Help me respond to self-described "fangirls" freaking out about me!
May 7, 2016 3:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm at the stage where I've achieved some level of professional renown in my field, and I'm starting to encounter lots of younger people who are "fangirling" (their words) on me. I have no clue how to respond without seeming like a jerk. Help?

I'm a generally pretty modest person, and am told I'm very approachable and friendly. But as my professional reputation has grown, I have not internalized any of this at all, so it's super weird when people are intimidated and freaked out by just being near me. I mean, I'm still shocked when people recognize me, at all. Here are some recent types of situations I do NOT know how to handle. Mostly with 20-somethings.

— People who come up to me after public speaking and just say, "So sorry. I'm just fangirling so hard right now."
— Getting casual drinks with junior folks in the industry who admit, halfway through the drinks, that they're "freaking out" because we're talking.

What should I say to both honor their admiration and candor, and yet make them feel comfortable to actually talk to me in the moment? Most things I try end up sounding either dismissive or awkward... eep!
posted by amoeba to Human Relations (23 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I always see this as just a manifestation of someone saying "Please excuse me if I seem a little awkward... I think you're neat!" and I try to respond in an appropriate way. Make them feel at ease, be a good person, say thanks if they say something that is actually a compliment but otherwise, eh, you don't need to respond in a specific way except for being present. Self-deprecating stuff can tend to fall flat and I tend to avoid it (even though that is the refrain going through my head "I'm not special" "I'm actually sort of a dork"). I usually see my role in these exchanges as making them feel comfortable and making their interaction with me somehow useful to them and not just to me, if that makes sense. See what you can do to be a mentor and act the way you would have hoped someone YOU admired and got access to acted when you encountered them.
posted by jessamyn at 3:30 PM on May 7, 2016 [40 favorites]

Best answer: This sometimes happens to me in my field and I have learned to deflect overly-excitable people by asking about them. Like you, I am pretty modest and really do not want to be the center of a cult of personality, so I try to be as low-key and friendly as possible in these encounters.
posted by Atrahasis at 3:34 PM on May 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

From the perspective of a fan-type-person, rather than a target (um, recipient?) of fandom:

"It's totally fine; we all fangirl for somebody. So, [innocuous question like "where are you from?" or "how's your convention going so far?" or "how did you first hear about {your work}?" or whatever]"

"ha ha, I'm still not used to hearing that! But thanks! [innocuous question]"

"That's how I felt when I met [bigger name person]! I'm flattered, but please relax--I'm harmless! [innocuous question]"

If you want to be kind but don't necessarily want to have an entire conversation, a focused question that you would genuinely enjoy getting answers to from your fans is good. How did they first find out about your work? Which of the things in X did they like the most? How did they feel about Y? Do they prefer A format or B format? Then, when they're done answering, you can say "That's so awesome! Thanks! It was great to meet you" and move along.

Don't worry too much about sounding dismissive or awkward, unless you're rolling your eyes at them or something. Even just smiling and saying thanks is great. As an occasional fangirl, all I want is for the person not to disdain or mock me. Anything else is a bonus.
posted by wintersweet at 3:35 PM on May 7, 2016 [18 favorites]

Try, "Thanks! It's nice to meet you too!"

Or, "Gee! How do I respond to that?" In a very cheerful way.

Acknowledge the person, be nice and don't seem too ill at ease. Smile, be friendly and keep the conversation going.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:36 PM on May 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

"That's how I felt when I met [bigger name person]..."

I've come across this a few times as a musician, & that's generally how I handle it, followed by trying to engage them in an earnest conversation about what interests them musically -- share some common interest about some other angle of music besides myself, ask them about what they do, turn it around. It takes a couple minutes to engage someone & they'll stay a fan for life, & it'll maybe help them realize you ARE a regular person just like them, who does a thing that interests the both of you. Believe it or not, Iggy Pop taught me this by example, when I was 15. He managed to move it from teenagers geeking out about him to 5 people discussing & playing music on the same level in about 2 minutes flat.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:44 PM on May 7, 2016 [54 favorites]

Try to get the conversation off of you and onto your work: "Oh, you've heard of my work? What thing are you familiar with/how did you learn of it?"

