Perhaps it’s unfair to blame celebrities for being selfish black holes of utter narcissism. Everyone surrounding them lavishes them with sycophantic praise to their faces and vitriolic spite behind their backs. They are often catapulted to stardom from humble beginnings and their subsequent wealth and fame make them prey for the human jackals of the Hollywood system. So, to be fair, perhaps we should follow Descartes’ famous axiom: “Don’t hate the player; hate the game.” If it’s really the case that Hollywood encourages bad behavior though, how is it that some celebrities come off as, dare I say it, not jerks?
Put simply, Amy Poehler rules. Years ago, before her “Parks and Recreation” fame, I used to go see The Upright Citizens Brigade, the improv group she was with in New York City. U.C.B. is recognized as one of the funniest improv troupes in the U.S., but dammit if Amy Poehler didn’t dominate every sketch she was in. She’s funny yet intense, goofy yet smart. She was one of the best Weekend Update presenters that “Saturday Night Live” ever had. Even when a joke didn’t work she somehow saved it, scoring laughs at how bad the joke was. Her ability to make others laugh, and to laugh at herself, gives her a humility that seems rare in celebrity culture. She’s married to the also hilarious Will Arnett, with whom she recently had a second baby. A stable marriage with a man she loves, two biological children, a successful career, no arrests: maybe Amy Poehler shouldn’t even count as a celebrity. Maybe we should think of her as just a cool lady that shows up on T.V. sometimes.
First Ladies generally come in two varieties: those that look like your aunt and don’t do anything (Laura Bush, Rosalynn Carter) and those that secretly control the office of the President through hypnosis and/or blackmail (Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton). Michelle Obama broke the mold and decided to be neither. She’s got a degree from Harvard Law, but she never comes off as elitist. She’s classy, but also warm and approachable. She performs the duties of her position with aplomb while also managing to mother her two children. She’s got an organic garden and has even appeared on “The Simpsons.” While other First Ladies spent their White House years nagging you not to do drugs, Michelle seems like she would be more concerned if your drugs were produced using unsustainable farming practices. She also has awesome arms and isn’t afraid to show them off. Those guns look they could K.O. not only any other First Lady, but any president.
Every man who grew up in the 1980s wanted to be John Cusack or be in John Cusack, depending on his sexual orientation. Cusack epitomized cool, but was still vulnerable and sensitive. As most young stars mature, they grow into hideous self-parodies before joining the cast of “Celebrity Fit Club” or “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.” Not so with Cusack, whose films are often self-examinations of a once-cool guy trying to deal with middle age (“Grosse Point Blank,” “High Fidelity” and even, sigh, “Hot Tub Time Machine”). High Times magazine recently named him Stoner of the Year, but don’t let that fool you into thinking John Cusack is a slacker. When he’s not busy acting, he regularly writes political op-eds for The Huffington Post. Robert Pattinson is this generation’s John Cusack, but without the talent, brains or charm. A little known fact: Cusack’s skin actually sparkles in the sun, without makeup or special effects.
Look, I know what you’re thinking. Salma Hayek is only on the list because of her gigantic breasts. Well, my cynical reader, is it really wrong to include those breasts if they feed starving babies while in Sierra Leone on humanitarian missions? Now who’s shallow? Those breasts are like melon-shaped Nelson Mandelas. Those breasts are like supple, pillowy Ghandis. Those breasts are a better person than you will ever hope to be. Seriously though, Salma Hayek is a beautiful woman, but also extremely smart and funny. Her turn on “30 Rock” as Jack’s love-interest turned murderer was inspired. She can also kick ass (c.f. any of her work with action auteur Robert Rodriquez). She’s even the producer of a hit television series (“Ugly Betty”). She’s charitable, she’s hard working, and she’s talented. She’s the kind of woman you want to take out for ice cream. Or milkshakes. Dairy festivals. Alright, you got me, she’s on the list because of her ridiculous boobs.
