The One Where I Took The TMZ Tour Of Hollywood

[Originally posted on March 15th, 2012.]

As part of this year’s Videogum Oscar Pool, Kelly and I made a side bet wherein the loser had to suffer not only the indignity of making a poor guess about who would win Best Sound Editing, but also to suffer some further humiliation. Had Kelly lost, you’d now be reading about her experience riding the New York Movie and TV Sites Tour, which frankly doesn’t even sound that bad, and I’ll have you know that Kelly played a big hand in determining the rules of the bet. She cut herself a pretty sweet deal if you ask me. But she didn’t lose. She won. Congratulations, Kelly, on the last thing you did before you were fired! What a wonderful victory for you. Anyway, being an honorable gentleman, I fulfilled my end of the bargain this week, which was to ride the TMZ Tour of Hollywood. Before we begin, I would like you to think of the words “TMZ Tour of Hollywood,” and picture whatever nightmare that brings to mind. Now I want you to double it. Good. Now triple that. OK. You’re starting to almost have the beginnings of an idea of the actual experience but not even close! Just the worst thing. Deep breaths. We’re OK. They can’t hurt us anymore. It’s over. But let us review herstory lest anyone be doomed to pay $50 to repeat it.

If New York is constantly tearing down and rebuilding itself in an endless cycle of renewal and innovation, Los Angeles simply changes the name on the marquee. There are ways in which this is very charming: old diners with canted ceilings and endless formica bars that have never been renovated, steak houses that feel like the wood paneled sets of an 8mm full-bush porno. But where New York is difficult and unforgiving, Los Angeles is difficult and all too forgiving. When someone’s New York dreams are crushed under heel, they simply move back in with their parents, or go to law school. When someone’s Los Angeles dreams are destroyed, no one actually bothers to tell them. They just continue to sous vide themselves in the sun and wait for the pre-paid phone to ring. I’m sure this is an overly simplistic generalization about the differences between two cities that don’t even need comparing in the first place because they really are two different places entirely and the only people who have the time or interest in drawing parallels are hack comedians, but it really does seem like there’s much less EVIDENCE in New York of that city’s ravaging effects. In Los Angeles, there’s nothing BUT evidence. It’s in every tucked lip and poison-flattened brow. And that’s all of the lips and brows. But, so, let’s tour it.

The TMZ Hollywood Tour, which from now on we will just refer to as The Nightmare, picks you up and drops you off in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in the heart of Hollywood. The movie playing at Grauman’s right now is Good Deeds, which is hilarious to me. It’s about a guy named Deeds who is too good! What a sacred temple for the art and glamour of movies! Good Deeds. Haha. The place is packed with tourists taking photos of celebrity hand and footprints in the cement, and/or getting their picture taken with someone wearing an elaborate costume. For example, there is a dude dressed up as Johnny Depp from Tim Burton’s remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This is obviously a weird and intense choice considering that the movie came out seven years ago and wasn’t even that popular, I don’t think, but what’s even weirder is when I realize there are actually TWO dudes dressed up as Johnny Depp from Tim Burton’s remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. What’s the matter costume shop? All out of the Gene Wilder Willy Wonka?

The overall vibe of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, if you have not been there, is of a shopping mall food court where people love having their picture taken.

The Starlines bus kiosk is tucked away in a corner, and as I’m waiting in line to confirm my reservation, I realize that I’m standing on Warren Beatty’s cement prints. Aww. Poor guy. Certainly on that heady day when he was being permanently etched into Hollywood History he didn’t imagine that what had seemed so exciting and important and such a symbol of success would mostly just be the place where people impatiently tapped their feet, caught in yet another line in a seemingly endless procession of lines. And then you die.

When I get to the front they print out an actual bus ticket. On paper! You hand the ticket to someone as you board the bus! How charming! But first, a man who looks more tired than anyone I have ever seen in my entire life leads our procession from the kiosk around the corner past Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum to a parking curve where the various tour buses wait, and then he leaves us in the capable hands of our driver, Enrique. That’s a whole job? To just cattle drive some tourist’s half a block? What’s he so tired from then? Oh, right. LIFE. As we board our bus, we are introduced to our guide. Well, not so much introduced to as talked at by. He quickly jumps into his crowd work, and I will say this about the Nightmare’s guide: he knows how to do his job. Oh, the tour is the worst thing ever, and the guide plays a key role in that awfulness, but he was KILLING. The rest of the people on the bus LOVED IT. So, fair enough. Know your audience. And make fun of where they live. Apparently, our guide is on the actual TMZ show from time to time. Neat. He asked people on the bus if they recognized him. Two did. This is a fun game. Just to put that into perspective, though: the dude makes on camera appearances on the TMZ show and he STILL has to hustle down to the garbage dump of Hollywood to HOST a bus tour. Can you even imagine? No. You cannot imagine. There are depths of courage and stamina in the human experience that you did not even know were possible. Some people cut off their own arm, others do this. (More than once, our guide will make self-deprecating jokes about how terrible his life is, which will seem about right, but then he will also brag about how Diddy recognized him one time. He’s a little all over the map. Everyone loves it.)

