjoy the work of an actor, writer, director, or general creative person and then leave it at that. It’s better for my stress levels.
However, this time was different, I had a mission. I was an ambassador, a diplomat, a door to door encyclopedia salesman (only less annoying and more relevant) sent from a humble humor magazine to deliver a copy to an actress that had just ended her run as my favorite character on one of my top five favorite sitcoms of all time, The Office. (Feel free to message me if you’d like to know my other four.) The comedy gods game me a mission, they threw a lightning bolt of rubber chickens at my brain and I knew what I had to do.
My boyfriend, Brent, and I arrived at the Lucille Lortel Theatre with 15 minutes until show time. As the Usher pointed us to our seats I looked around at the small off-Broadway theatre full of serious theatre patrons over the age of 40 and thought “Oh no, they’re going to know why I’m here.” I kept rubbing my forehead expecting to find smudged marker on my hand because obviously COMEDY NERD was written in big letters up there. As we took our seats I had a vision of the white-haired gentleman in front of us standing up and yelling “FRAUD!” as he pointed his finger at me, “She isn’t here for the play. She’s here because she’s watched too much TV and has an unhealthy and unrealistic connection with Ms. Fischer! Take her to off-Broadway jail!” This would then lead to a very public display of humiliation where the ushers would one by one rip up my ticket, then my playbill and then finally The Annual. Thankfully I spotted a very young, gawky girl and realized she had probably discovered this play the same way I had and this made me feel better.
The play started and the entire theatre plunged into complete darkness. Complete darkness. There wasn’t even a dull red glow coming from the EXIT sign above the emergency door. The speakers began pumping a Nirvana song I didn’t recognize and just as the situation started to make me uneasy the music cut out and the stage lights flicked on. Standing on stage were Jenna Fischer and her co-star Josh Hamilton screaming obscenities back and forth at each other. Jenna’s character, Steph, was so immediately un-pam like that I audibly chuckled.
I am not a play critic and I would never dream of making you sit through a review of Reason’s to be Happy written by myself. Therefore all I will say about the play is that if you’re in NYC in the next few weeks you should go. I thought it was great, Brent thought it was great and we continued discussing it for the rest of the night.
After the play was over I went into mission mode by carefully removing The Annual from my purse. Brent and I took our positions in the bicycle lane directly outside the theater. This way we had a good view of both stage doors, one to our right and one to our left, as we were unsure which she would come out of. One by one the three other cast members began to leave the stage door to our right and it became clear that the other 10-15 people waiting outside were also there for Jenna. When she popped around the large metal door everyone headed towards her. She looked completely unfazed by the fans and walked up to them, tucking her headphones away as she reached for the first pictures to sign. I hung back to let the others go first, thinking my best chance to talk with her wouldn’t come from being first in line.
It was my turn, confidently I stepped up to her and extended my hand to introduce myself as if I were about to have a job interview. She smiled and said “Oh, hi!” I don’t think she was expecting the hand shake. Not wanting to lose the confidence I had mustered, I handed her The Annual, explaining what it was and how we wanted her to have a copy. She seemed genuinely interested as she didn’t hesitate to take it. While I explained what it was she began flipping through the pages, stopping every once in a while to read a title. Fumbling, I pointed out different pieces and their writers, she landed on Animals Fighting and I told her it was illustrated by David Luna. The excitement got to me and my conversational skills died when she started talking about her favorite cartoonist (I can’t for the life of me remember who it was, I was too nervous) In my mind I wanted to respond “Oh, I’ve never heard of him, where can I see his work?” but all my face would do was rapidly nod up and down like a jack in the box that had just popped up and all I could say was the word yeah, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I wish I had kept it together better than this but it was all just too much. I finally formed the words “Do you mind if we take a picture with The Annual? I know the other writers would love it.” She replied “of course.” But then cautiously followed that up with, “wait, there’s nothing controversial in here right? I’m not going to wind up on the news if I take this picture am I?” we laughed and I assured her it was safe “You’re fine, this is a bunch of mostly 20 something’s trying to make comedy” (Now thinking about it, that’s probably not the most reassuring response). We took the picture and it’s a pretty great pic if I do say so myself, I’m really proud of it. The Annual looks great in her hands and the only thing that gives away my nerves is the slight blur on my thumb from my shaking.
On the walk back to the Subway I couldn’t get rid of the smile on my face and Brent kept laughing at my severe giddiness. Spontaneously I would jump into a sort of victory lunge/bad yoga pose with my fists pumped in the air and scream “She was nice!” or “She has The Annual!” or “She didn’t tear it up and throw it in my face!” The night was perfect, if anything I can check it off as a small personal victory because I didn’t chicken out. Mission accomplished comedy gods.
Jenna, thanks for 9 seasons of Pam and thanks for taking the time to talk with me, I hope you enjoyed The Annual. If we ever meet again I’d love to learn more about your favorite cartoonist, I promise to remember his name this time. Also, if someone from the news gives you hell about our picture, to quote Kevin Cole, “if Jenna Fischer gets in trouble for anything in The Annual I will absolutely stand to her defense as an innocent bystander.”
A side-note from our Editor-in-Chief: I spent much of my high school years crushing on Jenna Fischer, so this is a minor personal victory in my book as well.
Technically, as a writer Briana Haynie already has a free subscription to The Annual. But if you would like to participate in our Mad Magazine Challenge (named as such because Mad did it first): Send us a picture of yourself, and a celebrity (of any level) enjoying The Annual and we’ll give you a free subscription and print your picture in an upcoming issue.
Send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org