I'm walking into the Beverly Hills Four Seasons as my life is falling apart. My girlfriend moved out of our home and into a cozy Malibu rental, a renegade yellow lab nearly killed my Yorkshire Terrier, I don't know how much longer I can afford my rent, and a recent blunder I've made has hammered a nail of disappointment straight through my ever-cluttered mind. But you'd never know it by looking at me. Well-dressed and reasonably fit, I'm striding through the Four Seasons -- wearing designer sunglasses indoors -- and looking like a bona fide LA prick.
I'm on my way to a press junket for The To Do List, a new comedy starring the great Aubrey Plaza as a just-graduated-high-school, brainiac nerd who makes a list of - and then engages in -- all the sexual experiences she's never had. Set in the denim-on-denim days of 1993, it's a funny film. You should see it.
As I walk into the junket, a nice-looking family vacationing from St. Louis stands in the doorway, craning their necks and trying to catch a glimpse of Aubrey or any of the film's stars. I breeze by, feeling their envious gaze. They see that I have access, and think I'm one of the lucky ones. They don't realize that part of me wishes they'd take me back to St. Louis and sign my adoption papers.
Now I'm sitting down and looking at Aubrey Plaza. She's a beautiful young woman on NBC's hit Parks and Recreation and in films like Judd Apatow's Funny People and Safety Not Guaranteed. In person, she's even prettier, and warmer than her onscreen persona. The real Aubrey Plaza smiles and smirks. She's wonderfully abnormal and too intelligent for most of life around her. To comedy fans, she's known for her sarcastic, deadpan delivery and mastery of all things awkward, but today I realize something else about Miss Plaza. Like John Belushi, Bill Murray and Zack Galifianakis, she doesn't need funny material or clever lines to get laughs. She is just funny. You'd laugh if she read a bus schedule. She says things that wouldn't be funny if someone else said them, but coming from her, they're hysterical. A journalist asks if she's ever felt Hollywood pressure to get a boob job. Plaza's reply: "Every morning I wake up and say, 'if these things were bigger'...I don't know...I guess so...I don't know...No. Not really." There is nothing funny about these words. If you said them, nobody would laugh, but when Plaza says them the room cracks up.
"I went to an all-girls catholic high school," Plaza says, when asked what she was like in high school and who in life -- the jock or the nerd -- ends up winning. "Looking back on it now, I realize that in my school it was cool to be a nerd. We didn't have traditional cliques like you see in movies, but I was...I don't know...I was nerdy, I guess, but I was cool, too. I wasn't that cool, but I wasn't a loser. I was nice. I had a great time, and just really gave it my all. And I don't know who wins? Everyone loses." Again, the room cracks up.
"When I read The To Do List for the first time," Plaza continues, "I thought it was one of the funniest scripts I'd ever read. I like doing movies like this. The most fun, exciting part of my job is just to be able to keep doing things that surprise people and challenge myself. I was looking for a long time to do a movie where I could give a blowjob. So, I was really lucky that I found this script." The room goes silent, and then everyone cracks up.
The interview is over, and I'm in the elevator with Aubrey Plaza and Jack McBrayer, the actor known for playing Kenneth the NBC page on 30 Rock. Aubrey and Jack are well schooled and seasoned in the art of improv, and it's fun to watch them banter and play. Even in my less than stellar state of mind, they make me smile. This is why the world needs artists. We all walk out of the elevator, and the St. Louis family -- now lurking in the lobby -- finally gets to say they saw a celebrity. Like everyone in Hollywood, they just want a good story to tell.
As I leave the Four Seasons, my anxiety soars. I'm wondering how the hell I'm going to fix my life. A text message arrives from a dear friend in Washington, D.C., a soulful phantom who's a master at removing nails of disappointment from my ever-cluttered mind. His text reads: "Your new mantra is Under-expect and Under-react." I immediately know he's right, but don't like immediately being corrected. I devilishly text back: "Underdog and Underpants."
This is what Aubrey Plaza would do. Only if she did it, it would be funny.