Karaoke is my “thing.” Other people can have “things” too, like “daughters” or “medicine,” but those “things” won’t ever mean as much to me as karaoke—it’s my thing.
More than anything else in the world, I want to be the front man in a rock band. I want this so badly, I’m genuinely terrified of ever legitimately trying to put a band together. There’s no way to say this without coming off like an asshole, but: I know I’d be great. I got the moves, babe. I got the charisma. I can sing well enough, but the fact that it’s my one true dream paralyzes me. I simply cannot be bad at it, or it would ruin me. That’s where karaoke comes into play. It allows me to indulge in my rock-star fantasy, if only for a brief moment, with absolutely no stakes. Also, I happen to be really good at this meaningless thing.
I have three permanent scars from powersliding. Cute girls ask if my friends and I are in a band so often that we made up a fake one called “Rock City Railroad,” and it’s gotten me laid far more times that it should. Hell, just last Wednesday, I won a two-foot bong at a karaoke competition. I beat out the most energetic chubby dude in the world, and he ripped his clothes off to reveal nothing but a pair of gold spandex leggings, barely concealing a half-chub. It was incredible, but not good enough to top my score. It’s my thing.
Last week, one of my best friends and frequent karaoke compatriot, Thom, shot me a text. He was getting off work and told me to get my ass over to karaoke in Silverlake. It was at a bar I’d never been to before, but one that already had a sort of mythical status. Apparently, Jonathan Taylor Thomas is always there, wasted off his ass, stealing people’s drinks and asking for rides home. According to a dude who’s given him a ride, he asks to be dropped off in the middle of the road, a mile or so away from his house. It wasn’t that strange to me. In LA, you get used to random celebrity sightings.
I walked into the karaoke joint and saw my friend Eric drinking at the bar. I asked him if Thom was there yet, and he said no. And then he flatly told me exactly what I did not need to hear.
“Hey, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is here.”
Fuck. There I was, doing my thing for me, and one of the coolest dudes in the world was gonna watch. I don’t know why, but I had to be great. Fuck that, I had to beat him. “Premium Rush” over there already owns the spotlight. It was my turn. I immediately started pumping myself up, the only way I know how, by tweeting in all caps.
I’d done karaoke in front of a ton of TV actors before—that redhead from That 70s Show, Kenneth from 30 Rock, Andy Dick—but never a movie star. I was almost shaking with nerves.
I went over to Gio, my buddy and the karaoke host, and asked him to put on my A-stuff: "Angelina Zooma Zooma" by Louie Prima. It’s a fucking home run. It kills every time. If there was a Tonight Show for Karaoke, this would be the bit I use. I get an idea and lean over to Gio.
“Hey, put me on right before Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Fuck that guy. Try to see him follow me.”
He laughs, “Holy shit, dude. That’s such a good idea.”
We laugh about it together, but a serious look creeps across his face.
“Wait. That’s just mean, man. I’ve never heard that he’s an asshole. He’s just here to have fun.”
He was right. Why did I want to fuck with him? Let him have his fun. I was gong to go up two songs after him and show everybody what this shit was really all about.
I went back to my seat at the bar, right near the stage, to grab another drink.
“Joe! Comin up to the stage, singin some Joe Cocker!”
The bar went absolutely silent. All eyes were on JGL. The song started and, of course he killed it. He didn’t just kill it, he went spastic; true Cocker style. He said some funny bullshit in between lyrics and just had a fucking blast up there. It was incredible to watch. He’s clearly a phenomenal performer, and he let it all loose. Those who could were singing along, and the other bar patrons were just in awe.
I pumped myself up. I had to do even better. JGL can have his movies and his money and his respect and his acclaim and his great looks and his impeccable style and his beautiful women, but god damnit he can’t have this. I needed this.
I got called up, the song started.
I was hollow; a piece of fucking wood.
I was not doing this for fun, I was not doing this for me, I was doing it for validation. And why? It’s just Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s not like my dad was there. All of a sudden, I became everything I hate about karaoke in LA. Botoxed 40-somethings singing Patsy Cline; gelled out, single-earring-wearing bros doing their best Usher in the hopes that they’ll be discovered. In that moment, I became just as bad. This all hit me while I’m singing. By the end of the song, I sort of shrugged it all off, but let’s face facts: I bombed.
It was the only time I’ve ever felt shitty at karaoke. I made this meaningless, fun thing some kind of networking bullshit. I transformed into the worst part of Los Angeles. I went out to smoke a shame cigarette, but as I was walking down the stairs, I heard someone yell “HEY! HEY DUDE!”
I wheel around and it’s none other than JGL himself.
“DUDE! You were great, man! So good!”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt told me I was great, and for the first time in my life… I actually believed it.
The moral of this story is an old standby, a lesson as old as Aesop himself:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is like suuuuuper chill.
(Note: JGL, if you’re reading this—a few things. 1.) Hey. 2.) I’m sorry. 3.) I didn’t take that pic of you. I’m sure it’s super annoying to get your picture taken all the time. I’m, in fact, the drunk who yelled “BOOO!” at the girl outside who tried to take your picture. 4.) I’m throwing a David Bowie-themed party in June. You should totally come.)