If you’re familiar with the geography of the city, then you will be real impressed by the fascinating route the Nightmare takes. When I was telling a friend about the tour afterwards, they asked if we had just gone around looking at celebrities’ homes. UH, I WISH. For one thing, I bet celebrities have nice homes! And for another thing, at least then we would have been tucked away on curving, sun-dappled side streets where people couldn’t openly stare right into our eyes with full-bore loathing in their faces that screamed ‘WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU ON THAT HORRIBLE BUS’ as loudly as the bus screamed back “DID YOU KNOW THAT ONE TIME JOSH HARTNETT CALLED 911 BECAUSE HE HAD DIARRHEA?”‘ (Actual factoid from the Official TMZ Hollywood Bus Tour! Fun Tour!) Admittedly, the people on the bus deserve a taste of their own medicine, but for those of us who lost bets it was uncomfortable, and I’m sure no one else even noticed because they all were too busy keeping their eyes peeled for if Selena Gomez stumbled drunk out of a Pinkberry.

The bus comes equipped with video screens to show video packages that the guide would throw to, prepared in the style of the TMZ television show. Have you ever watched that show? This is what that show sounds like:

OH YEAH! OH YEAH! Now imagine that narrator dude’s voice played at MAXIMUM VOLUME, sometimes SINGING, in an open-aired bus for all the world to hear. It’s torture. Straight up Emmy Award winning Homeland torture. UP THERE IS THE SOHO HOUSE, NOW WHAT IS ABU NAZIR PLANNING?! This video also illustrates one of the most horrifying aspects of the whole horrifying ordeal. When you board the bus, they explain that while other Hollywood tours might afford you a celebrity sighting (of someone walking down the street or eating brunch!) the TMZ tour is “better” because if you spot a celebrity on the TMZ tour they STOP THE BUS, and make you GET OFF THE BUS, and FILM YOU “INTERVIEWING” THE CELEBRITY, and you GET A T-SHIRT. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! On our tour, the guide himself spotted Kat Williams, but that didn’t really count because no one on the bus knew who he was and I certainly wasn’t going to say anything. First they DIDN’T come for Kat Williams and I said nothing.

Later, we we saw Perez Hilton, but that’s later.

Speaking of nobodies, the guide finds out that one group on the tour is from Shreveport, Louisiana, which he says is very exciting not only because he is also from Louisiana, but because Jared Leto is from Shreveport. Crickets. Jared Leto? No one knows who Jared Leto is. This is the highlight of the entire tour.

But, so, the Nightmare’s route: you drive down Sunset until it hits Doheny, then you turn onto Santa Monica, take that to Rodeo Drive, turn around at Wilshire and eventually wind your way back up Melrose until you’re home. (Home is Grauman’s, of course. Because that is where you live and feel the most comfortable.) If you’re not familiar with the streets I’m talking about, the best way I can think of to describe the depressing lameness of this route is to pretend you drove down a busy strip of car dealerships and Arby’s restaurants, drove over someone’s lawn, made a detour through a strip mall, and then got dropped off in hell. All while someone on a headset microphone pretended like the tire fires and AIDS piles you were looking at were the Taj Mafuckinghal.There is a sinking feeling in my stomach as we keep driving further and further west because I know that the further out we go means we’ll have to spend at least that much time coming back. No one told me how long this tour actually was before it started, but it turns out it’s forever hours.

Within the first 10 minutes of the tour, we are instructed to look at TWO different strip clubs! Here are some of the other incredible National Monuments that we saw on the tour:

-The fried chicken restaurant where Brad Pitt used to work
-The hotel where Verne Troyer made his sex tape
-The corner where Hugh Grant picked up a prostitute
-A Guitar Center
-The liquor store where Halle Berry crashed her car into a liquor store
-The hair salon where the “Rachel” was invented
-A police station

This is an actual note written in my notebook during the tour: “people take photos of the police station.” What are those people going to do with a photo taken of the outside of a police station? Are they going to look at those photos ever again? God forbid, are they going to show those photos to other people? But of course these questions are simply distractions from The One True Question: the fuck are these people doing on the TMZ Tour in the first place? Did they all lose their Oscar Pools? To each his own, but maybe not so much.

The bus stops again for another photo opportunity: a parked Bugatti Veyron. The guide tells us, “that’s a $1.2 million dollar car, you should definitely take a picture of it.” People take a picture of it. So many cherished memories!

He points out the Prada store. He tells people how much commercial property rents are. We are officially on a tour of a shopping mall at this point. I text Kelly that she can go fuck herself.

