It was July of 2004. I had been living in Las Vegas for barely a month, performing in an improvised comedy show called Second City Scriptless at the Flamingo hotel/casino. My Aunt Patty and Uncle Bill were in town that night, so they took me out to dinner, and I got them tickets to the 10:30 p.m. performance.
When I got backstage, I was told immediately that Anna Nicole Smith would be in the crowd with several cameras taping for her TV show. I had never watched it but thought that sounded cool. The stage manager and producer had a bit of a different reaction. To them, this was not so much a good thing as a situation that needed to be monitored and could potentially sabotage Scriptless, which was sold out. Perhaps they were more familiar with the starlet and her reputation than was I. To me, Anna Nicole Smith was a goofy bimbo who married a man only slightly richer than he was old, who croaked and landed her in a public battle over his estate. “Not David Copperfield’s chick,” I had to remind myself.
The stage manager gave us a serious talk in the dressing room. One would have thought the president were in the audience and we were performing with live handguns. Anna Nicole Smith was not to be encouraged or especially acknowledged. We were not to bring her on stage. There were several, “If anything happens, don’t …” warnings, as well as a list of emergency escape plans in case we needed them. My opinion was that we were wasting an opportunity to have some serious fun, but I was new and chose to keep my mouth shut.
Upon taking the stage, I first scanned the audience for Aunt Patty and Uncle Bill, and then, after shooting them a wink, for the TrimSpa legend herself. She was at a table toward the middle of the house, stage left, with a small entourage that looked, disappointingly, like all the other patrons. From up there, Ms. Smith was just another Las Vegas glitter bug. If I hadn’t been told beforehand, I would have thought she was any other conventioneer pretending to be a celebrity, another person going through the motions of a supposedly wild night out, someone impersonating someone else’s idea of a good time, a cliché we saw so often from that stage.
“For this next suggestion, I need anything written on the printed page, like a takeout menu, or the phone book, or—” prodded my cast mate to the crowd.
“The Yellow Pages!” shouted Anna Nicole. OK, I thought. That’s pretty much the same as the example he just gave, but at least she’s into it. No one’s accused her of being quick.
Sadly, that’s my only memory of her during the show. It was simple. We were funny, the audience loved us, Anna Nicole Smith was harmless. Her generous, feminine giggle could be heard all around, and I was disappointed that we weren’t allowed to bring her onstage. The whole thing was uneventful.
Five minutes after every performance, the cast stood out by the doors and shook people’s hands as they left. That was often our moment of glory, the small window of ego-stroking when comments like “You were my favorite” and “I just know you’re gonna make it” sometimes went to our heads . . . sometimes like bullets because we’d heard them too much and no longer agreed. That night, I got “Thank you for coming” out about twice before people stopped trickling out and cleared to create a path down the center aisle.
From behind light, sparkling sunglasses, she looked right at me and paused. “Good show,” she finally whimpered, but it took her a minute to connect my face to what was going on. “Thanks,” I replied. I didn’t know what else to say. I couldn’t say I liked her music, because she wasn’t a musician. I couldn’t say I liked her acting, because she hadn’t done any movies (worth mentioning) and her TV show was a documentary. I guess I could’ve said I liked her “work,” but it didn’t occur to me fast enough (no one had accused me of being quick either).
The crowd set upon her and suddenly my cast and I were abandoned like last year’s diet supplements. She’s really beautiful, I kept thinking. I see it now, and I did. Head to toe in a custom-made dress that evoked red carpets and awards ceremonies, this shimmering goddess was the prettiest woman I had ever seen up close. Partially, I hated myself for buying it. I wanted to think she was gross. I wanted to say she looked plastic, but I couldn’t. The poor thing read to me like someone on too much alcohol and Xanax, someone who’d maybe destroyed half her brain with chemicals and was trapped inside a gorgeous body, a body that demanded to be stared at.
Maybe she didn’t really know where she was. Maybe she did and had us all fooled. Regardless, I was looking. Aunt Patty and Uncle Bill were looking. We were all looking. Everyone wanted to look.