When The Hangover came out in 2009, its main trio were already well-known. It just made instantly made them much, much more famous. Bradley Cooper had been knocking about for years. Zach Galifianakis was a big time cult comic. As for Ed Helms, he’d already been a Daily Show correspondent and part of the ensemble of the American The Office. Still, the latter, at least initially, didn’t adjust so well to going from famous to mega-famous.
“It was a tornado of fame and a lot of buffeting,” Helms recently revealed on the podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend. “It was very overwhelming. But I also — I feel very lucky on that as well because, I had — my public persona had risen gradually and we had, like, when I was on basic cable on The Daily Show, we had what [Stephen] Colbert liked to call ‘toy fame.’”
What does Colbert mean by “toy fame”? It’s the kind of notoriety in which you can still go out and be a regular person. Helms had experienced something a bit more than that when he left the Comedy Central show for NBC. “I was on The Office for a couple of years before The Hangover. And that was another ratchet up cause that’s network television,” Helms explained. It didn’t help that his character, Andy Bernard, had some catch-phrases, “which of course ups the ante with public recognition.”
But The Hangover “was a whole new level,” he said. “I really was reeling a lot of the time, like in the aftermath of The Hangover, just kind of like get, like how I was handling my — I was getting scripts for all these different kinds of projects. ‘Like what do I do? I dunno,’” Helms recalled. “I was kind of spinning out and panicking about different things. Like, ‘Well, what kind of a career do you want?’
“I definitely felt a lot of anxiety and like identity kind of — just turmoil,” Helms said. “And I will say one of the — one of the craziest things about a — about a like massive jump into fame like that is — and this is what I think people who have never dealt with that or been close to it, just can’t understand is the just total loss of control of your environment.”
How did he get through it? With a little help from some friends who were going through the same thing, namely Cooper and Galafianakis.
“If it wasn’t for those guys, I don’t think I would’ve stayed sane,” Helms said, “but we all had each other to kind of be like, you know, I don’t know, just to commiserate and measure ourselves… and I think we kept each other from drifting too far. And being too unprofessional.”
You can listen to Helms’ full Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend episode here.