When we pass by Canter’s Deli on Fairfax, the guide makes a comment about Jews and my ears perk up. HERE WE GO! Then a video package begins with the quote, “Do you love Jews?” Oh brother. It points out that the deli is a famous hang out for “people like Larry David and Sarah Silverman.” Eek. I mean, asking if you love Jews is about the same as asking if you hate Jews. Especially when you’re just pointing out where they “all” are. This would be a shocking moment under any circumstance, but it doesn’t help when you are riding in what is basically a Safari vehicle. It turns out the Shreveport group are all school teachers traveling together, along with the school’s principal. And guess what: they love the Jew stuff! America #1.

So, then we see Perez Hilton. “We” notice him because someone is being filmed for something at an outdoor cafe, which draws “our” attention, and then it turns out that person is Perez Hilton. The guide encourages everyone to yell “Hey Perez!” at him. This is a terrible thing to do to a human being. To just get a bus full of people to YELL at them. Even if the person is awful. But this is when it gets hilarious: the guide puts his hand over his headset microphone as if he’s about to let us in on a secret, and explains that we can’t actually get off the bus and film an interview with Perez Hilton and win all the t-shirts because Perez Hilton is “the competition.” Would that he could, guys, wink wink, so sorry, you know how it is in the gossip blog bizz. Hahahhaha. OH NOOOOOOO! Worst. Tour. Ever. Let’s. All. Kill. Ourselves.

The guide tells us that we’re all “part of the TMZ family now.” Everyone applauds!

In a weird way, the TMZ tour IS the perfect tour of Hollywood because it’s so contemporary in its cruelty and sadness. America has long had a fascination with celebrity, but it has taken some kind of strange, sad turn in recent years. It’s been said that celebrities are American royalty, but if that’s true we sure FUCKING HATE our royalty. We want to see them sex each other’s spouses to death and then get carted off in handcuffs. We want to literally watch them eat each other if possible. And if you see one, SCREAM AT IT. You might win a t-shirt! So, yes, if you’re going to take a tour of this cum-stained Disaster Factory, you might as well do it with a shrieking, atonal video package and a guide who can’t stop talking about the ways in which his reality is not quite matching up to his dreams. (He tells us he has an MFA. It turns out being a TMZ Tour Guide wasn’t Plan A. Who knew?!)

The bus pulls over so everyone can take a picture of the Hollywood sign. Sure. I don’t understand the compulsion to take photos of monuments that have been photographed thousands of times before by better photographers with nicer cameras than you, but it certainly is a thing that people do. Here is the view of the Hollywood sign that we stopped for:

Perfect. Fuck you, Ansel Adams.

As the tour is slowly winding down, the guide’s voice changes. “I know we’re having fun,” he says. (YEAH!) “And I don’t want to end on a down note,” he says. (UH OH!) “But I do need to talk about the death of MIchael Jackson.” (GUHH! DO YOU? DO YOU NEED TO?) “You see,” he says, “TMZ actually broke that story. So it’s very important to us.” Oh fuck me. I’m sure the guide hates this part, but that doesn’t keep him from doing it. It also seems worth pointing out that we were not near Michael Jackson’s home, or Doctor Conrad Murray’s office, or a hospital or even a morgue. We were just at an intersection. A moment of silence descends upon the bus. R.I.P. Michael Jackson. You were a golden bird that flew too close to the BING BONG FART NOISE.

The silence is broken when the guide explains that a human head was recently found in Griffith Park underneath the Hollywood sign and that someone took a picture of the head and tried to sell it to TMZ, but TMZ wouldn’t buy it, because the head didn’t belong to anybody famous. “That’s just the latest news about the Hollywood sign for you guys,” he says. For real. Not joking. Thank you?

Finally, after a few more jabs at how DUMB celebrities are–(Example: we pass a hot dog stand that is connected to a secret nightclub, and the guide explains that we should all try to get in to the nightclub if we can because Jaleel White hangs out there, and then he literally says, “I’m being sarcastic.”) (It’s a very complicated Super Bowl Half-Time Show Tight Rope Crotch Dance that this tour does, because it is so sarcastic and cynical about celebrities and their personal problems, and yet all anyone wants is to just SEE one. The guide himself, as previously mentioned, takes regular breaks from ripping everyone to shreds to speak in breathless tones about the time he saw Harrison Ford getting gas, or the time he met Cee-Lo Green at a Chick-Fil-A. The guide clearly has aspirations towards acting and/or stand up comedy and/or ANY KIND OF FAME JUST GIMME THAT SWEET FAME. What a mess we are all in with this stuff. Maybe we should all start going to group therapy together?)–the bus pulls back into the circular parking lot behind Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The guide throws to one last video package which is Harvey Levin himself, Mr. Piece of Shit, explaining that while the guide is too humble and nice to ask this himself, tips are appreciated. Well, of course they are. It’s called showBUSINESS.

I give him five dollars. I run to my car. I need a shower.

[Originally posted on March 15th, 2012.]