"Meet Pat McAfee and give him a gift" has now been checked off of my 2015 goals list. I've heard people say that you shouldn't meet your heroes because you might be disappointed with how they are in real life, and this thought crossed my mind briefly when I found out a few months ago that I was going to be involved in a project at work with Pat McAfee. I have been a huge fan of his for a few years and my excitement IMMEDIATELY stomped those doubts right out of my mind. I'm sure we've all seen him when he's "ON"- a charismatic charmer with a gruff voiced and good-natured comeback for every jab that is thrown his way. He's genuinely funny in such an offhand way. He does fundraisers like there's no tomorrow and gives so much of his time, energy and funds to various causes.
I think the part that I was most excited about was being around him as a normal person. When you're known for being an extroverted social butterfly, that's the version of you that is expected everywhere you go. You don't get to have any "OFF" time. People think there's something wrong or you're pissed or upset about something, when you really just want some time to yourself. My heart goes out to people like Pat, because often your good nature is taken advantage of with jokes at your expense or just taking things too far. People start treating you like a character of yourself and it can be exhausting and undermining if there's no purpose to it all. But the thing about Pat is, he's in on the joke. Exhausting as it may be, he's got a plan.
I had lots of ideas about what I wanted to give Pat. As a fellow dog person, I wanted to show his doggies some love, so I bought some treats for them at Three Dogs Bakery on Mass. Ave. At one point he was going to be adopting a pet monkey that he bought on Cyber Monday, so I was going to make a tiny white belt for the monkey to wear to match him. He later announced that he decided against monkey parenting, which is probably for the best. Instead I went with music. I made a Boomstick playlist that included AC/DC (it goes against everything I believe in to make a mixed CD without at least ONE AC/DC song on it), Whitesnake, The Mowgli's, James Brown, Nelly, Outkast, Phil Collins and many many more.
The project I got to work on was the Indiana Repertory Theater (IRT) Radio Show. It's a night of fundraising for the IRT with a silent auction, dinner and drinks, and a live performance featuring several guest celebrities. The IRT staff works on this event for months, but the actual performance only gets a couple rehearsals. When we finally sat down to rehearse with the celebrity cast (Coby Fleener and Pat weren't the only cast members, former Mayor Bart Peterson and several other Indy community and business leaders took part as well) it was kind of surreal. I was sitting at my foley/sound fx table onstage and in walks Coby Fleener in sweatpants and a T-shirt. Whoa. Pat was a little late, and seemed frustrated about it, but it didn't keep him from shaking hands and introducing himself to everyone.
We read through the script (bearing several jokes poking fun at Pat's intelligence, which I quietly objected to) and made a few adjustments. By the time we finished our one and only rehearsal with the celebrities, the lobby was packed with patrons and silent auction bidders, and our stomachs were growling. I had been wearing my McAfee jersey all day in hopes of getting an autograph and a chance to give him my gift. As soon as we finished the rehearsal though, he had disappeared. So, I went ahead and changed into my dress clothes for the evening. I kept my jersey and my gift close by, just in case I got a chance to speak to him.
That chance came much sooner than I anticipated. The theater was mostly empty, with a few of the staff hanging around backstage. I walked out to my table onstage to get something from my purse, I think, and saw Pat sitting quietly in the front row looking at his phone, with a couple other cast members chit chatting nearby. After a 10 second silent celebratory dance offstage, I gathered up my jersey, a sharpie, and my gift bag and walked back out to the place he was sitting. He greeted me with a "bow-chicka-bow-wow" (one of my lines from the script) and a smile.
I asked if I could bother him for a minute, and he immediately reached for the jersey and sharpie. He thanked me for having the jersey and wearing it, and said it looked better on me than him- (I bet he says that to all the girls) and signed it for me. Jersey- check. Now it's time for the weird part, giving a gift to a famous stranger without coming off as a complete creep. I told him about the treats for his doggies and that I burned him a CD. He thanked me and seemed genuinely excited about the CD, he said he couldn't wait to listen to it later that night. I thanked him for being an awesome person and explained that I thought that music is the greatest gift you can give someone. Then, in a lame attempt to make a joke, I added "Or money, but I'm poor." He solemnly shook his head no, and looked at me with sincerity and said, "Happiness. Happiness is the greatest gift you can give someone." There is no doubt in my mind that he lives his life by that very principle.
Thank you, Pat McAfee for giving the gift of happiness. Hell, thank you for BEING happy! Thank you for playing along when people tease you because you know it will get a laugh, and for being in on the joke. Thank you for an awesome night of being onstage with you that I will never forget. Thank you for reminding us that it's okay to not take ourselves so seriously, and thank you for being a shining example of giving back.