What Can You Tell Us About Your Days with the Unabomber?

Academy Award-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix may have given the most incredible performance of his career on David Letterman the other night. Alternately, it may also have been the saddest, most pathetic talk-show appearance since, well, since ever. Though some observers believe that the near-incoherence of his interview on the Late Show was drug-related, others think it was all an act, a stunt to help promote a documentary in which he’s currently starring and taping. Either way, Phoenix’s terse, non-sequitur responses to Letterman’s softball questions (one of which Dave followed up with the hardball lob contained in the title of this post) remind me of some dinner-gala guests whose company I’ve had the great misfortune to “enjoy” for two or three hours.

Has this ever happened to you? You show up for a charity soirée, dressed to the nines, ready to rise to the occasion of being a fun and engaging guest. In turn, you hope and expect to meet similarly minded individuals. After the cocktail hour is done, you find your designated table and seek out the placecard with your name. Uh-oh. You shudder when you realize that you’re going to be stuck sitting next to someone who looks just like Phoenix did on Letterman. Your worst suspicions are confirmed when—despite your valiant attempts to generate casual chit-chat—your tablemate proves himself to be one step removed from a Neanderthal. Starting conversation is like pulling teeth and he does not utter as much as a sentence without being prodded. You look longingly across the table and spy other new friends laughing and exchanging contact information. On the other side of you—where your only source of refuge might have been—is an empty chair, a detestable no-show. You’re as good as stuck. After all, there are only so many times you can excuse yourself to go the bathroom. Instead, you find yourself longing for the drawn-out, requisite video presentation/award ceremony/speechathon that will shortly unfold on stage.

As a reader of my blog, you’re most likely not one of these catatonic types. But if you happen to have stumbled across this page in error, do us all a favor: The next time you decide to attend a charity event, either take a Dale Carnegie Course pronto or simply write out your check and then just stay home.

As for Phoenix, who capped his coup d’ non-grace by taking a wad of gum from his mouth and sticking it under Letterman’s desk, only time will tell whether he will rise from the ashes like the legendary phoenix or see his otherwise promising career simply crash and burn.

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