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The first thing you need to know about Los Angeles is that there are celebrities everywhere. Going to get late night burgers in West Hollywood? Boom! Andy Garcia, sitting in an all white suit at the table behind us. He might as well have been planning how to get his casino money back from Danny Ocean and his ten other friends.

I turned a corner in Santa Monica: Boom! Toby Maguire. That’s right. The Spider-Man.

It was 2012, and I had decided it was time to become a star.

On the very same day, I booked my flight to Los Angeles, a temporary apartment right by the Pacific Ocean, and my Level 1 improv class at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. I had been writing screenplays and performing live comedy for about 6 years. Of course Hollywood would accept me with open arms.

My celebrity sightings proved I was closing in on my dreams.

Like the day I got drinks at Birds, a bar in Los Feliz and a motorcycle roared up. Who jumped off? Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.

“Love in an Elevator.” “Janie’s Got a Gun.” His daughter and Alicia Silverstone pulling a farm boy off a tractor. The Armageddon Theme Song, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”  MORE LIKE I DON’T WANT TO MISS A THING!

Holy crap! I’m going to drink in the same bar as Steven Tyler of Aerosmith!

He walked confidently through the crowd, directly to the bathroom. Stayed in there for a few minutes. Walked confidently back through the crowd. Jumped on his motorcycle and left.

Holy crap! I’m in the same bar that Steven Tyler just took a dump in!

While dining at a restaurant called Tender Greens, a group of about 12 women in yoga outfits sat next to me. Full disclosure: None of them were celebrities. But who walked up to the table to talk to them? Conan O’Brien.

He bent over, his red hair giving its signature bounce, and said, “Look at you guys. Did you all just come from the same class?”

God damn. This guy does not stop interviewing people. His wife tapped him on the shoulder and they left before I could explain how I would be a good back up if Andy Richter ever fell ill.

Even at my level 1 improv class there were celebrities. Having done 6 years of improv training I assumed I would be pretty hot shit. Feeling confident while waiting for the class to start, I leaned over to a young woman next to me.

Have you done improv before?

No, only scripted acting. I’m currently on a TV show on the CW network.
I was also Miss Teen USA 2004.


(in my head)
Why the fuck is she taking this class with us losers? Go be beautiful on TV!

While celebrities are everywhere in Los Angeles, the sad fact is that not everyone makes it in the entertainment industry.

One day I walked down Hollywood Boulevard by the famous Mann’s Chinese Theater, a landmark you might recognize by the celebrity impersonators and costumed characters like Pikachu and Spider-Man (not Toby Maguire) that stand out front and pose for photos with tourists for $5. But on this day, a freak rain storm had scattered the faux celebrities to find cover. I walked by a gift shop, and I’ll never forget who was standing in the back corner. Sylvester Stallone! Actually it wasn’t Sly. It was an impersonator dressed up like Sylvester Stallone from Rambo. This guy was less Rambo and more Roomba.

The reason I’ll never forget this wannabe celebrity is the look that was plastered across his face. He was despondent.

despondent (adjective)
In low spirits from a loss of hope or courage.

In that moment he had the self assessment that every non-celebrity in Los Angeles has.

I imagined Roomba’s internal monologue: How did I get here? Hiding from the rain in a cheap gift shop next to custom named miniature California license plates. I played Danny Zuko in Ohio State’s production of Grease. THE Ohio State. I can’t get an audition, an agent, or a good waiter job. I do $5 photos for tourists. How far am I from $5 hand jobs?

My plans for stardom changed when I was cast in a starring role as the father of a newborn baby.

And we film everyday live, on-location in Washington, D.C. The path to Hollywood celebrity didn’t work out the way I thought it would. And that’s OK. My story is not over. But when I look back on my time in Los Angeles, I often think about Roomba and hope that he threw his costume in the dryer, went back out on Hollywood Boulevard, and kept living his dream.

Cal James

Cal James is an author, improviser, filmmaker, and entrepreneur. His memoir, “I Guarantee You Love, Fame and Legacy” follows his journey through self-realization as a comedian.

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