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Dinner With Bill Murray: A Party Reporter’s Guide

A veteran party reporter is rarely struck with abject terror, but just such a moment occurred last night when we got an e-mail regarding a Tribeca Film Festival dinner for the independent movie Get Low. "You're sitting at Bill Murray's table," it read. We have met Murray — who in Get Low plays a thirties funeral director planning a “live funeral party” for an aging hermit (Robert Duvall) — so we know that he is possibly the most charming and capriciously moody person on earth. So as a public service to those of you who may someday find yourself in the exhilarating-slash-nerve-racking position of having a meal with Bill Murray, here is a guide so that you may avoid our mistakes.

• Murray, who is unfailingly polite, will remember that he has met you and where it happened. You will spend the dinner wondering if he also remembers that he seemed to not like you.

• If you are a lady, he will stand up when you take your seat and remain standing until you pull your chair in. He will do this for every female at his table. You soon will start making an effort to sit down and stand up faster.

• He will commit to memory the name of everyone at the table, making introductions each time a new person sits down.

• He will make friends with the waiters and give them nicknames. “Handsome” will now be your server.

• He will intentionally mishear offhand comments you make about the food and repeat them endlessly. You say, “seafood,” he hears “zebra.” You call the roasted carrots “exciting”; he hears “Poseidon.” As in, “Zebra! I never get to eat zebra! Want some zebra?” or “Have some Poseidon. Some Poseidon. Some Poseidon.”

• And while you are on the subject of South by Southwest, you may mention that you saw this video of Murray tending bar at a random Austin establishment. Murray will at first enjoy talking about this — about how he went to see GZA perform and brought him and RZA to the bar, where the bartenders told Murray they’d make more tips if he helped them serve drinks. He’ll tell you that he forgot that, GZA, as a major stoner, has no tolerance for alcohol, and that the rapper got so wasted after Murray gave him a shot and a half of tequila that GZA didn’t make it to his second performance at midnight. You might become emboldened to ask another direct question, something silly along the lines of, “I heard that you only served tequila, even when people asked for whiskey!” And without answering, Murray will stand up and excuse himself, never to return. The table will grow silent and you will nervously titter to your tablemate (Karen Duffy — Duff from MTV), that you’re worried you just scared Murray off by being too nosy, and she will laugh and say, “Yeah, you probably did.”

• He will take charge of the ordering and the serving of family-style dishes. If you are at Wall & Water, and Handsome brings cranberry chutney instead of the black-currant chutney Murray thinks is just “divine” with pecorino and soppressata, Murray will pull Handsome over, hold the chutneys side by side, and say: “Take a look, Handsome, what’s wrong with this?” If Handsome places the new supply of meats and cheeses with the cheese facing Murray, he will kindly ask Handsome to turn the plate around. “It’s the ladies who really want this cheese, and I just don’t want their nails coming for me when they grab it.”

• He will tell his most animated stories when you have turned away to talk to other people in an effort to make him believe you are not hanging on his every word. You may hear the word “tequila” coming over and over from Murray's direction as he mimes the pouring of a bottle into his mouth, and the tale gets louder and, apparently, more hilarious. When you finally turn back, the story over, and when you ask your laughing dinner companions what you missed, they will say, “Oh, just Bill talking about his early 20s.”

• You may, however, hear some stories about Bill Murray from movie producers also seated at the table. How, for example, he’s superstitious and won’t sign contracts until after a movie is finished, meaning the producers have to secure millions of dollars of financing and insurance on Murray’s word. (Which is apparently unshakable once he’s given it.)

• He might mention the Roebling Tea Room, where his son is a cook, and “they’re very proud of their kale.” He might then discuss how he likes to walk the nearby streets in Williamsburg late at night, and how he shot a movie on the south side when it was just Hasids and hookers, and the Hasids would stand outside late at night telling dirty jokes. (“They weren’t on the street reading the Word, I can tell you that.”)

• If and when the conversation switches to South by Southwest, you may hear the tale of how some random guy joined the Get Low entourage by pretending to be friends with Sissy Spacek’s daughter, Schuyler, and only began to arouse suspicion after several hours of not talking to Schuyler and not knowing anything about Schuyler and insisting on riding in Murray’s car instead of with Schuyler. You may also hear about how Murray engineered an escape plan that involved their entire entourage jumping from the car into rickshaws, and turned around to find the random guy hanging off the back of the rickshaw. And you may hear how the next day, Murray and company faked a letter to Schuyler from said stalker, sticking it under her hotel door and leaving for a day on the town, only to come back and find a worried Spacek and Schuyler consulting with hotel security and/or the cops. You will probably not be surprised to discover that Murray was the member of the group fully committed to continuing the prank for the rest of the festival. If you crack a joke at this point, he will stare at you and say, “Don’t joke; this is serious!”

• And while you are on the subject of South by Southwest, you may mention that you saw this video of Murray tending bar at a random Austin establishment. Murray will at first enjoy talking about this — about how he went to see GZA perform and brought him and RZA to the bar, where the bartenders told Murray they’d make more tips if he helped them serve drinks. He’ll tell you that he forgot that, GZA, as a major stoner, has no tolerance for alcohol, and that the rapper got so wasted after Murray gave him a shot and a half of tequila that GZA didn’t make it to his second performance at midnight. You might become emboldened to ask another direct question, something silly along the lines of, “I heard that you only served tequila, even when people asked for whiskey!” And without answering, Murray will stand up and excuse himself, never to return. The table will grow silent and you will nervously titter to your tablemate (Karen Duffy — Duff from MTV), that you’re worried you just scared Murray off by being too nosy, and she will laugh and say, “Yeah, you probably did.”

Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images