The "Short" Way to Handle an Awkward Question

Wow. I must admit that I've never been a huge fan of Martin Short's frenetic style of comedy, but he has won me over and then some with the amazingly gracious way he handled an innocently intended--though horribly awkward--question from Kathie Lee Gifford on the fourth hour of the Today show this week.

Asked about how long he and his wife, Nancy, have been married, Short barely skipped a beat, not letting on (for the sake of not embarassing Kathie Lee) that his wife died in 2010.

"How many years now, for you guys?," Gifford asks, to which the comedian responds: "We, uh, married thirty-six years." His deft avoidance of either the past tense "were married" or the obviously incorrect "have been married" was both brilliant and kind. The fact that he's still carries a torch for his wife made the second question an easier one to answer "But you're still, like, in love!" prodded Kathie Lee. His heartfelt response to that one: "Madly in love. Madly in love."

Most of us have been in situations where we've unintentionally asked something that turned out to be uncomfortable or out of line. (Though I gather not in front of an audience of millions.) So I empathize with Kathie Lee once she learned of her mistake. But my hat's off to Short for being the consummate professional (and gentleman) and not pointing out the slip-up.

After the jump, here are some life lessons for anyone caught in this type of situation...

For the one asked the question...

•Providing this was truly an innocent error, it's important to remember that no harm was intended. And, most likely, no lasting harm will be done.

•If you choose to correct, do so gently--not sternly.

•If possible, correct out of earshot of others, so as not to embarass the questioner.

•Your act of graciousness WILL be remembered. It will undoubtedly be reciprocated, too. By being so calm and understanding, you have just become the questioner's new favorite friend.

For the one who asked the question...

•Don't beat yourself up over this. It happens to the best of us.

•Once your error has been pointed out, offer a profuse apology. But do not dwell on it...the more you bring it up, the worse it gets.

•Make sure to use caution next time. If you're at all unsure (for example, that classic "I didn't know you were pregnant!" addressed to the friend who is not), hold your tongue.

•You'll be feeling awful in the immediate aftermath of this incident, but if handled well, the whole episode can serve to strenghten a friendship.

Thank you, Martin Short, for showing us the way.