Tuesday, December 15, 2015


I met Larry David once.  And he was nothing like the guy on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

“Is this guy for real?”

“Leave him alone.  He is just being himself.”

“You mean stupid?”

“Sometimes.  But in a goofy, appealing kind of a way.”

If I may butt in here – although not before thanking “Blue Italics Person” for standing up for me; that was very nice what you said – I have be honest with you.  

Although I toiled numerous years “behind the curtain”, I am still surprised when people are different from the way they present themselves in the media. 

I am not talking about actors who, say, play mass murderers – I don’t expect like, actor Robert Blake to kill somebody in real life just because he played either Dick or Perry in In Cold Blood – oh, wait, I think maybe he might have killed somebody in real life, so that may not be the best example.  But you get my drift here.  If Bela Lugosi were still alive, I would not be surprised if I saw him in the street without fangs.

The confusion arises – for me at least, even though I am an acknowledged professional – when the person appears onstage as themselves.  Like with Larry David playing Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Despite the expectation of “This guy should know better”, I inevitably surrender to the illusion. 

To me, it’s not Larry David portraying “Larry David.”  It’s Larry David appearing on TV as Larry David.  Do you see the distinction I made with the quotation marks? 

I believe it is really him.

And yet, for example, I am aware from biographies that, although he played an inveterate skinflint on television, comedian Jack Benny was munificently generous in actual life.  (There are indications that that, at least in part, was the reason Jack Benny was munificently generous in actual life – to prove to the public that “I am not really ‘that guy’.”) 

Maybe this is wrong – I do not want to mischaracterize her – but I’ve been told that comedian Amy Schumer is not really a slut.  And I mean “slut” with no gender judgment whatsoever.  Simply relating an accumulated fact.

“Slut”, it would appear, is simply (part of) Amy Schumer’s onstage persona, similar to Phil Silvers wearing horn-rimmed glasses frames with no lenses in them, in an effort to individuate his comedic uniqueness. 

The only difference is one's  stratagem ventures below the belt, while the other's remains snugly above the nose.

Performers have always assumed onstage personas – Phyllis Diller’s fright wig and “flattering” attire.  A sad one I recently read about – Bert Williams, the brilliant African-American comedian entertaining in “blackface.”  And speaking of “blackface”, a blacked-up Al Jolson bounding beamingly onstage singing “Swanee”, when in real life, he was the son of a cantor with a disreputable personality.

Though I am aware of this differentiation, I nevertheless still believe in the persona.  Larry David, when I met him, was a friendly, non-provocative vegetarian.  To be honest, I was a little disappointed.

Of course, it’s not just performers who adopt public personas.  (Or more correctly, personae.)  How about politicians?  They’re in debates, they make speeches, they do commercials.  Politicians are ubiquitously on display.  But do we really know who they actually are? 

Al Gore famously paid big money to consultants who told him he should wear earth tones and that under no circumstances should he talk about the environment, the one issue that made him genuinely come alive.  Money well spent, I would say… if you want to lose an election. 

I would ask, “Do you think Gore got his money back?”  But there are limits even to my naiveté. 

Although not many.

Hillary Clinton?  Which one?  There’s like a whole box of them.  Not talking about policy – although even there, you are never sure if politicians are saying it because they mean it or if they are saying it to carry Ohio.  I am talking exclusively about persona.

2008 “Candidate Hillary” was, “I am as tough as a man!”  2016?  “Look at me!  I’m a grandmother!”

And just in case you think I am picking on Hillary, I might have considered voting for “Candidate John McCain” of 2000?  “Candidate John McCain” of 2008?  Fugetaboudit!

And it’s the same guy!

How many people can you actually be?  In reality, is there not just one “you”?  And even if you only present one to the public, is the “you” you presented necessarily the genuine article?

What I have just crossed over to is,

It may not only be entertainers and aspirants for public office that have promoted personae.

It may actually be all of us.

Is it possible that none of us is actually who we really are but are instead simply the image of ourselves we want other people to believe and then we forget we created it and start believing it ourselves?

If that’s true, where exactly does that leave us?

“Hello.  I’m me.”

“Are you?”

“Not really.”

“Neither am I.”

A picture comes to mind of two “persona hand puppets” engaging in conversation, the actual people, unrevealed, merely throwing their voices and manipulating the “persona puppets’” mouths.

I think I’m all right.

But the real me may turn out to be a terrible judge of character.

Who likes to believe that he isn’t.

Any thoughts about this? 

Not from your personas. 

From the actual “yous.”

1 comment:

JED said...

In my experience, there are a lot of personas flying around a person. There's the persona we put on for our friends and the one we put on for our parents. There's the one we put on at work and the one we put on for that special someone we want to get to know better. But how can you? Do you trust that their own meeting-someone-special persona is only temporary and you'll eventually see the real person some time? How long should it take?

I had a friend who idolized a professional basketball player. He never met the guy but watched all his games, listened to all his interviews and read everything he could about him. Then, at a party, someone said they met that basketball player personally and he was a jerk. Aside from the fact that it wasn't nice to burst my friend's bubble, how did the bubble-buster think they knew what the basketball player was really like? After a five minute conversation they've seen into his soul? Maybe he was having a bad day.

Maybe I need more therapy but I'm 64 years old and I'm still not sure who I am. I like to think I'm a nice guy but one slip up at a party and someone will be reporting I'm a jerk.