So here we are.
Last month, in “do not bend,” I wrote about my recent surge of popularity in Eastern Europe, resulting in seven autograph requests, a huge number considering my rather humble (read: nonexistent) level of notoriety in the States, let alone the world. By the end of my having written the post, that number had risen to ten.
(And don’t go saying that I’m being ridiculous when I say I have no notoriety. I just performed at a benefit where a photographer who once published several pictures of me online asked me, who are you? When I told him my name, he said, yeah, but who are you?)
Anyway, as of yesterday, the number of autograph requests had ballooned to 28. Twenty-eight requests, all from the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine... and they’ve been slowly creeping westward, from Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. That is far, far more requests than I have received in the more than 6 years since I was last on a Broadway stage... all in the past 11 weeks.
Let me be the first to say that I treat all correspondence with respect. I am a believer in paying it forward in any way that I can. If you write to me and ask for advice, I will not ignore your missive, nor will I brusquely tell you to go ask someone who is currently more successful than I for advice (although, I grant you, that would be very good advice indeed). I will eventually write you back, with carefully chosen words and as much truth as I have in me. I won’t even nag you when you don’t bother to thank me afterward, tempting as that may be.
And yes, despite the various costs involved, I have honored every single autograph request that has come my way, since I’m not working in a theatre for people to send a self-addressed stamped envelope to. I figure that it’s the least I can do for someone who likes what I do and who’s bothered to look me up.
In fact, I put great care into these requests. If someone asked for 1-2 pictures, I gave them 2. I’d include a small handwritten note. I would write on the front and back of the envelope, Photo(s) - do not bend please. Note the addition of please. Of course, since these photos were traveling halfway around the globe, I also dug up whatever cardboard I could find as backing, just in case they were handled by a particularly disgruntled letter carrier. Cutting up boxes worked for a while... until the following exchange occurred:
Postal Worker: You need a customs form for these.
Postal Worker: They’re rigid envelopes, so they’re treated like packages. International packages require customs forms.
Me: But they’re just photos. They’re worthless!
It didn’t take much for the postal worker to believe that photos of me are worthless and drop the customs form requirement on that batch of mailings, but I eventually had to make a purchase of chipboard sheets, which would still protect the photos but be a bit more flexible than corrugated cardboard. (This is how I discovered that 8.5 x 11 chipboard sheets are only sold in two sizes online: packages of 25 and packages of 720.)
And once the photos were sent, I would email everyone to let them know that their envelopes were 1-2 weeks away from reaching them. Suffice it to say, I gave more than a crap.
But as the number of requests grew, I became more and more curious as to what was causing this phenomenon. Was there a European tour of AVENUE Q that was drumming up sales of the cast recording? Was the musical episode of Scrubs airing over there? I knew it couldn’t be related to my Muppet or animation work, because you can’t see my face and my voice would be dubbed in these countries. And due to the clearly broken translations in the emails I was getting, I figured that the senders weren’t reading this web...blah...log.
Part of me thought, oh, who cares. I was charmed by some of the emails, many of which ended with the lovely sentiment success may always be at your side. One recipient even thanked me on behalf of himself and his brother with: Certainly, we shall rejoice at Your further successes and glorious victories. Glorious victories! How does that not make one’s day?
The other part of me kept thinking, the postage alone is more than three bucks a pop.
After a way-too complicated search and the use of the very handy translate this page feature, I found the culprits: two Czech gals who blog about their vast autograph collections from all over the world. One of them had sent me my very first autograph request from Eastern Europe in January. And right there, under scans of the signed headshots I’d sent, was a link to my website’s email address.
So, none of these people were looking me up because they were fans of me or of anything I’d done. In fact, most of them never even entered my name into a search engine - or knew my name to begin with. They just clicked a link on a blog so they could add yet another picture of someone who may or may not be famous to their existing files of glossies.
Success may always be at your side wasn’t an actual sentiment, but just a generic phrase found in form email translations. It follows I would be very pleased if you could fulfill my wishes and Many thanks in advance for your kindness. You’d think I would have caught that sooner, but nooooo. You’d think I would have noticed that not a one of the autograph requests mentioned any of my work specifically, but nooooo. The translation on the blog didn’t say so, but it was as though my name was listed under American Actresses and General Suckers.
I remember an oh-so-long-ago when my sister got a signed picture of Jessica Tuck from One Life to Live in the mail. Most of her fan letters to soap stars had gone unanswered, but Ms. Tuck was a pro, and my sister was so over the moon about it that she displayed that picture in her room for all of her high school years. So yes, while my original “do not bend” post called the concept of asking for an autographed picture from the obscure likes of me to be odd and ridiculous, I do understand that if you really like someone, no matter who it is, you may want to have a picture of him or her that’s signed just for you. Maybe looking at it makes you feel closer to him or her. Maybe it makes you feel like you’re more than just some random fan. I get it. I do.
But this... this ain’t that. And it ticks me off.
So I’m taking action. This next batch of mailings may still have chipboard backing in them, but there’s only going to be one picture per envelope. And no email to let them know it’s coming. No handwritten note, either.
That’ll show ‘em. I’m on to them now.
Of course, I did still write please after do not bend. After all, I’m not mad at the letter carriers.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.
P.S. Don’t think that I won’t honor a real autograph request anymore. But I am starting to ask that anyone who wants one donates $10 to a legitimate charity. Paying forward the paying it forward, if you will.