I consider myself an honest person, except for when I’m in one of three situations:
1. Riding in a taxi, 2. Getting a haircut, and 3. Hanging out with a group of friends who’ve watched a show or movie that I haven’t.
Fibbing in the first two situations is safe because I’m able to retain a degree of anonymity. The chances of my getting the same cabby twice are next to none and my salon visitation patterns are ever-changing as I’ve yet to find an establishment that doesn’t violently shampoo, overcharge, or leave me looking like Jerry O’Connell in Stand by Me. So, what’s the big deal? Why not become someone else for a couple of minutes or, even, a half hour? It’s a little pathological, yes, but it’s fun!
Everything is different when I find myself in the third scenario. No spontaneous character creation will protect me here. There is no anonymity. Just me. And either I’ve seen the show or movie the group is discussing and will be included in the conversation, or I haven’t and I won’t. I won’t. I won’t. I’ll squirm in my seat and check my phone and see that no one is trying to reach me and then I’ll start to laugh at jokes that are from the show everyone is talking about but could be funny on their own too. Then I’ll get up and get a glass of orange juice from the kitchen. The group will still be in the living room laughing and someone will yell to me to “get [him] a beer” and will ask me why I’m drinking orange juice right before we go out. I’ll say “There’s vodka in it”. There won’t be and I’ll start to feel so excluded that I’ll contemplate staying in and watching the cache of Bravo programming I’ve been slowly, secretly amassing on my DVR. Well, I refuse that course. I refuse to accept that there’s no other way because there is. Just check out these six simple tips!
1. The “Yeah, but remember him in…”: Identify the most famous actor in the thing everyone is quoting and start to talk about his performance in something you have seen. (Never admit to not having seen the work being discussed.) Just make your contribution seem like an extension of the conversation, a deeper probe into a time and place when [famous person] was at his “rawest.” It’s always best to pick a role from the very beginning of the actor’s career so it seems like you’re a cultural maven with an eye for new talent. Even if no one remembers the show/movie you’re talking about, they won’t admit it and you’ll only seem “plugged in.”
2. The I hope no one remembers this part was in the preview: In some cases, you might be able to inconspicuously steer people’s focus toward a scene or joke from the trailer or episode teaser you did manage to catch. This can backfire if you’re among especially critical friends (“Nice preview quote, man.”) or if they’ve noticed your penchant for sampling from these audiovisual cliff notes (“That was clearly in the preview, Luke. Do you ever see anything we see? Give me back that necklace I gave you.”)
3. The New York Times reference: Mention something you “read in the New York Times” about how the script was “over-written” and/or “formulaic”. Be sure to mention A.O. Scott’s name at least once and let everyone know that you “can see where he’s coming from” but aren’t “totally decided” and that you’ll “have to see it a second time to make up your mind.” Adding something in about having been “really exhausted” when you saw it will explain why you can’t recollect one concrete thing about the film other than the “obsequious, overly-indulgent narrative” you keep referring to.
4. The raised eyebrows, furious head knod while repeating in a different intonation the last comment made: You may be surprised by how many people you can fool with this one. As long as you agree with what’s just been said, you’ll soar right under the radar. For example: “The whole imitating an elephant thing while stealing a handbag isn’t even that funny.”
5. The unrelated topic change: Relying on this option will expose you as a philistine, but you’ll get everyone’s attention, probably, if you speak loud enough. Try: “How did New York Representative Chris Lee have so much time to work out? I guess I just thought being a congressman was more demanding. But, now that I really think about it, they probably have gyms in the Capitol building, or at least in the surrounding area. He probably could’ve squeezed in twenty minutes on the elliptical and still had time to spare for dumbbell work. Like, in between votes or something. What do you guys think?”
6. The fake phone call: This is an absolute last resort — only for those instances when options 1-5 aren’t shoring up anything and you can’t stand the thought of mindlessly pressing X on a powered off Playstation 3 controller while everyone around you shares in a stimulating cultural exchange. If you find yourself in this spot, take your phone out of your pocket, wrinkle your brow in consternation as you pretend to respond to a text, and then look annoyed when the fake person you were pretending to text decides to call. Stand up, “answer,” and walk out of the room while saying things like: “Well, when are you planning on getting there?” or “I’m here but leaving soon. I’ll just call you when I’m walking out.” You won’t be part of the conversation but you’ll appear important and that’s really the greatest gift of all.
Luke Kelly-Clyne is a writer, etc. living in New York City.