Before you scoff at this entry, please recognize: Brian Williams is straight gully. Yes he reads the news in that mellifluous, yet manly baritone every night, but that doesn’t mean the guy doesn’t know how to rock out. He recently hosted “Saturday Night Live.” He has appeared on “The Daily Show,” “30 Rock,” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” (look, two out of three ain’t bad; you’re not perfect either). The surprising thing is, Williams has real comedy chops. This is a guy you could go to coffee with, formulate a Middle East peace plan, make fun of Chris Matthews, and then go home and watch him on the news. Hanging out with Brian Williams would be cool.
Though she’s obtained mainstream recognition with her recurring role on “Glee,” Jane Lynch had been stealing scenes long before that. “The 40 Year Old Virgin” had a cast of comedy heavyweights: Steve Carrell, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd. Every scene Lynch was in she stole like an executive at AIG. Her ability to meander so casually between being polite and terrifying is so much fun to watch you start to feel nostalgic when her scenes are over. The thing about celebrity is, normal, nice people like Jane Lynch don’t seem to be all that entangled with it. All the kids from “Glee” are busy trying to mack Paris Hilton, or spread rumors about each other, or just generally annoy me. Jane Lynch is busy marrying her longtime girlfriend at a nice restaurant in Massachusetts. There’s really not much of a story there, which leads me to believe that Jane Lynch is a funny, normal person and gossip rags are only interested in coked-out trainwreckery. The only thing that gossip magazines can really say about her is that she tips really well. When will these paparazzi trash go too far? Please see my “Leave Jane Lynch alone!” video on Youtube for more on the subject.
You can admit it. You desperately want to be the Bill S. Preston, Esq. to his Ted “Theodore” Logan. The inscrutable Neo has been making a name for himself as of late by loitering, sadly pondering the remains of a sandwich, and gnoshing a cupcake. The internet has totally forgotten that Keanu Reeves even makes films, which is fine by me. I like Keanu’s new incarnation as a person. The popularity of the Keanu meme seems to be defined by his lack of ego. It’s hard to imagine Tom Cruise even eating a sandwich (I’ve heard he subsists purely off of Hubbard crystals). This is why Keanu Reeves is not a jerk. He can star in a multimillion dollar action franchise and then totally go back to being some bass player in some mediocre band. He keeps it chill. Vulture recently asked him about the sad Keanu meme, and he seemed to be totally unaware of its existence, but that didn’t stop him from chuckling mildly and showing how cool he was with it.
Whereas Keanu’s wiles stem from his remarkable ability to go with the flow, Tina Fey’s charm is directly linked to her ability to gripe. Her role as Liz Lemon on “30 Rock” is sopping with geek charm (take a page here, Michael Cera) even as she curmudgeons her incompetent and irresponsible co-workers. Speaking of incompetent and irresponsible, Fey worked with Lindsay Lohan on “Mean Girls,” and was recently asked about her relationship with Lohan. She responded by calling Lindsay a “great girl” and saying simply “I hope she gets well. [She] is in rehab now? Right? We think? I think that’s good.” See, young Hollywood, that’s how adults do things. They have manners and just say bland, nice things when asked potentially damaging questions. They keep their rage bottled inside because that is what adults do. This is why I want to hang out with Tina Fey: she’s responsible and I feel like she would help me if I asked her, but then wouldn’t badmouth me afterwords for being a terrible person.
The Apatow Family
Judd Apatow is a funny man. The brains behind some the 2000’s best comedies, Apatow clearly knows what’s funny. What’s debatable though, is who the funniest member of the Apatow family actually is. Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann, stole scenes like my Grandpa at a grocery store in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” She’s effortlessly charismatic, which explains why Adam Sandler hit on her in a night club back in the day. Not be outdone, the Apatow kids also make cameos in their Dad’s films with lines like “The other day I googled murder.”
Mos Def is a Renaissance Man. His fierce, politically conscious rap persona is only one side of the dude. Though he’s received lavish critical praise for his rapping, dramatic and comedic performances, most importantly he just made Kanye’s cool list. I could go on about how cool Mos Def is, but I’m happy for this list, and Imma letchoo finish, but Kanye’s cool list is one of the best lists of all time! Of all time!