In most cases, they do not really know as much about you as they think they do. Talking about you or your feelings on the matter will tend to be problematic. Talking about your work is something you can both genuinely gush about. "Oh, I totally forgot about that Thing. But it was a great experience at the time. Let me tell you Anecdote about Thing."
posted by Michele in California at 4:05 PM on May 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Laugh and quickly acknowledge it -- "That's flattering, thanks!" And then act totally normal and low-key.
posted by chickenmagazine at 4:31 PM on May 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is the reason famous people become weird, or not weird. It's a weird thing to deal with.

Yes, "Thanks, it's nice to meet you". Acknowledge their compliments and be friendly.

There are people who are fans and people who are admirers of your work. People who announce themselves as "fangirls" are telling you that plainly, believe them. The people who are superfans like being superfans and it's not really all about you. It's like people who are in love with being in love. They don't want to hear that you're really not that special, or really are that special, they want their own vision of you. They don't want to know that you have toenail fungus. People who say "It's great to meet you, I really like your work" may be coming from a different place. They might laugh and enjoy swapping stories about struggles with toenail fungus. You may find that people are telling you plainly how they want to be treated. Of course it's up to you how you want to interact.

It's actually work, it's the hardest part of the job for a lot of people. So the fan is hanging out having fun, you are working. Boundaries are important and also help the fan be more comfortable. "We are all normal people hanging out and being friendly, but I am not your friend anymore than the bartender or cashier is and no you can not have my phone number".

If you meet someone and tell them "You are my favorite X, and you make the best Y" how do you want them to respond? That's what you should do.
posted by bongo_x at 5:09 PM on May 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think the idea of steering the conversation to the other person is a good one. As a non-renowned person who sometimes gets a little fangirly, I would be both super flattered and a lot more at ease if someone I deeply admired seemed interested in learning about me.

It's also a good move to acknowledge that the other person's doing okay in the conversation, even if they're obviously nervous and spilling their drink in excitement. If someone's all "ohmygosh I'm so awkward/nervous/dorky/fangirling so hard right now," respond with "Oh, you're not awkward at all!" or "You're doing fine!" and then segue into asking about them or a mutual interest or whatever.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:18 PM on May 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Oh. Maybe it's my Australianness but I'd be, "The rumours are totally not true. I'm innocent!" Then thank them for keeping the passion for your area alive. ....And just chat about the industry/area you're famous in, and perhaps the innovations you're liking and asking them what they like. I also reckon if you told fans a little unpublished tidbit about a thing you like/have heard about that they might enjoy, it's a wee gift of insider knowledge about both you and the sector in which you're a star. Give them a tiny step up over their friends...
Eg "OMG, amoeba told me about the fluromoxacolyposticilium genesis for dysentery she saw on a lab tour with Obama last week. Nobody knows about that treatment, they're all still doing pumpkin chelation therapy at Johns Hopkins. How cool is that!!?"
posted by taff at 5:50 PM on May 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

"The rumours are totally not true. I'm innocent!"

I totally think a silly reply can be great! People just have to find one that works for them. I've had "It's all right, I don't bite!" deployed on me more than once, and it does relieve tension--but I've also seen it be received as an invitation for a flirty reply, which ... NOPE NOPE NOPE.
posted by wintersweet at 5:55 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

i have a really famous friend who gets this kind of thing all the time. i am constantly amazed that he is genuinely so extremely courteous to whoever is approaching him with whatever weird tidbit of fan trivia they found from their thousand hours of research on the web. he never acts weirded out about it or large-headed or irritated to have to converse with them about it, he just listens, responds, and eventually gently redirects to find out what that person is into "do you play music too? what's your instrument, etc" and keeps the conversation relaxed until he can say "it was really nice to meet you" and then move along. even if the conversation is PAINFULLY awkward he just continues to act relaxed and kind. it is such a good look and comes off so well. the fan gets his AMAZING interaction with the star, and feels really listened to and respected, never brushed off. My friend comes off looking great. he sees it as part of his job. it actually taught me to be nice to people when i'm in a hurry, because if he can do it, i can do it.
posted by andreapandrea at 6:33 PM on May 7, 2016 [16 favorites]

In my little corner of academe, I occasionally get this kind of reaction, and I too find it a bit uncomfortable. I like to deflect in into questions about what the person to whom I'm talking is working on, and if they persist in talking about my stuff, to ask what they find useful about it. If it seems appropriate, I'll mention how I would revisit some of my earlier arguments/conclusions if I were to revise the work, too, to point out that while I'm still proud of what I did, it's not the last word on the subject. They'll have their own contributions.

