A solid handful of some of my shameful moments have been a result of fangirling. I have often been so passionate about a piece of culture that it has become harmful, whether it be towards other people in my life, towards my productivity, or towards my mental health.
Now, I’m going to give myself the easy way out on this one and blame the culture that I was brought up in instead of blaming myself. I was born in 1992, making me hit puberty at age 12 in 2004, when reality shows like American Idol – whose success is based solely on creating a cultural idea of a person that fans at home can glom on to and fight for – were the peak of entertainment, and when only the most correct and perfectly picked-out Hot Topic band t-shirts were how you proved you were worthy in middle school. (I had Fall Out Boy. Duh.)
A fangirl is described in Urban Dictionary as “a rabid breed of human female who is obsessed with either a fictional character or an actor.” I cannot disagree with this assessment. Anyone who follows me on any social media knows that my current obsession is Jake Gyllenhaal, and that two months ago it was Josh Charles (specifically as Will Gardner on The Good Wife.) I am adamant that my loves of men in media are known, and I never relent. This is not new for me.
The following list contains – in no particular order – the things and people I have donated a notable portion of my life to as I became all-consumingly enamored by them at one point or another. This list spans my entire life, from preschool to modern day. A fun game as you read along might be to try to guess what age I was as each particular obsession hit. Some I’d rather not say.
- Ariel in The Little Mermaid
- David Foster Wallace
- Aaron Carter
- Britney Spears
- Hilary Duff
- Zach Woods
- Conan O’Brien
- Patton Oswalt
- Jim Gaffigan
- Disney Princess movies. All of them.
- The Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast
- Bret Easton Ellis
- Stephen Colbert
- Paul Rudd
- Christian Bale
- Adam Scott
- Friday Night Lights
- Party Down
- Six Feet Under
- The Good Wife
- Mad Men
- The Sopranos
- Jake Gyllenhaal
- UCB improv
- Neil LaBute plays
- Legally Blonde
- The WNBA
- Evan Lysacek
- Fall Out Boy
- Stephen Lynch
- Assassins by Stephen Sondheim
- Les Miserables
The problem with living a life not from year to year or grade to grade but instead obsession to obsession is that you start to confuse that with actually having a personality. My age group in particular is wildly guilty of such. Instead of asking each other about our beliefs or where we’re from or what places we’ve traveled to, we ask each other, “So, what are you watching right now?” or “Have you seen Lemonade yet?!” or “I could never date someone who doesn’t get The Smiths.” Instead of actually getting to know a person, we make these snap judgments to speed up the process. Up until about a year ago, if someone was also a megafan of Conan O’Brien, I assumed we’d be best friends for life. How wrong I was. Or, I loveeeeee The Sopranos. Does this mean that every person who also likes The Sopranos is compatible with me? Hell no. Tinder proved that one wrong in a heartbeat (or heartswipe? Leave me alone.)
Speaking of Tinder, the modern dating world has also made these lists of likes and dislikes all too important. My age group is expected to see someone at a bar or on Tinder/Bumble/Hinge/Happn/Coffee Meets Bagel and only simply have to say, “Do you like Radiohead?”
If the other party replies with a “Love them.” or “Hell yea!”, the deal is sealed. The “date” – or whatever you want to call it – is a success. You found a like mind! Replace Radiohead with anything – Kanye’s new album, a famous painter, David Foster Wallace,…I could go on. With so much pressure being put on a maximum of 2-4 minutes of conversation, one is bound to confuse an affection for a movie or TV show for a clear personality trait, instead of what it is, which is a basic interest that has nothing to do with the actual person or who they are whatsoever. Bad people can like They Might Be Giants and good people can like The Big Bang Theory. Get over yourself.
Once, when I was 19, I once had to stay with a couple in Brooklyn for two nights during a weekend visit to New York. They were in their early thirties and were introduced to me as fellow comedy nerds. I thought to myself, jackpot. No way we weren’t going to immediately become best friends! Then the universe was like “JK LOL.”
Their tiny apartment smelled disgusting. There were two old cats crawling around, their hair covering the furniture and their excrement stains all over the carpet. The couple would prove themselves to be massively socially awkward, crass, rude, and pretty miserable in all aspects. They complained constantly and cursed about how much they hated their jobs. They stared at their laptop screens while I tried to have a conversation with them. Their DVD shelf was lined with a treasure trove of things I love: Strangers with Candy, Reno 911!, Freak & Geeks, and so on. It was a real moment of reckoning. God, I don’t want to end up like these people, I thought to myself. I like the things I like, but I never, ever, ever want them to become my “escape” or the only things in my life that make me happy. A home is made up of so much more than a DVD shelf and some posters. And you’re in your thirties, so, like,…grow up.
I was a nervous, insecure, and frankly boring child and teen, and I caught on quickly that simply not shutting up about something on TV was a quick way to get my classmates to categorize me and give us something surface-level to talk about together. “The weird girl in sophomore chemistry class who lets the soccer players copy off her homework is also a rabid fangirl of Stephen Colbert? Now I clearly know what to think of her and I’ll continue to leave her alone because there is nothing else to discover.” I hoped everyone in school would churn these thoughts of me in their heads so that I could avoid any actual self-exploration or risk-taking.
As of writing this, I’ve officially made a break for it and decided to say goodbye to fangirling. After years of performing comedy, I have observed a trend of a certain type of person in comedy who makes me very sad. These are what I call Professional Fans. They are Facebook friends with everybody who does comedy, they go to every comedy show, they stay in-the-know about everything comedy-related, and they trot around comedy bars and venues and say hello to everybody. But one crucial ingredient is missing from the potion:
They don’t actually do any comedy.
They are non-creators. They don’t make things or have a point of view. They wait in line for every big comedy show and interact with comedy people on social media and act as if they are one of them. But they are not. They are Professional Fans. And yet, they glom on to comedy performers as equals. Comedy performers are largely very kind and will always take these people in and make them feel welcome. A few years ago, I was this person. I was a fangirl to people I respected, and guess what? It makes them immediately not respect you. You cannot be successful in your field if you announce yourself as inferior up top.
I see these people a lot here in New York, and it creates a twinge in my stomach of sadness and discomfort. For all of the hours that I spend watching and loving comedy and its masters, I make myself spend an equal amount of time writing or creating comedy, because – dear God – I never want to be one of these people. I see them fangirling (or fanboying) and I know that they very much want to do comedy, but have instead chosen the easier option being around comedy as a consolation prize to feel included in it somehow instead of taking a risk and putting work out there.
This scares me so much because it can so easily be anyone. This could have so been me if I hadn’t found my college improv group, or hadn’t tried out for a stand-up competition on a dare, or hadn’t nervously emailed my first pitch to McSweeney’s. It is such an easy trap to fall in to, and yes, a lot of pleasure can be derived from watching things from afar. But, so much more joy can be taken from actually succeeding on stage and putting work out there. That kind of joy is unspeakably great. It’s addicting – it’s why we all do this.
It might get a quick laugh for me to list off my pop culture obsessions at a party or correct someone about an obscure fact about Mad Men, but these pale in comparison to actual connections with people and worldly experiences. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am so much more than the things I like.
It’s taken a long time for me to let myself believe it, but I am more than this sloppy amalgam.