No one ever dreams of selling out. We may fantasize about being powerful, or rich, or famous. But no one ever says “Gee, someday I want to betray all my core values to make an easy buck.” And yet, dozens of sponsorships, reality shows, and merchandising deals later, it happens.
So how can you stay in the spotlight without losing that authentic edge that made you so great in the first place? Before you ascend the ladder to stardom, keep the following helpful tips in mind, and, in the process, you’ll be able to keep it real.
They were there for you when no one else cared. In times of doubt, when you’re wondering why you signed up to have the moment you ate a cheeseburger on the floor forever preserved by TMZ, their adulation reminds you of the simple pleasures of doing what you do, and why you got into this crazy racket in the first place.
Never lose touch with those people. Adopt the mindset of the band Fugazi, who only played all-ages shows and kept ticket prices under 15 bucks, even as they became one of the most beloved underground bands in the U.S. Sign autographs. Do Q&A’s. Pose for pictures. Answer fanmail. And, of course, be nice to people!
When you’re famous, certain things start to feel easy. Too easy. After years of toiling, you’ve carved out a comfy little niche. A formula got you your success, and you cling to it — whether that means singing the same warm fuzzy pop song, repeating that standup bit about first dates, or taking yet another wisecracking superhero sidekick role. Making matters worse, your entourage tells you you’re unconditionally awesome and everything you do is great. Naturally, your sense of judgment and adventurousness may suffer.
Don’t be afraid to take risks. Try a project that’s a little left of center, or outside your comfort zone, or something that — gasp! — might not be liked by everyone. If you’re pigeonholed as the pretty boy or girl next door, for example, try playing the jerky villain — or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, the unhinged psychopath! Don’t worry, if it’s a disaster, that cushy opportunity to hawk boner pills will still be waiting for you. In the meantime, though, that risk will prove you’re still as hungry and daring as you were before all the fame.
Your friends — as in, the real friends who’d still have your back even if you were a complete nobody — are like your own personal magic mirror. They know the real you, and they never lie. They remember the time you blew out a candle in one of those little candle cups and hot wax flew into your face. Unlike virtually everyone else in your new shiny celeb circle, they’ll call B.S. when your sense of self starts slipping.
Make time and space for these special people. Don’t ditch your besties at a fancy cocktail party so you can schmooze with some agent or producer. Reply to their emails and texts. Remember birthdays. Check in from time to time to see how they’re doing. When you’re big-timing them and they call you out on it, listen. After all, in this cutthroat industry, they’re the only true friends you got.
Once you get that sweet taste of success, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the giant hamster wheel that is the “biz.” How’s your IMDB STARmeter? What are people saying about you on Twitter? Are you still relevant? How about now? With pressures running this high, it’s no wonder celebs will sell their souls for just another second in the public eye.
When the roller coaster feels like it’ll never stop, take a deep breath and remember that, well, it can! Don’t be afraid to pump the brakes on everything — it could keep your head screwed on straight! Get back in touch with the real world. Take a Kanye-style break from social media. Hole up in that scenic country house. Literally take a hike. Travel to a country where no one’s ever heard of you. If you have to, go full-on J.D. Salinger and disappear from the public eye completely. Don’t worry, Hollywood will still be there when you get back with your batteries fully recharged.
So follow the advice above, and to thine own self be true. For even more guidance, watch young comedian Floyd Mooney (played by Jay Pharoah) try to cross over into the mainstream without sacrificing his soul on the new comedy series White Famous, premiering Sunday, October 15 at 10pm on Showtime. If you can’t wait, watch the hilarious series premiere on YouTube for free now.
Adam Moerder is a writer and musician based in Brooklyn. You can follow him here.