Meeting Your Heroes

I often wondered how I would react if I met someone famous, like an actor. I figured that such people would often be hounded by fans who see them as (and expect them to be) something different than they are, who only "know" them because of the persona they put forward in front of an audience — a personality that, often, is really a product of not just their talents, but also those of the writers and directors that work together to build the show that the audience sees. If I were such a person, I reason, it would be much more refreshing to have someone meet me as a person, instead of as some fictional character that I was pretending to be. So, if I were to meet a famous actor, I would try to treat them as a person, so they wouldn't see me as just some starry-eyed fanboy out of thousands who just fawn over something that doesn't truly exist. Maybe they would appreciate not having to act for a few minutes; and, at best, maybe I could make a friend with a real individual (even if only for a moment). So, that's what I would do if I met a famous actor: meet them like any other real person.

I think it's safe to say that, when meeting Rob Paulsen (the voice behind the real Yakko Warner) at Denver Comic Con in the summer of 2015, that I pretty much failed to live up to that plan.

I wasn't sure I was going to go to Comic Con. My son and his friend were going, and though I knew the voices behind the Animaniacs were going to be there, I wasn't really feeling up to it. I'm not sure I would qualify it as a clinical depression, as I wasn't having any life-terminating thoughts. (I've had those before, so by comparison, this is "just feeling sad".) But the thought of being in large crowds with lots of people didn't sound too appealing. My wife, though, strongly encouraged me to go. I'm not sure if it was for my sake, or for the sake of being near my son (instead of sending him off to be downtown all day with just his friend), or both, but we ended up getting two tickets so that I could go.

I didn't take a ton of cash with me, so I knew that I wouldn't be bringing home a lot of autographs or memorabilia. But I did take my copy of the CD "Yakko's World" — of my Animaniacs CDs, that seemed to be the most appropriate to have Mr. Paulsen sign. After waiting in what seemed like an endless line, I finally got to meet him. My hands shook as I brought out my CD, and when he asked me my name, I'm not sure how I managed not to squeak like a little girl. As he signed, I told him how I used to take this music along on my occasional post-college road trips, how teaching myself to sing things like Yakko's World didn't just make the trip more fun, but helped me to keep my brain engaged and stay awake. I also mentioned how I was looking forward to the Animaniacs reunion sing-a-long later that day, so that I could actually sing along with him.

One thing I noticed in that very brief encounter, is that he seemed genuinely happy to meet people. Some celebrities, when you see them interacting with fans, you sometimes get the feeling that they would rather be somewhere else. They may not overtly show it, but you find they aren't really engaged in the moment. But I didn't get that impression from Mr. Paulsen at all. He really seemed to enjoy meeting each person that came up to him, throwing out one-liners in the character of whatever show his visitor was a fan of.

After meeting Rob Paulsen, I noted that there wasn't a ton of time before the Animaniacs reunion show, probably not enough time to wait in line to talk to the rest of the cast present that day (Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, and Maurice LaMarche were all there). But I noticed a shorter line decorated with Animaniacs pictures nearby, leading to one Randy Rogel. It wasn't a name I immediately recognized, but one I should have known. Mr. Rogel was the man behind many of the songs to which I would sing along on those road trips. He had available his song charts, which I eagerly grabbed, and he graciously signed. He also told me that he had written a new verse for Yakko's World, incorporating the changes in countries in the years since he first wrote the song. He was planning on performing it in the Animainacs sing-a-long that afternoon, something I told him I would look forward to hearing.

The sing-a-long was a real treat. Rob Paulsen and Randy Rogel performed some of the original songs, and the other actors would join on stage for some of them as well. One of the things I remember most is when Mr. Paulsen spotted someone in the audience dressed in a full Pinky costume. He said something in Pinky's voice, laughed, "narfed", and then said in a sing-song voice, "I get paid for doing this," as he did a little skip. The impression that I got was that this was a man who primarily loves what he does, has fun, and is sometimes amazed that it's also his job.

After the show, I went to get in line to meet the rest of the cast. Lines were already forming by the time I got there, so I decided to start with the shortest one (in a very relative sense, since they were all pretty long), and that was Jess Harnell's line. Eventually the cast made their way back upstairs as well, to cheers from the crowd. The rest took their places at their tables, but Mr. Paulsen did something different in his line; he went down the line, shook hands, and said hi to everyone, before going back up to his table.

I met Jess Harnell and Tress MacNeille. Mr. Harnell was an easy person to talk to, and was happy to hear about me being able to teach my kids things like Wakko's America. Ms. MacNeille was a little harder to read. I didn't find her rude or anything, but she definitely did not seem as engaged with her fans as her "siblings" were.

I then got in Mr. Paulsen's line again, just to say how much fun it was to sing along. I might've said something else, but I honestly couldn't remember. I just knew I wanted to meet him one more time.

After that, I went back to see Mr. Rogel. I noticed that the mysterious new verse of Yakko's World didn't make an appearance in the sing-a-long, so I wanted to ask him about it. He pulled out his own copy of his charts, which had the new verse in it, and actually sang it for me. Awesome! I got to hear a new verse to a song written by the man himself! I wish I could've recorded it, but getting video was one of the things that cost money (I don't fault them for that; I understand that impressions and paid exposure is how their industry works), and, as I said, I didn't bring much.

I had yet to talk to Maurice LaMarche, so I got in his line. As I was waiting, I kept looking over towards Mr. Paulsen (since they were next to each other). That's when I noticed something about myself: my cheeks were starting to hurt, because I was grinning so much. I was enjoying this.

Waiting for Mr. LaMarche, I noticed the pictures of his characters on his poster, and I was surprised to see the king from Frozen. When I met him and told him this, and how it impressed me when I'm unable to recognize a voice actor from a given character because they can change so much, he did a few more voices for me that I didn't recognize as him. (Sadly, I didn't think until it was too late to tell him, "Egad, Brain, you astound me!").

After this, I decided I had to talk to Rob Paulsen one last time. I'm not sure if he recognized that it was my third time to visit him, and hopefully he didn't start to see me as a creepy fanboy stalker (even if I was starting to feel like one). But I told him, honestly, that I hadn't felt like smiling in a while, and here I was, smiling so much it started to hurt, and I wanted to thank him. He gave me a genuine look of concern, came around the table, and gave me a big hug. That completely made my day.

They say you shouldn't ever actually meet your heroes, because you'll end up disappointed when you find out they're just human. Though I don't know that I ever thought of Rob Paulsen as my "hero" rather than as someone whose talents I enjoyed listening to, I have to say that the person I met was truly a kind and happy person; and in that, was definitely not disappointed.

I was able to meet some other people on a more human level. I met Garrett Wang of Star Trek: Voyager fame. I asked him about what he's been doing since Voyager, and we talked a bit about life goals (how he had been travelling, considering starting a family, that kind of thing). I also got to meet Nichelle Nichols, who had all the personality of a spunky old grandmother. She ribbed me a little for not giving her money, and then I got to shake her hand. So, as far as not going total fanboy meeting famous actors, I guess I didn't completely fail.

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