I’ve been in show business my entire life. I started as an obnoxious young child actor. I’ve been around actors my whole life. For the most part, they’re wonderful, sweet people. Some are very, very talented. Most are well meaning.
The truth is though: acting isn’t rocket science. And most actors, myself very much included, are not, as the saying goes, rocket scientists.
Rocket scientists, on the other hand, are very, very smart. Ever talk to one? I have. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. He was all “aeroelasticity” this and “avionics” that, and I just stood there for twenty minutes nodding my head as if I knew what he was talking about. Which I didn’t because, as I’ve stated above, I’m an actor. Which means I’m no rocket scientist.
Now, take every single interview with every single actor you have ever heard on radio, saw on television, or read in the learned journals of People or Us or Tiger Beat. How many times in your life have you ever walked away saying (for example): “Wow, I knew Tony Danza was a delightful and engaging television personality, but I had no idea he was so smart! Clearly, much smarter than I could ever hope to be! Who’s the boss? You, super smart Tony Danza, that’s who!”
No offense to Tony Danza (who I’ve interviewed, and he is a very nice man, and no dummy either), but my guess would be that hasn’t happened too many times in your life.
Maybe that’s why when people in show business say outrageous, stupid things, other people in show business don’t get as outraged as people who aren’t in show business do. Because people in show business know, deep down in our hearts, we’re no rocket scientists. When the rest of the country is outraged because of something Bill Maher said last night on TV, we sharp show business types are just rolling our eyes thinking: didn’t he use that very same dumb crack last week at Carolines as a pick up line with the cocktail waitress?
Yes, words matter. When Ahmadinejad calls Israel a “racist nation,” that matters. It’s an outrage. Because Ahmadinejad is plotting to build a nuclear bomb which he will detonate over Israel. When some actress calls conservatives “racist” it’s not outrageous, it’s just dumb. Unless she has a nuclear bomb.
When Janet Napolitano says returning American veterans are a potential threat to the United States, that’s an outrage. Because Janet Napolitano is the Secretary for Homeland Defense. When some comedian calls the Commander in Chief of the US Armed Forces a “dictator” while our soldiers are bogged down in a sandstorm two weeks into Operation Iraqi Freedom, it’s not an outrage – it’s just lame. (The comedian shall remain nameless because since that crack he’s made several USO tours of the war zone to entertain our troops, thus proving himself to be a great guy, despite his politics.)
When Barack Obama runs our country down overseas, it’s dangerous. Because he’s the President of the United States. When Sean Penn does it, it’s irritating, but not dangerous. Because he’s Jeff Spicoli.
Actors and comedians say stupid, uninformed, outrageous things all the time. Michael Richards went nuts in a comedy club (because he was trying to stretch 5 minutes of material into a 45 minute spot). Don Imus did what Don Imus did (because he’s an old man who was trying to be hip – always a risky endeavor). Did any of that really matter, other than to Michael Richards and Don Imus’s careers?
I did talk radio for a couple of years, my lovely Bride, the author Susan Konig, and I did a husband and wife morning show on a Catholic radio channel (I’m a Jew, it’s a long story, my life is fascinating). We did three hours a day, every day, live. We had all kinds of wonderful comedians and actors on who cracked wise, talked about their families, talked about their faith and prayer (if they wanted to), talked a little politics, and talked show business. We had great Jewish comedians like David Brenner, David Steinberg, Jackie Mason. We had great goyim comedians like Bobby Collins, Colin Quinn, Lisa Lampanelli and (ahem) Tom Shillue. We even had a Scientologist comedian (God help him!). This was a show where we (literally) had Cardinals scrutinizing our every on air move. In the almost two years we were on the air we never had a problem of any kind with any of our guests. They were all fascinating, funny, and respectful.
Every morning we would get a press release from a Catholic watchdog organization. The press release would usually be about the latest outrageous wisecrack made last night by (round up the usual suspects): Bill Maher, Madonna, some comic or other on some late night show, etc. The press release would always have several exclamation points. When you have three hours to kill every day on the radio, it’s the easiest thing in the world to kill it with this kind of “low hanging fruit.” Did you hear the latest outrageous thing said by Bill Maher? Are you offended? Or just outraged? Give us a call!
Then the radio host can sit back, put his feet up on the console, and let the phone screener do all the heavy lifting.
Guess what? Once everyone’s outrage is exhausted over Bill Maher’s latest, it’s time to crank up the outrage again over Madonna’s latest. Or Sean Penn’s. Or Janeanne Garofalo’s. You can kill a lot of airtime this way!
We never did. It would have been too easy. Besides, why further promote the actors who were annoying and insulting? Why not use the same energy to promote the actors and comedians who were funny and entertaining and respectful of others beliefs? That’s what we did on our radio show, and I’ll tell you – we had a great time, and so did our listeners.
Playing the perpetual outrage game with actors and comedians is a waste of everyone’s energies. No, there aren’t great numbers of Americans sitting on the fence anxiously waiting for actors to tell them how to think. No one in Iowa or Kansas or Michigan is really being persuaded by the loony tunes ramblings of their favorite actors on late night talk shows. Bill Maher’s documentary bombed. No one on Earth listens to Air America. MSNBC is a tremendous ratings failure.
There is one actor who, out of all the actors I ever heard talk politics, always impressed me. He had a firm grasp on the issues, a great sense of history, a strong intellectual grounding in his ideas, and a tremendous capacity to communicate. At the most crucial moment of his political career, in front of a vast audience, live, with everything at stake he was confronted with an arrogant, irritating liberal who insulted him and told lies about him. The actor would have been well within his rights to leap across the stage and throttle the irritant. Instead, the actor smiled, nodded, and just said “There you go again.”
And at that moment he was elected President of the United States.