I Was Paid By The Rich To Be A Fake, Adoring Fan
It's time to put on your Alex-Jones-brand Paranoid Idiot Hat and entertain a very stupid conspiracy: What if ... crowds weren't real? It sounds like something your perpetually high roommate would say right before you told him to shut up for the 14th time today, but there is some truth to the idea. We spoke to Darren, who has worked as a paid crowd member for years. That's apparently a real thing. He told us ...
People Hire Fake Crowds All The Time
Are you rich but wildly unpopular? Don't despair, Casey Affleck, there is hope! If you can pony up the cash -- remember, you're literally hiring a crowd of people -- actors like Darren will show up to support whatever heinous and/or pathetic thing you're doing today.
"Lots of people want crowds," Darren explained. "We'll pretend to be fans of someone, we'll be part of a crowd for a production, we'll fill out seats, we'll make something or someone seem more popular than they really are, we'll pretend to be an entourage. There are lots of reasons."
Though we're not sure how being paid to stand around contributing nothing makes them a pretend entourage.
"Last week, there was a reality star from The Apprentice in town for a meeting," he told us. "We were hired to be fans, but not all at once. A few of us would be with him from his car to the building, a few more from the building back, and some more outside a restaurant he was going to. What I did was walk by when he got out to his car, and then I took a few pictures and asked for a selfie in a polite tone. He smiled, said yes, and took a picture with me and another actress asking the same thing. He was walking out with some people in suits, so I think the job was to make him seem popular."
Having been yelled at by Donald Trump once is becoming a harder and harder novelty to get by on.
Darren thinks the star's agent probably hired the crowd that day to help him negotiate a better contract: "He probably had a deal on the line, and we were there mobbing him. This was in the middle of a day, so if an executive saw that he was recognized out of nowhere, that speaks volumes for their popularity. It can push them from being on the fence in whatever deal he was up for. I think he knew something was going on, because he seemed ready to see us. He probably knew from his agent."
However, it's much more "typical" to do crowd work for wealthy tourists. They may be taking their first trip to Los Angeles or New York, and while they might have the money of a celebrity, they don't necessarily have the fame. That's where folks like Darren come in.
When you're that rich, no daydream is so asinine that someone won't take money to make it a reality.
"The most popular type is having six of us follow someone on Rodeo Drive or wherever for a few hours. It's enough to feel like a celebrity, and that option is usually what many people are willing to pay to have that happen to them."
The Requests Can Get A Little Strange
Darren, like many young hotshots who move to Los Angeles, was an actor looking for his big break. He found a little one instead -- a job that actually utilized his skill set, albeit on a small scale and anonymously. That said, not everybody can do it. Darren still has to fit the "casting call" criteria for each event.
"Different crowds require different people," Darren explained. "They have all of our info. Gender, sex, race ... If some teenager wants to be treated as a famous singer for a few hours, you're going to want younger people. If there's a political rally, then they send out people in the demographics they want."
"We're filling out rally numbers for the Campaign to Return to British Rule. How's your Cockney accent?"
That said, sometimes people don't know what they want. Darren remembered being in the crowd for a Chinese tourist who wanted the Hollywood treatment. "He wanted to walk out of an expensive clothes store and be lit up by flashbulbs and autograph requests. And he wanted no cellphones. His idea of a celebrity was from the 1950s, and we had to tell him that it wouldn't fly. Most people would use cellphones, and having 20 people with pens and papers on them for an encounter like this would be too fake. We couldn't convince him, so when the day came, we followed him around and gave him the experience he wanted. He looked happy, but then complained when he got back that it didn't feel 'real.'"
"What do you mean that thing isn't connected to Instagram? What am I paying you people for?!"
Obviously, it ain't cheap: "It can be a few hundred for a few of us to show up. Those are easy jobs. You show up, pretend you like them for an hour, and you're done. It can also be $7,000 if you want to be treated like Tom Cruise walking around for a day. You'll get a limo, driver, over a dozen of us. The works."
It's not always about satisfying desperate vanity, though: "We had a Paralympics athlete wanting a crowd to greet him after getting back from a tourney for a promo spot," Darren remembered. "The message they wanted was 'giving hope to others in the same situation.' I was chosen to be in a wheelchair. When I got to LAX, I parked my car, took the wheelchair out of my trunk, and wheeled to baggage claim. I and a mix of other actors from the firm (and people genuinely waiting for him) waited until he got in and cheered. The people who were there for real were looking around like they didn't believe he had this many fans."
Though a lot of open handicap spots may have ruined the illusion for any real fans on their way out.
Darren skips past it like it's nothing, but he was hired to fake a disability just to fill out the crowd for an athlete. If there is ever a Seinfeld reboot, there's your pilot.
Getting Caught Is A Major Concern
Not only does Darren have to focus on the job at hand, but he also has to be better at crowd work than a stand-up comedian. Bystanders are naturally attracted to crowds -- which is a big part of why people hire crowds to begin with -- and that leads to an uncomfortable question:
"You know, him. The guy surrounded by flashbulbs and people wearing fedoras that say 'Press.'"
Darren has some techniques for handling this scenario: "One of the other actors who I'm almost always in crowds with, whenever he's asked [who they're cheering for], asks back, 'Do you seriously not know?' Sometimes the person who asked will go, 'Ohhhh, him! OK,' because they don't want to admit they don't know. And when they do admit they don't know, he'll just roll his eyes, shake his head, and go back to recording [the event]. He'll make them feel like an idiot for not knowing who the pretend famous person is. We have an actress who will actually tell them, in an extremely sarcastic voice, 'Oh, I'm just an actress following them around all day for $40,' and nobody ever believes her."