It also helps that the people who do this are often the advisees of some of my own professional mentors, so I can point out that like them, I learned a lot from their advisors.

And I try not to dwell on what I've done: instead, I'll talk about what I am doing now, and the challenges that I am facing with that work.

It seems to me that your reaction is perfect: you are a bit embarrassed by your prominence in your field, and you try to be low-key and approachable. That's the best approach to have. It will leave your junior colleagues (which is what the fangirls/fanboys ultimately are) thinking that you are both a decent person and highly accomplished. In other words, let your achievements rest on their own reputation, and just be nice and talk about what you're doing now.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:07 PM on May 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jerry Seinfeld's method for helping fans feel at ease is he asks them questions with a numerical answer. How many kids or siblings do you have? How long is your commute? What time do you get up? His theory is it helps people feel comfortable and breaks the ice.
posted by areaperson at 8:05 PM on May 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Go easy with the self deprecation. There's a John Cleese (via Stephen Fry) anecdote that I posted to a previous celebrity AskMe.
Many newly made [celebrities] fall down especially in the area of compliments. It’s perhaps a very English thing to find it hard to accept kind words about oneself. If anyone praised me in my early days as a comedy performer I would say, “Oh, nonsense. Shut up. No really, I was dreadful.” I remember going through this red-faced shuffle in the presence of the mighty John Cleese who upbraided me the moment we were alone. ‘You genuinely think you’re being polite and modest, don’t you?’ ‘Well, you know …’ ‘Don’t you see that when someone hears their compliments contradicted they naturally assume that you must think them a fool? Suppose you went up to a pianist after a recital and told him how much you had enjoyed his performance and he replied, “rubbish, I was awful!” You would go away thinking you were a poor judge of musicianship and that he thought you an idiot.’
posted by zamboni at 8:28 PM on May 7, 2016 [20 favorites]

I managed to get to a point in my career where this happens to me from time to time. It's a lot to handle! I find that it is a real balancing act, you want to honor a person's enthusiasm, while getting to even ground so that you can actually connect, without being dismissive.

First, I recommend allowing yourself recognize and admit to yourself that it is overwhelming, to receive such an outpouring of acceptance and admiration from a stranger.

I've found that thanking the person for their encouragement, and telling them how meaningful it is, is great. It puts you both on even ground and is a genuine way to reciprocate, even if you don't know them well enough to compliment them on something personally.

Ask them about themselves, be generous with your interest, and if they have questions for you, be generous with your answers. Look for things that are unique about them to comment on ("I like your [band name] shirt! You have great taste!"). If you are uncomfortable or overwhelmed, thank them (specifically, if you can. "Thank you again for what you said about [thing]"), tell them that it was lovely meeting them (use their name and anything else you might have picked up about them - "It was great to meet you, Sara, good luck on your SATs!"), and then be on your way. It's ok to keep your interactions short. You don't owe anybody your time simply because they admire you, so strive for positive interactions and mutual encouragement, because love and friendship is the best... but don't burn yourself out or overwhelm yourself!
posted by pazazygeek at 8:52 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh my goodness! That's very kind of you. Thank you so much! I don't even know what to say..."

Genuine, humble, grateful, warm. That's how Beyoncé was when *I* practically hyperventilated in her face. If you can find a way to be gracious and super genuine your fangirls will continue to be your fangirls.
posted by ohyouknow at 9:25 PM on May 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

I may be remembering this wrong but I just listened to Felicia Day's You're Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) and I think she talked about this quite a bit. She became famous over a short period of time and was similarly taken aback by excited fans figuring out how to deal with it gracefully. Mostly she was super nice to them because a) she's super nice and 2) she remembered feeling the same way about famous people herself. She even has a storage unit where she keeps all the stuff she is given by fans because she'd never want them to find the gifts in a thrift store somewhere.