Hear me out here: Tracy Morgan plays a selfish, destructive celebrity on television, but in real life he’s just a multimillionaire with a drinking problem whose shark tank occasionally lights Trump Place on fire. Seriously, Tracy Morgan would be so much fun to hang out with, and though he’s had some ups and downs, he seems like a genuinely nice guy. Every time you see him talking about Tina Fey or Lorne Michaels he starts to tear up, and gets genuinely thankful for the opportunities those people have showed him. It’s rare to see a movie star thanking anyone (other than “God, who wanted me to win this Oscar”) and to do so in public is even more of a gesture. Morgan jokes a lot about being raised in the ghetto, but he seems like a person who really appreciates what he has and is loyal to his friends. He also says funny shit. Check his twitter acount: “World Be Free. Oh Yeah, Evil Knievel’s my biological father.”
Zach Galifianakis looks like an 18th century ship captain raped an assistant professor, but more importantly, he’s tremendously funny. Galifianakis often rails against the narcissistic idiocy of celebrity culture, both in his “Between Two Ferns” web series, and in his stand up act. Any longtime fans can’t help but appreciate the irony of Zach’s career going more mainstream (he often used to complain in his standup act that “I almost had that part in ‘Kangaroo Jack! GODDAMMIT!'”). Kanye West apparently liked the riffing on celebrity ego so much that he asked Galifianakis to make a video for “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.” Zach produced one, which consisted of himself and musician Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) riding around on a tractor on a farm in North Carolina that Galifianakis owns. Needless to say, the video went viral and attracted a huge following. Galifianakis makes the list for being a person with a deep disdain for the triviality of celebrity culture while still managing to somehow make it funny.
He may have had a checkered, hotel-room-trashing past, but Johnny Depp (also in the Cusack class) only gets cooler as he gets older. He owns a Caribbean island, for one, but he also seems to cultivate deep relationships that are meaningful. Sure, he’s close to his smoking-hot French girlfriend and his kids (who wouldn’t be?) but his friendships with icons and literary geniuses helped define him as somebody interesting and separated him from the worst of celebrity culture. He has beaches on his island named after gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, and acting genius Marlon Brando. When Thompson committed suicide, Depp helped pay for the funeral, and, true to Hunter’s wishes, Depp built a huge cannon to shoot the author’s cremains out into the mountains of his Colorado home. That’s a professionally cool guy. As Thompson famously quipped, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
Dame Judi Dench
I was going to put Mindy Kaling, the wunderkind writer of the American version of “The Office,” on the list because she seems hip, funny, candid, and not pretentious in the least. But I couldn’t do that. Because Mindy Kaling don’t party like Dame Judi Dench party. Dame Judi Dench has had one of the most distinguished theatre and film careers of any Briton of her generation, and endured personal tragedy while successfully pursuing her art. In 2001 she lost her husband of 30 years to cancer. But that’s when the party started for Dame Judi “Jaeger-bomb” Dench. This chick is ready to play Edward Fortyhands before she goes to a kegger to kill it at quarters. Dame Judi Dench would be fun to hang out with, though your survival is not guaranteed.
Bill Murray’s transformation over the last decade from wisecrack to sadcrack is exceedingly rare in celebrities. Most tend to handle aging like they handle everything else: they call their agent and ask for more cocaine. Enter Bill Murray, who might be getting divorced and going through complex personal issues, but he will still be crashing hipster parties in Brooklyn. Bill Murray is the only celebrity on this list that may actually show up at your party, hang out with you, and then mysteriously disappear. That in and of itself should be evidence that Bill Murray, while many things, is certainly not a jerk. Murray’s recent party crashing aside, he’s always been notoriously reluctant to give interviews, but when he does give them he comes off as intelligent, interesting, and open. Recently Murray’s meta-blurring of his screen persona and his real life have been working their way into films. Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes” had Murray moonlighting as a waiter where Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and GZA were dining. His chameleon act becomes threatened when GZA recognizes “Bill Groundhogï»¿ Day Ghostbustin’ Ass Murray.” Murray also plays himself in the more recent “Zombieland” and is the most charming part of the film. Above all, Murray represents the antithesis to the worst celebrity egotism: he’s a nice guy, and doesn’t mind drinking a beer with another human being.