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Celebrity cameos in tv and film come in a host of different varieties. The best ones are a wink and/or nod to the audience, but for the most part they are cloying attempts to pander and shift conversation away from what would otherwise be a lackluster scene.
This is why so many people have thoughts, opinions and #hottakes about Ed Sheeran’s appearance in Game of Thrones (BTW you should subscribe to Oysters, Clams and Cockles). I personally wasn’t too bothered by it, since I don’t encounter Mr. Sheeran all that frequently, and any time I do I just think he looks like this weirdo from parts unknown North Alabama that I’m friends with. But that doesn’t take away from the valid points made. Did his appearance serve any purpose? Nope. His existence in an otherwise pretty significant scene was deafening. He was just kind of there, which distracted from some Arya character development and exposition about the status and strength of the Lannister army.
So we’re in agreement that Ed Sheeran’s cameo was bad, let’s take a look at some good ones.
First, what is a cameo? Turns out that the word has its origins in lapidary and sculpting, which was news to me. But once we get down to the part about acting, it’s defined as a small theatrical role, usually limited to one scene. It’s for this reason I’m going to establish some parameters. A star playing themselves is not a cameo, that’s a guest appearance as they’re not playing a role. A star that has an actual supporting role in the film is then playing a character, no matter if their celebrity outweighs the role itself. Furthermore, a celebrity that is simply an extra shouldn’t really count either, since they’re basically just part of the scene. Think Richard Branson in Casino Royale or Sharon Stone and the T-1000 in Last Action Hero.
Let’s take cinematic masterpiece He Got Game for example. Walter McCarty, Travis Best and Rick Fox, though they were all well known NBA players at the time, are supporting actors in the film, and thus are not cameos. Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Dick Vitale, Lute Olson, Bill Walton, et al. play themselves, and therefore do not qualify as cameos either. However, Arthur Agee, William Gates and Ed “Booger” Smith all appear in the film, serving as nods to hoopheads who would recognize them. BAM cameos. Porn Star Chasey Lain also appears in a scene, so I guess we can add her too.
Below is a list of other cameos done right. I’m sure you’ll all skip the words I typed above and shout in the comments “BUT WHAT ABOUT BILL MURRAY IN ZOMBIELAND,” but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
1. Airheads – Lemmy
Airheads is a rarity in that it is a film that depends on and accurately depicts its setting (mid-90s Los Angeles) and yet has aged surprisingly well. There are a host of other famous folks in the film, from Chris Farley playing a cop to an actual performance by White Zombie, but the one true cameo comes in the scene where members of the crowd outside the radio station shout nerdy things they used to do in support of our hero, Brendan Frasier. The man who shouts “I was editor of the school magazine!” is none other than Mötorhead guitarist and all around badass Lemmy Kilmister. As a bonus, his appearance comes barely a minute after the line, “Trick question, dickhead, Lemmy IS God.”
2. Demolition Man – Dan Cortese
Demolition Man is one of the finest films ever made and I’ll fight anyone who says differently. As one of the most self-aware movies possible, there are several fourth-wall-breaking scenes, such as the reference to the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library. Jesse Ventura appears as a cryocon, but I believe that he is just playing a character. Jack Black is an extra, but at that time that was probably the best role he could get, so also not a cameo. The cameo comes when they dine out at Taco Bell, where none other than MTV personality Dan Cortese is a lounge singer, playing piano and singing the commercial jingle to Jolly Green Giant. The 90s were weird and anyone who views the decade with nostalgia does not accurately remember them.
3. The Chase – Anthony Kiedis and Flea
The Chase is about a highly publicized police chase down Los Angeles highways in 1994. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s because of the life-imitating-art highly publicized police chase involving OJ Simpson that happened just three months after the fictional film was released. In the movie, Charlie Sheen kidnaps Kristy Swanson and goes on the run. At one point in time, Anthony Kiedis and Flea attempt some vigilante justice in their monster truck. Does it make sense? No. Is it awesome? Fuck yes.
3a. Point Break – Anthony Kiedis
There is only one film named Point Break and it came out in 1991. I will not entertain alternative theories about a film by the same name that came out in 2015. It does not exist. Anyway, Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis shows up as a local surfer who needs to teach Keanu Reeves a lesson about how some waves are for locals only. If you have any doubts about how important this scene is, look no further than my twitter bio.
4. Hook – Glenn Close
You read that right. The bearded pirate who goes into the Boo Box is actually Glenn Close.
5. Necessary Roughness – The whole convict football team
There aren’t a ton of reasons to remember Necessary Roughness outside of how uncoordinated Kathy Ireland actually is. But the preseason scrimmage against the Texas State Penitentiary football team stands out. The prison bus pulls up, and out walk Evander Holyfield, Earl Campbell, Herschel Walker, Randy White, Too Tall Jones, Tony Dorsett, Dick Butkus and Jim Kelly, among others. Honorable mention: Terrell Owens in Any Given Sunday.
6. The Walking Dead – Hines Ward and Scott Ian
Here’s an example of a TV show doing cameos right. Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and Pittsburgh Steeler Cheap Shot Specialist-cum-Dancing With The Stars Champion Hines Ward were both fans of the show. Presumably they’ve since stopped watching because it’s insufferable at this point. They both had the opportunity to don makeup and join the horde. They weren’t TOO made up though, and since they’re both very recognizable, seeing them get shot in the face was a quick nod to the fans.
7. Game of Thrones – Literally Every Other Cameo Besides Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran isn’t the first musician to be a part of Game of Thrones. Members of Snow Patrol, Coldplay, Of Monsters and Men, Sigur Ros and Mastodon have all come and gone without needing full face close-ups. Sigur Ros probably got the most screen time, but they served more to show Joffrey’s dickishness (he throws some food at them, presumably for singing in a gibberish language) than anything else. The fact that they’ve done cameos right in the past really makes Sheeran’s scene a head-scratcher.
Anyway, that’s my list of favorite cameos. I’m sure you’ll all let me know which ones I missed in the comments. Enjoy!.
Image via YouTube / HBO