It might be worth a read. (And is just a great book for any purpose.)
posted by Beti at 10:32 PM on May 7, 2016

For the halfway through a conversation fangirl reveal, I've witnessed three techniques that seemed to work well. (I'm the fan who plays it super cool and never admits it the whole time, and subsequently the squeeful fangirls hitch along with me to chill with the famous person, so I've seen this more than a few times.)

One was, during a cheerful conversation with a lot of humor, when the fan admitted to fangirling, the famous guy gave little jazz hands and a tiny squeal of his own with an encouraging smile, and then after a shared laugh just continued on with the conversation like nothing had happened.

The second was when a friend of mine was super psyched to meet a musician whose music had basically saved her life and she desperately wanted her to know but couldn't fit it into the conversation. So she just blurted it out to her two drinks in and oh my gosh awkward so she followed it up with "and I am just SUCH a FAN and I'm sorry you probably get this all the TIME." So the musician, who wasn't really famous and just prominent in a local scene and probably didn't have much experience with fannishness, she just paused and made eye contact and said thank you with great sincerity. It worked really well and my friend was able to gather herself back together.

Third is something I've seen a bunch in the artistic nerdy circles I hover around. Fan admits to squee mid-mingle. Famous person responds "is there a particular thing about my work that you like?" Fan scrambles to respond - but their response isn't super relevant because... Famous person replies "oh hey you'd probably like to talk to [other fan who is also there]. They are into that aspect as well!" Then they aim the two fans at each other. Works like a charm.
posted by Mizu at 11:21 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I get this sometimes in my profession. I'm hideously shy, I have a stutter, and I'm basically as awkward as I can be and still stand up. Having people approach can be totally overwhelming , especially when somebody relates something personal to my work. In my head, I'm standing there thinking, shit, I'm just a dork with a computer! But outside my head, I've learned to:

1) Introduce myself, and ask their name. Because we are two strangers meeting, whatever the circumstances.

2) Thank them profusely for their kindness and/or respond appropriately to their personal story about the work. If you can't think of anything in the moment, just practice, "Thank you so much for reading/watching/listening, it really means a lot to me."

3) Ask them about something in return. If you're meeting at conventions or M&Gs or what have you, asking them if they're having a good time and what all they've seen/done works really well. Sometimes, this can help you direct the moment by pointing out someone else there they may want to meet.

4) Stand up for pictures if you're in a sitting/signing position, or arrange the pose, because people want the snap, but they feel uneasy about breaking what they think might be the rules. They will hunch over tables or get shy about coming behind it because they feel like they're not supposed to. Standing up and taking a place with them streamlines it for everybody and generally makes for a better picture.

5) Thank them again, with good wishes for them to enjoy the rest of the (whatever.)
posted by headspace at 11:33 PM on May 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: For colleague fannishness, I thank them profusely and fangirl back when I know their work. And when I don't, I thank profusely and ask about their work instead. If you're in the same industry, you have things in common. Asking about their stuff will usually lead back to a broader, more normal conversation.
posted by headspace at 11:37 PM on May 7, 2016

My boss is an academic-turned-household-name, so this happens to him a lot, including when we're together. Usually he says, "It's great to meet you, too." If he has time for an extended conversation, he'll ask the person an innocuous question to get the topic away from his fame. If not, he'll give a genuine smile and handshake and then move on.

It seems to work well for him. FWIW I think thanking someone for being a fan can come off oddly in some contexts.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:42 AM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was on a movie set once with someone who was very taken by Gerard Butler. We were sitting watching the filming when Mr. Butler walked up, said hello, and the person I was with made a statement to the effect of "you're the most wonderful actor I've ever seen...yada, yada, yada.... I'm SO honored to meet you". Butler stood there, listened, then smiled and laughed and said "Of COURSE you are." It broke the ice nicely, allowed everyone to laugh a bit... It's OK to acknowledge the accolades but come across as not taking yourself too seriously.
posted by HuronBob at 6:15 AM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

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