Sometimes the fake backstory is region-specific: "When we have a New Englander who doesn't give us a background story come with a similar accent, I'll tell people going by they're part of the Kennedy family. Sometimes I'll even switch it up with Shriver. They're big enough that's it's plausible. This has worked four times."
"Yes, Marvin Kennedy. Don't you read the news?"
That said, Google is Darren's worst enemy, and the fear of getting burned is bad. "A tourist from China who paid for an hour of the star treatment was walking around Beverly Hills, and an actor I knew was asked by a guy on the street who that was, and he said 'Jet Li's stunt double' without hesitation. The guy looked up to the tourist and back to his phone and said, 'That's not him.' He went up to the [client] and asked why he was pretending to be a stunt double. We tried to get out of it by saying we heard him wrong, but enough other people were nearby by this point that we had to stop. We swung around the limo and got him out of there."
"[Another time] we went to a speech by some chef from the Food Network, and a few actors were asked what their favorite cookbook was by actual fans, and were completely stumped. I wondered why they left quickly halfway through, and in the parking garage after, they told us that a real fan kept asking them about him until they said, 'Do you even know who he is? Why are you here?' They had to leave before they found out they were being paid to be there."
"I, uh, really just know his earlier stuff. You know, appetizers, antipastos, cheese courses ..."
Who Does This Job, And Why?
Darren and a lot of other actors his age are really trying to work on their craft. Others, not so much. "There's a guy in his 70s we always call on, because finding actors that old willing to do this can be hard. He doesn't need the money, because he made a small fortune, and he doesn't want to get into acting. He's doing this because, in his own words, he 'enjoys fucking with people.' Like, this is his dream retirement, living in LA and passing off ordinary people as big shots. He even has costumes. He once dressed up as a priest for a trade show at the Convention Center. A business there wanted be known as family friendly, and because he didn't want to play a grandpa role, he played a priest. And it worked. The man who hired our firm said that business got even better after the 'priest' came by and 'bought' some of the cabinets he had."
"... forgive us our lolz, as we forgive those who lol against us."
Other times, Darren gets a heartwarming story out of it. "We agreed to go to a little league game for half our normal rate once. There was a child who was playing his last game before chemo, and it could have been his last last game. His parents wanted to do something special and hired about 50 of us. We sent double that. We all learned the kid's name and cheered for him every time he was at bat or made a play, but we also cheered for his team so his teammates wouldn't feel bad. They won by mercy rule 10-0 in the second inning, and we all cheered wildly when they went off the field. His parents said they actually felt the roar of the crowd. It was a day that made you believe in humanity."
Though maybe that story doesn't belong here, because there's no way Darren was faking excitement that time.
The Fake Crowd Doesn't Always Go Well
Other times, Darren gets a much sadder anecdote to tell. "We were hired to fill up seats for an opening band. They needed the seats filled ... They were close to getting a record deal, and they hadn't sold out that show. It was a last-minute job. If they didn't hire us, there would be a lot of open seats, and record companies would have noticed a bunch of open chairs in pictures."
Darren and his co-actors did their best to blend in.
Yup, just another boring day at work.
"We got to dress up in Pantera and Slayer T-shirts and go nuts for the opening band. We did a great job. But when they left, we left and hounded them. The main band that night looked shocked at everyone leaving. They've been a pretty steady band for years and had actual fans, and they thought we were here for them and not this little band they allowed to go on before them. We mostly had seats in the back, but when I left, the way the seats were arranged it looked like it was half empty now.
I stayed a little longer waiting for a ride, and the guitarist of the headlining band spotted me and asked why everyone left, and even though I was off the job, I told him I was really excited for the first band. He gave a sad, 'Oh, well, you should have stuck around. It would have helped with the energy.' He didn't ask if I liked his band or not. He just wanted people there."
"Sure, I'll be there next time and ready to rock! Assuming one little thing ..."
It doesn't always go well, either. "I was kicked out of a restaurant," said Darren, effectively identifying himself as a hooligan. "This time [the job was for] an actor/author, and instead of trying to get a selfie or something, it was to get [the crowd to ask the author] to sign their book. I don't remember too much else about the actor who wrote the book. It had to be either his publicist or his agent who hired us. I think his show was up for renewal, so he had to be eating with an executive or someone important on the show."
Like all high-powered negotiations, this meeting occurred at a Cheesecake Factory, and after doing his fawning fan act outside, Darren decided to go the extra mile and follow his target inside.
Sure. That's why he went inside.
"I decided to go in and ask for an autograph ... he started signing my book, and that's when the manager came by and said, 'Stop right there. Don't harass my customers.' The whole section of the restaurant got quiet. The author started to say it was OK, but he was cut off. I guess it was a problem there ... I overheard the manager start to apologize to him when I was being led out. Later that day, my boss asked to see me and said the author left me an actual signed copy of his book, along with a season of his TV show on Blu-ray as an apology. He was a nice guy, and I did my job to the letter. I was just very publicly kicked out by a manager."
Now, we might not have been able to relate to those other stories -- cheering on cancer-stricken children, inspiring crowds of disabled fans, pampering the elite -- but you can be damn sure we relate to getting thrown out of a Cheesecake Factory.
Evan V. Symon is an interviewer, writer, and interview finder for Cracked.com. Have an awesome job or experience you'd like to see up here? Then hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org today!
Follow us on Facebook, and we'll follow you everywhere.