Friday March 3, 2006

This I Believe #8

...that there is a single, perfect sentence you can say upon being introduced to a famous actor or actress of the form, "Oh, I loved you in X."  This sentence varies from celebrity to celebrity; the trick is choosing the most seemingly complimentary, but actually insulting, X.  Finding the perfect X is a subtle problem, but most fall into two categories: embarrassing jobs and misidentifications.

An embarrassing job should be your first choice.  You want to seem to be praising the celeb for his or her work on a movie or show he or she would probably prefer everyone forgot about.  That way, although you're ridiculing the celeb to his or her face, the fact that you claim to love the movie or show in question makes it seem like you're the one embarrassing yourself, resulting in a maximally uncomfortable situation for the celebrity—that's a good time and your duty as an American.  (Caveat: If you get beat up by a bodyguard, I can only suggest that you picked the wrong X.)

A few easy examples:

Note the two subspecies above.  In one (Slater, Clooney, Hanks) it's the pure awfulness of the movie that makes the compliment insulting.  In the other (Irons, Dench) it's a combination of the awfulness of the movie and the fact that the celeb was selling out his or her reputation by making it—that's insult and injury.

Now, some celebrities' careers have followed a trajectory that makes a sufficiently embarrassing job hard to find.  Tom Cruise (that's "Mr. Thomas Jackson Cruise" to you) is an example.  You might try, "I loved you in Risky Business!", thinking he'd be embarrassed by the underwear scene, but it wouldn't work—he got paid, got famous, and got to make out with Rebecca De Mornay for being in that movie.  With somebody like Cruise, your best bet is misidentification—complimenting him on a movie he wasn't in, but instead starred somebody similar to him but, if possible, lamer.  This is celebrities' innermost fear: the possibility that people don't know who they are because they're all interchangable.

Some examples of misidentification:

It's must be noted in closing that some celebrities are probably immune to this particular mind trick.  I doubt, for example, that Arnold Schwarzenegger feels embarrassed by any of his movies (even the bad ones), and he's not going to buy it if you pretend to confuse him with Lou Ferrigno.  Similarly, if you say to Jack Nicholson, "Oh, I loved The Trip!", he'll probably just grin at you and keep walking—that's because Jack has been up to his eyeballs in every possible reward of fame for four decades running and so doesn't give a rat's ass what you think of him.  Such celebrities present an interesting challenge and require further refinements of the technique presented here.

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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Oh, but it should be quite simple to produce such a sentence for the Schwarzenegger.

For example: "I loved you in Demolition Man".

Posted by: gabr at Mar 3, 2006 3:47:47 AM

Tom Cruise has made a good movie? He may be famous, but I generally try to avoid movies that he is in.

Posted by: EFL Geek at Mar 3, 2006 4:32:21 AM

LOL! There's another way to do this: pretend you have no idea who the celebrity is, and when she introduces herself and gives a list of her career highlights, pretend you haven't heard of any of those movies/shows, either. I saw this happen to Cybil Shepherd on an airplane recently, only the college student doing the interrogation wasn't pretending. Talk about awkward.

Posted by: Bridget at Mar 3, 2006 7:11:39 AM

I had never heard of Cybil Shepherd until I read the comments here. doesn't mention any movie titles I recognize.

... and if asked a week from now, I would probably not recognize the name, nor any of the titles.


Posted by: Johan at Mar 3, 2006 9:49:41 AM

Like we are going to meet any celebrity any time soon!
Still, if I met one, I would ask them some linguistic questions they wouldn't know how to answer. Or I would inquire: "I am sure you speak Italian (or any other language), after all you played in that movie... what was it's name?..."
But that's just being mean...

Posted by: irina at Mar 3, 2006 1:36:40 PM

Wasn't there a scene like this in Being John Malkovich? I forget how it went though ...

Posted by: Steve at Mar 4, 2006 5:14:05 PM

I don't remember a scene from Being John Malkovich, but I haven't seen it since it first came out. Malkovich is a tough subject, come to think of it—there's nothing spectacularly embarrassing (that I know of) on his resume, and he's pretty hard to mistake for somebody else. Hmm...

I do remember a scene in an episode of The Larry Sanders Show where Larry does this to Jeff Goldblum (by accident, as I recall). From memory:

Sanders: I loved you in Buckaroo Banzai.
Goldblum: Ah...Perfect Tommy...Penny Priddy...where are they now?

Goldblum's comment struck me as funny at the time because Penny Priddy was played by actual famous person Ellen Barkin.

Posted by: The Tensor at Mar 4, 2006 8:13:06 PM

I probably shouldn't mention this, but I'm being vague and such. Every once in a while, Apple Store's (particularly in South Florida, a bit north of Miami.. ) get some famous people. I know that Will Smith, Vin Diesel, Michael Moore, and RuPaul have all been to this particular store. I'm sure that Apple Stores in other "hot" locations get this as well. So if you want to try out your lines, hang around an Apple Store.

Posted by: Darryl McAdams at Mar 4, 2006 11:39:52 PM

" Malkovich is a tough subject, come to think of it—there's nothing spectacularly embarrassing (that I know of) on his resume, and he's pretty hard to mistake for somebody else. Hmm..."

Um, Mary Reilly? Con Air?

Posted by: The Wife at Mar 5, 2006 6:41:19 PM

Oh, and I'd totally go for the Willem Dafoe misidentification. I got those two confused for years. Crispin Glover, too.

Posted by: The Wife at Mar 5, 2006 6:46:41 PM

Being John Malkovich has a few scenes like that. There's one scene where a cabby can't quite place him and say's "I loved you in that jewel thief movie" and Malkovich denies ever playing a jewel thief. But the cabby won't believe him and insists that he is the guy. Later a few characters talk about how great Malkovich was in the jewel thief movie. Also a man in a restaurant compliments Malkovich thusly:
"Wow! You're really, uh, great in that movie..."
John Malkovich: Oh?
Guy in Restaurant: ...where you play that retard.

Posted by: Vanya_6724 at Mar 7, 2006 8:33:27 AM

These days, the thing to say to Tom Cruise would probably be, "I loved you in that episode of South Park!"

Posted by: includedmiddle at Jul 19, 2006 11:22:20 AM