One day in March of 2013, I was going through casting notices on my phone. I saw a post that was specifically looking for actor types with celebrity knowledge for a tour guide position. With a background in events at a swanky boutique hotel in New York City’s Meatpacking District, I thought I had plenty of experience working closely with the rich and famous. So naturally, I submitted for the gig.
I was given an interview at the offices of On Location Tours, a company known for its pop culture-themed adventures. Without specifics as to what exactly I was interviewing for, I did a decent job of navigating through questions tossed at me by the head of the company. I vaguely remember bringing up TMZ in response to a question about celebrity news.
The next week, I was called back in for a second interview. At this point, I had been scouring the Internet for any clues that could help me figure out what job I was actually trying to fill. Just before it was time for me to go back for round two, a press release dropped for a new TMZ Tour. This had to be it! When I walked into the room for the second time, I immediately met someone from the TMZ Los Angeles office. Although I admittedly struggled a bit during this interview, I made a good enough impression to be brought on board.
In May of that same year, TMZ — one of the leaders in celebrity news on TV and the web — would expand its empire by bringing a bus tour to New York City. After already having operated a tour in Hollywood for a few years prior to this, it only made sense for it to tackle the Big Apple. Out of the five tour guides initially hired to do the tour, two were selected to do the press tours on launch day, and I just happened to be one of them.
Sporting my branded red T-shirt, I loaded up the bus with press and tourism professionals. Sitting in the very front of the bus was Harvey Levin, the creator of TMZ who got his start in TV doing “The People’s Court” in Times Square, with a friend of his from the New York Daily News. NO PRESSURE.
The traffic wasn’t too terribly bad that day, but there was a tricky part in the tour where we moved a bit slower than usual. Telling myself not to panic in the back of my mind, I quickly tried to come up with something to say to the passengers to keep them engaged. I heard a siren in the distance moving toward us, so I looked in the direction of the noise. As the emergency vehicle passed us, I blurted out, “Oh no, what has Amanda Bynes done now?!?” Because this was in the middle of Amanda’s frequent erratic episodes, my audience burst out into laughter. Harvey, who I had only met the night before, sensed I was struggling a bit after that and took over for a moment. Everyone loves Harvey.
On the last leg of the tour, I felt very comfortable as we made our way across Central Park South. Harvey, unable to resist, gave me a freebie: He jumped up and screamed, “SARAH JESSICA PARKER!” Heads jerked hard to the left to see a horse pulling a carriage. The slight disappointment of not seeing the “Sex and the City” star was completely overshadowed by hysterical laughter.
In the early days of the tour, I saw the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tony Bennett, Peter Dinklage, Bill Hader, Adrian Grenier, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, basketball player Andray Blatche, celebrity chefs Anne Burrell and Mario Batali and others from the big red bus. This, however, would only be the beginning of one wild ride …
Ricky Dunlop is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine and a writer, actor and comedian residing in New York City. Read “Part Two: The Celebrities.” Part Three will publish Monday, March 2 at 10 a.m.