My heart was beating a thousand miles per hour, I could not keep my knees from shaking, I could have been caught at any moment, and none of that mattered because I was about to meet Stan Lee.
Yesterday Graduates of the UCLA Extension program, their families, and their friends, poured into the Royce Hall Center for the Performing Arts to hear some inspiring words from the legendary co founder of Marvel Comics,Stan Lee. But there was someone else in attendance with no association to any of the graduates or UCLA at all,rather just a big fan of Stan “The Man” Lee, me.
This all started off a week earlier when my girlfriend told me that Stan Lee had been announced as the commencement speaker. I am a huge lover of all things Marvel so the idea of seeing a speech from the creator of Spider Man, Iron Man, X-Men, The Avengers, and The Fantastic Four was a no brainer. I started to look up tickets (sold out), I tried to call in a few favors, I even considered standing outside and trying to buy some scalped tickets, but in the end I made the decision, “I’m sneaking in.”
All week I kept saying that I was going to go there and“look for weaknesses in the security” to try and find my way in. I’m pretty sure everyone thought this was just a joke; however, when the day came I went to the campus of a school I have never attended, found the building two and a half miles from where I parked, and began my mission.
To be completely honest, I was thinking that best case scenario I would get to watch Stan’s speech from the back of the 1800 seat auditorium somewhere in the shadows. But because I arrived at the building so many hours before the event nobody was asking any questions so I walked right inside.
For the first hour I walked around the building trying to find a good place to hide out or blend in. Finally I found an open door to the balcony level and bunkered down. From here I could see the crew setting up for the live broadcast and doing sound tests. I kept waiting for someone to turn a corner at any moment and kick me out.
Finally after a few slow hours someone opened a door and spotted me. They asked “Are you with the crew?” and in that moment I realized I had not come up with a back story so I blurted out “No, I’m with the press, I’m just early.” To which they responded, “Oh, well we can get you checked in downstairs.” Okay… Let’s get nuts.
I was escorted down the stairs and introduced to a few people wearing headsets. (I’m going to leave out their names) They told me to wait to the side for a few minutes as they had their hands full with nearly2,000 people trying to get into the building. This is where things started to get tricky.
I quickly realized that not only was this event sold out, everyone there was wearing a nice suit or dress and I was wearing jeans, a t shirt, and my long hair didn’t help much either. I watched a while as dozens of people including parents who had come all that way to see their children graduate were turned away at the door because they didn’t know tickets would sell out. One lady even asked me if I had an extra ticket she could buy off of me. “Well, not yet.” I thought.
I then saw a photographer walk over to one of the head set people and show some press credentials. I figured if I walked over too and stood close enough to that guy his credentials would be good enough for both of us. Turns out I was kind of right. After giving him his press pass and ticket they looked at me and asked which media outlet I was with and once again I had forgotten to come up with a back-story so I blurted out the first name to come to mind, “Nerdist”.
I was then given an awkward stare which kind of made me nervous until they said, “Oh, we didn’t hear back from you guys so we weren’t sure you were coming.” To which I responded, “So I’m the only one here from Nerdist?” (Perfect) They left me for a moment and when they returned I was given my VIP ticket, a press pass, and their personal business card in case I had any issues confirming in the future that I would be there.
They then escorted me with the rest of the press to our seats… in the fourth row.
I really couldn’t believe what was happening. I was about to see Stan Lee and watch him give a speech. I thought it doesn’t get any better than this, but it turns out, it does. I was seated right next to a reporter from the Los Angeles Daily News who’s photographer was equipped with two very nice cameras. It’s important for me to remind you that I had nothing with me but a cell phone. One of the headset people came over and asked the reporter if she wanted to sneak in a quick five-minute interview with Stan Lee before his speech. I asked her if I could watch from the back but instead they offered me,“Would you like to interview him?” Seriously, is this real life?
They walked us over to the green room and as they opened the door I could hear right away an unmistakable sound, the voice of Stan Lee. Moments later I was just feet away from him. First they sat down the LA Daily News and told me to wait just a moment. Security then approached me and asked me if I had any credentials and I really thought this was the end of the road. I told themI didn’t have any on me so they asked me what my name was. I told them my name and then I heard my favorite quote of the day. He looked over and said “LADaily News, you need to wrap it up, we’ve got to get Jud in with Stan for an interview.”
They moved two chairs together and sat me right down next toStan. All eyes in the room were now on the two of us. I was then told I had thirty seconds with him and that is when it hit me, I’m not a journalist, I wasn’t planning on being here, and I don’t have a single question prepared for this interview. But as a big fan of Marvel and Stan himself I searched my brain, pulled out my phone on video mode (with us both in the frame of course)and captured him saying his famous catch phrase, “Excelsior!”
Then with shaky legs and a quick paced heart I stood up,shook his hand and said “Thank you… for everything.”
Back in my seat while watching his speech one line stood out to me. He said “If you have an idea that is good, don’t let some idiot talk you out of it. You can only do your best work if you’re doing what you want to do and doing it the way you want it to be done.” And with those words I got up from my seat, walked quietly toward the exit, and then got the hell out of there before anyone finally realized that I was just a fanboy who hoodwinked his way into a one on one interview with the great Stan Lee.