Saturday, February 14, 2004

Vanitas Vanitatum, Omnia Vanitas

"Laughter is mad, and reckless mirth-/ What does she in this weary earth?/ Should Wealth, or Fame, our Life employ,/ Death comes, our labour to destroy," writes Ann Bronte in Vanitas Vanitatum, Omnia Vanitas. And the same could be said of inveterate namedropper and status seeker extraordinare James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio (okay, *skittish* so maybe I know a little bit about this topic, my little pommies, as that little -- makes broad quotation gestures with his fingers -- "interview with myself" thingie wasn't the best idea I've ever come up with, *blushes*).

Joanna and Alex of the very cool put me in my place over my vanity, as did several others via email. I'm properly chastened. If I'm gonna throw down the snark, I should have a tough enough skin to take a bit of a bitchslapping now and then, as well. What was it Matt Dillon said in Drugstore Cowboy about the therapeutic qualities of getting your ass kicked? So, allow me to redeem my name on the subject of self promotion.

So, let's get off me and back on to James Lipton. (apologies, that was a nasty little piece of imagery I just laid on you; fucking disgusting, actually) Of Lipton, who we now presently mount with vigor (sorry, couldn't resist), let us say that one Robert Wilonski of the Dallas Observer once sagely wrote, "James Lipton is so obsequious, it's astonishing the man does not conduct his interviews from his subjects' anal cavities (ed note: this emerging theme is not my fault). The host of Bravo's hysterical, oddly riveting Inside the Actors Studio never misses an opportunity to suck up to the famous and talented who deign to accept his invitation."

And yet the New York Times doesn't appear to think so, as in tommorrow's Sunday Times Magazine Edward Levine interviews him in the "DOMAINS" section, where Levine's dough is earned the hard way.

Gargantuan was the name dropping going on at that little tea party. Since I was called on my bull, let me be the bull rattling the china at that pleasant Times Magazine interview; allow me to bring some Minoan chaos to Europa's ordered walk in the meadow. And so, on the principle of "takes one to know one" we -- the shamed author of the infamous "interview with myself" -- will grade Our Man Lipton, on how good he is at self promotion. Edward Levine's Lipton interview begins thusly:

"Workout: I do Pilates. I actually trained with Joseph Pilates himself and his wife, Clara. This was in the mid-1960's, and it was a thing for dancers then. When Joe died, a group of us bought his gym for his widow. I still do Pilates downstairs, all the mat work. I don't need an instructor. I could teach it myself. Not that I look thin these days. I sit too much and eat too much."

(diva-like whisper) He doesn't need an instructor; he could teach it himself. (with this, The Corsair presently resumes his very sorry indeed "snarky-growly" Lou Grant impression with light touch of Ugandan accent about the "o's"). The Corsair gives Lipton an A regarding his "gym" grade on the self-promoting art of talking publicly about the fact that -- yes -- you do indeed work out. The only fault contained therein is that he didn't talk publicly about working out in front of a mirror, or, better yet, a window facing out towards the public on, say, the Lower East Side or the Meatpacking District or even out in Hells Kitchen, where the biker gangs don't take kindly to that sort of thing. Now, that would have been de trop, but not too trop, I think. The grade could have fallen to an A-Minus had he simply said he used Pilates, which is, quite frankly, a little 2003, but Lipton recounted a clever little anecdode of good times shared with Joseph Pilates, or "Joe", as Lipton intones gravely, hinting at mortality, making us all seem just a little bit more uncool in that world that Lipton, and Lipton alone, so excellently occupies. Riding on that "Joementum," buying the gym is a bit much, almost too put on, but it worked -- mainly because he can buy gyms for grieving widows. Very Conrad Bain as Mr. Drummond in Diffr'nt Strokes.

Levine continues in the interview:

"Favorite household chore: I do very few things in the world well, but one of the things I do well is frame and hang pictures. I am most fastidious about my pictures. I go around straightening them all day."

The Corsair grades Lipton a C on that one. A solid C. The modesty rings false, bro, and I should know. This is the same thing I went and done did with that interview of myself. This is bigger than the both of us, Jamesy (slaps around a sloppily constructed hand made effigy of James Lipton): It's not about the mundane you ... it's about the people you know (grabs effigy and points out well beyond the fourth wall of comedy, and towards "the stars" with a "nurtured in the wilderness" look) and all that powerful juju that you spout out on tv that involve them ... do it for the children, James. That you straighten pictures is not as interesting as who is in those pictures, James. Who, James, (shakes a voodoo effigy of Lipton, looks confused) who ...?!

