Hello, my name is Michael and I am a soundbite whore. I’m one of those talking heads you see on cable TV giving college-educated opinions about Winona Ryder‘s meltdown, Britney Spears‘s lost virginity, and the Hilton Sisters’ flair for tabletop dancing. I help grease the wheels of the entertainment-television industry, providing innumerable free quotes that allow them to fill endless hours of eternally repeatable, low-budget airtime. In exchange, I get to promote myself and my paper and become vaguely familiar to the millions who care about Donald Trump‘s comb-over or J.Lo‘s ass. The modest celebrity fallout from spewing these nonstop dicta is less amazing than amusing. People regularly chase me down the street to say stuff like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from VH1 All Access: Awesomely Bad Girls?” or, more likely, “I’ve seen you somewhere. Didn’t you once fix my clogged toilet or something?”
The joys and sorrows of being a windup nattering head in medium demand? Well, the live shows are the most fun to do because they’re blissfully immediate and, satisfyingly enough, every single word you say gets on. But with pre-tapings, you leave the outcome to editing and chance, so a 90-minute interview can result in just three chopped-up soundbites, airing aeons later. (It’s happened. Try to find me on MTV’s Celebrity Love Affairs.) Still, you have to act as if each taping is your star opportunity and sparkle like Kelly Ripa on crack. You must look directly at the interviewer, incorporate the question into the answer (“Sean Penn is belligerent because . . . “), and make your reply short and unbelievably pithy. (An involved story will be axed or shredded.) What’s more, don’t come in wearing something that strobes, and never let your hairline look shiny; leave the strobing and shining to your short, impeccably worded answers to questions like “Is the disco glitter ball an American icon?” and “Why Demi Moore now?”
For all the ego gratification they supply, the live shows have their own demands—in fact, you’re generally made to cartwheel through fiery hoops to do these people the favor of a free appearance. First, you’re routinely pre-interviewed by an assistant producer who grills you for 25 minutes for a segment on which you’ll probably get to say two things. This is their big moment—they’ve got you captive and are suddenly playing with themselves and fantasizing that they’re the hosts. But their even bigger moment comes when you call back later to confirm and they bouncily announce, “Sorry, we’re going with someone else. We’ll call you again.” Little regard is paid to your scheduling concerns; once you’re on their whore roster, they know they’ve got you by the balls. Typically, Bill O’Reilly‘s show recently wanted me to discuss the tawdry state of MTV (the levels of irony here are pretty enormous), then told me the segment was canceled, though I watched the show that night and found out it wasn’t—they’d just dumped me for an angrier guest. Worse, no fewer than three other gabfests this year booked me, then ended up murmuring, “Sorry, we’re using Gloria Allred instead.” Even a gag order can’t stop that woman from chatting up a lens.
If Gloria’s somehow tied up (literally) and her fellow pundits Alan Light and Emil Wilbekin are suddenly abducted, you might actually get on. If so, you should know that panels are the worst—you have to lift a rifle just to get a word in—especially when you’re debating right-wing nightmares. (Use humor; they’ll never know what hit them.) And whoever you’re on with, live shows have entirely different rules: Smile at the camera as you’re introduced, even if the topic is “Remembering the Titanic.” Have a first statement ready, no matter what the question is, so you don’t start off by going “Ummmm.” Use specifics (say “Kerry Kennedy Cuomo,” not “the wife”), don’t bob your head or flail your hands, and don’t pause for effect; on talk TV, silence equals death. Also—there’s more—never say “as I said before”; that’s unpardonably boring. And be sure to save your best zinger for last; people will remember you fondly. But most of all, just relax and be yourself, honey!
I was doing so well with this formula that Greta Van Susteren had me on seven times in a row last year, until the D.C. snipers and the war annoyingly eclipsed talk about Rosie O’Donnell and American Idol. (Stunningly, I never met Greta, though. Even when you’re in the same studio, they put you in a separate room where you chirpily talk to a blank screen. This gives a more international feel.) Since she dumped me, I’ve gone on other shows, any other shows, and blabbed about nudity in videos, Lisa Marie Presley‘s marriages, and Hollywood catfights. I even agreed to discuss the pros and cons of a 12-year-old model on MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, hosted by an arch-Republican. “But he won’t interrupt you,” a producer assured me. Well, he interrupted the very first thing I said—though he ended up being surprisingly inoffensive. Was I getting so hooked on cable exposure that anyone who gave me a chance to be glib for a mass audience was suddenly my best friend and fame dealer? (If you want to answer that, by the way, please do it succinctly and without strobing.)
There are limits, of course. I turned down a show called Love Chain:Tom Cruise—I just won’t go there. But I gladly did an E! True Hollywood Story about Anna Kournikova, barely knowing what sport she’s in; after some astute Web surfing, I was the world’s pithiest expert on . . . what was it, tennis? Whenever that one airs, I’ll be tangentially, disposably visible for one more lovely hour. People will notice me—as I said before.
Before I’m replaced here by Gloria Allred let me return to my job of columnist—you know, going out and getting other people’s soundbites. There was an opening-nightevent for Shakespeare in the Park’s big-shticked Henry V, which is so long that by the end, it’s Henry VI—though there are innovative flourishes and Liev Schreiber is superb. Anna Wintour had bolted by Act II, furthering the Wintour of our discontent. But at the after-party at Belvedere Castle, Alec Baldwin told me he loved the show, and he also loves that he’s off to do a Scorsese flick, The Aviator. But what happened to the movie of The Devil and Daniel Webster that Alec directed and starred in? “Federal prosecutors just indicted two of the investors for fraud,” he told me. “My name’s off the picture.” Don’t you hate when that happens?
Indictable for their bad habits, nasty nuns get their comeuppance in The Magdalene Sisters, which is especially fun when aping those old women-in-prison flicks, down to the loony-bin punishment, the hair shaving, and the confrontation with the warden, I mean Mother Superior. At a dinner for the potent film at the Plaza Athenee, Nora-Jane Noone—who yells at the head penguin, “Let go, you fucking twisted bitch!”—turned out to be a sweet young thing who’d just tasted our country’s culture at its finest by visiting the Mall of America. But guest Marisa Tomei was still in shock from the movie, moaning, “I’m wrecked!” That was good—short, sweet, and very effective. But she strobed!