In the six years since, Celeb 4 A Day shutterbugs have stalked noncelebrities in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They’ve lent red-carpet flair to wedding proposals and Sweet 16 parties. They’ve ambushed a 74-year-old on the golf course at 7 a.m. on behalf of his brother (“The guy didn’t even understand the concept of paparazzi,” Roberts says) and a 20-something on Venice Beach as part of an elaborate practical joke.
They’ve even sparked a fight. To conclude a daylong initiation ritual, one New York City financier hired Celeb 4 A Day to besiege another the moment he left the New York Stock Exchange. Upon seeing the photographers, the exasperated subject took a swing at his pal. Did the photographers intercede? “It’s not my place to calm anybody down,” Roberts shrugs.
That’s probably why she gave me little in the way of information prior to my Celeb 4 A Day walkabout, instructing me only to be at the Times Square watering hole Jimmy’s Corner at noon and recommending that I bring sunglasses. The message was clear: The bit works best when it’s not choreographed.
I nonetheless put more thought into it than I did my college-admission essays and my wedding vows combined. A few nights before the big day, I enlisted my wife/publicist/stylist to help me with my prep work. To the Internet we went, visiting sites whose stock-in-trade are spontaneous celeb photos. From this exercise, we learned that male celebrities favor, in no particular order, meticulously unkempt hair, hats with “personality,” Astroturf-like swaths of facial stubble and shades with lenses big enough to double as medieval shields. We grew silent, both knowing that I have few such weapons in my fashion and follicular arsenals.
Our task was further complicated by, well, me. I’ve got a face best suited for AM radio in rural areas, with skin tone that falls somewhere between pale and translucent and a torso best described as “jiggly to the touch.” The notion that anyone would buy me as a celebrity seemed comically far-fetched.
The next morning, I showered, shaved and donned what passes, at least in my closet, for designer finery: a Yankees cap, sunglasses, slip-on Timberlands, khaki cargo pants and a maroon T-shirt. After getting the halfhearted thumbs-up from my wife, I boarded the train bound for the city, on which I promptly misplaced my sunglasses. Deeming them a necessity for my celebrity impersonation, I replaced them with a $9.99 pair bought at Duane Reade. Durable plastic lenses shielding my eyes, I started to make my way to Jimmy’s Corner.
My cellphone pegged the temperature at a skin-searing 97 degrees, which conspired with the 70 percent humidity to make the city feel like an oven crammed inside a greenhouse buried inside a sauna. My body immediately started leaking sweat, making me look as if I’d been on the losing end of a water-balloon fight.