The interview goes onwards:

"Pre-show ritual: We shoot on Monday nights. I will already have done two weeks' research. Then Friday morning through Monday afternoon I am incommunicado. My wife and I will dine and talk, but those four days are sacrosanct. I am in my study preparing my questions. I print out my blue cards at around 4 on Monday afternoon."

Erm, a B. He communicated "incommunicado." Which ... we like, I guess. Somewhat.


"Post-show ritual: Often the guest and I have dinner afterward. I don't eat before the show. We go to Elaine's, and we eat and talk until 1 or 2 in the morning. We did it with Harrison Ford and Mike Myers; Charlize Theron and her mother; and John Travolta."

Fuck, an A-Plus grand slam, Lipsky. We can forgive the unfortunate reference to John Travolta and Mike Myers because through that thicket he leads us, gently, by the hand, to a tasty slice o' A-Listers, like: Charlize Theron and Harrison Ford jammed into the same thought with Elaine's. Shmears.


"Favorite outfit: My wife has to put me together. Sartorially, I am a disaster. I have no taste. I am from Michigan. I am a Midwesterner with Midwestern taste."

Hmmm. We will admit that the red-state thing should have fucked with his GPA. But he was bold about it. That Midwest comment so falsely articulated radiated just the right amount of authenticity. It reminded me of my Grandfather's homebrewed bannana beer back in Uganda. James Lipton, seems to be shouting out to the indifferent, Sartrian universe, that he is not afraid of his roots. Lipton is at one with his inner Americana. Although James is actually so Chardonnay -sipping-and-Brie-munching University-professor-blue-state-type that it hurts, he's not afraid to admit he was born in the heartland, most likely munching a cheeseburger and clutching at a gun as he emerged triumphantly from the afterbirth, crawling towards Tinseltown with stars in his eyes. And although he has risen to the heights that only John Travolta's jet can presume to attain, James is still "down" with the common man. And mentioning the old ball-and-chain, the long-suffering Mrs. Lipton added depth to his little performance of self. I'll give an controversial A to this "revelation", paced very well in the story.


"Luxury he can't live without: Our home in Bridgehampton, without question. It is my oasis, my salvation."

Oh, A, buddy boy. An A answer if there ever was one, Mr. Oasis (smiles admiringly); Mr. Salvation (taps effigy on the back). Bridgehampton is not the Hamptons, and that's good, bacause the Hamptons is filled with Soprano's-type-brokers who usually snack on strippers, but come Friday after Memorial Day, try, in vain, to munch on that late twentysomething Manolo Blahnik-type weekend gold digger (fake waves) that is way -- oh, so very way -- out of their league. The Hamptons is so over. But the artistic-literary Bridgehampton is forever. It is the new P-Town.


"Car: A Mercedes S.U.V. I love that car. I'm not a P.C. person. I sit there royally in my S.U.V. and never think about the gas consumption."

(BZZzzzz) Ahhh *all disappointed*, sorry about that, James, but we have a wondeful consolation prize for you backstage: a B-Plus at best. A Mercedes SUV would have been an A-Plus answer back in 2002, but the war, the WMDs ... uhhh, no. A Toyota Prius was the answer we were looking for, James. So sorry.

"Oscar-night plan: I'm going to the Vanity Fair party in L.A. I went last year. If you are not nominated, and obviously I am not, the worst thing in the world to have to sit through is an awards ceremony. So I watched it at the party.

An A. It would have been an A-Plus but for the fact that James forgot to mention Graydon Carter. In fact, I think it is actually trademarked as the "GraydonCarterOscarParty (TM)" -- or something along those lines. Still, this was a respectable showing for a self-proclaimed Midwesterner.

"Biggest shock of his life: I wrote the book and lyrics for a musical called 'Sherry,' which opened and closed in 1967. In the aftermath, the orchestrations disappeared, but they turned up in the Library of Congress in 2000. On Feb. 24, Angel Records is bringing out an album of the show with Nathan Lane, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Tommy Tune and Mike Myers."

Nathan Lane and Bernadette Peters are so Theater royalty. A Solid A-Plus. Tommy Tune may have been a bit much, though, but I'm not buying that line of argument.

Anyhoo, Lipton goes on, even doing the Proust questionaire, saying his favorite word is honor. Hmmm. Not bloody likely, I'm afraid, try: FAME, or any derivative with similar connotation .... but check the interview out anyway here.

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