Ed Helms reached a level of celebrity few ever experience, thanks to the huge success of The Hangover. It remains one of the most popular R-rated comedies ever — even though its sequel did a bit better at the box office.
The franchise taught Helms, who had already achieved some fame thanks to The Daily Show and The Office, how it can feel to be not just inside but helping lead one of the biggest movie franchises ever. He recently reflected on the experience in a recently released episode of the podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.
Conan O’Brien Touches Base with Ed Helms
“To be at the epicenter of something as big as The Hangover … when that hits, did that affect you in any way?” said O’Brien — who knows a thing or two about being in the middle of epicenters of public attention. “Obviously it was a great thing for your career … you’re such a solid-seeming person … you do seem like a person who would not be buffeted by the winds of attention and fame.”
“It was a tornado of fame, a lot of buffeting,” Helms admitted. “It was very overwhelming. But I also feel very lucky on that as well, ‘cause … my public persona had risen gradually. I was on basic cable [with] The Daily Show, we had what [Stephen] Colbert liked to call ‘toy fame.’ You can still walk around and do everything, you don’t get recognized too often, but occasionally you do, and someone at the airport who works at Einstein [Bros.] Bagels will say, ‘This one’s on the house.’ That’s toy fame.”
Preparing for the Coming Storm of Success
Helms described “toy fame” as the kind of lavishing a celebrity gets when they walk into an airport and get a freebie at Einstein Bros. Bagels from a clerk who recognizes them.
Helms explained that he ratcheted up his mainstream exposure gradually, next with The Office on NBC.
“That’s network television,” he explained. “[My character] Andy [Bernard] had weird catchphrases, which of course ups the ante with public recognition.”
That level of attention earned him lots of attention at the airport at, as Helms suggests, baggage claim. He developed a new skill set on how to deal with that level of public recognition.
Helms said he lucked out with the release of The Hangover, even though it was so big because he was at the same level popularity-wise as his co-stars Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis.
“So we were going through it together,” he said. “If it weren’t for those guys, I don’t know if I would have stayed sane. But we all had each other to … commiserate and measure ourselves. … And I think we kept each other from drifting too far and being too unprofessional. It wasn’t a spoken thing. It wasn’t like we held each other accountable … but if somebody … got too big for their britches, you could feel it on the set, and everyone would sort of … course correct.”
The Hangover Hits Hard
Despite — or perhaps because of — all the hindsight he has on the project, Helms sees ways he would behave differently now if he were to traverse similar circumstances.
“I really was reeling for a long time, in the aftermath of The Hangover. I was spinning out and panicking over these things like, ‘What kind of a career do you want? … There’s a pretty killer drama coming your way.’ I definitely felt a lot of anxiety and identity turmoil. … One of the craziest things about a massive jump into fame … is the total loss of control of your environment. So, when you are a famous person, you just can’t stand at baggage claim and approach it as normal.”
“Accept the fluid nature of these situations and that the expectations are never as high as you think they are, and just roll with it,” Helms said. “That’s an approach to life … ‘be the river.’”