My job is often to get celebrities to talk to me, not to tell them what they shouldn’t say.
But were I to ever be in the position of telling a celebrity how to conduct himself or herself in public, there is one six-word phrase I would tell them to never, ever, ever, ever say. In fact, I would advise them to train themselves to have an involuntary gag reflex if they start to say it, so as not to permanently relegate themselves to a subset of Hollywood infamy.
And because our beloved Commonwealth will be crawling with celebs next week as the Kentucky Derby approaches, I will dispense this one piece of advice:
Never let these words, or any variation on them, slip from your lips: “Do you know who I am?”
It will never turn out well.
Even if you are Rihanna, who was about to be kicked out of a London club last summer until she invoked the phrase and ended up getting to stay and enjoy free drinks the rest of the evening, the initial positive outcome will sour in this TMZ world, where every slip of the tongue goes viral. It is just difficult, if not impossible, to utter that self-aggrandizing sentiment without coming across as a conceited twit.
The latest celebrity to learn this lesson is America’s sweetheart, Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, who reportedly asked a police officer, “Do you know my name?” — a variation of “Do you know who I am?” — while being arrested last weekend in Atlanta, where she is filming a movie. Witherspoon and her husband, agent James Toth, were pulled over April 19 on suspicion of drunken driving. Toth was at the wheel, but Witherspoon reportedly became increasingly agitated as Toth was put through a sobriety test and arrested.
According to the arrest report, Witherspoon told the officer, “You’re about to find out who I am” and, “You are going to be on national news,” as she was being taken in for disorderly conduct.
To Witherspoon’s credit, she has since apologized and said she was clearly in the wrong, and she has agreed to a pre-trial program to keep the arrest off her record.
The thing is, her admittedly drunk behavior is now permanently on the public, if not official, record. She will have some work to do convincing fans that the real Reese is not the one who tried to invoke her privileged status when things got tense.
Yes, celebrities at all levels make millions of dollars and achieve lauded status because people pay to see and hear their work.
But fans never want to know that you believe the hype, that you think you are as great as they say you are. And it really irritates people when you pull that on police officers, who make a lot less money than movie stars while doing a job that carries the risk of people sometimes shooting at them. In most cases, anyone who says, “Do you know who I am?” is saying it to someone whose life is less lucrative and more difficult than theirs.
And really, we’re much more charmed when you presume we don’t know who you are. Case in point: At the first Barnstable-Brown Derby Eve Gala I covered, a gentleman came up to me, extended his hand and said, “Robert Duvall” as if I didn’t recognize the esteemed Oscar-winning actor.
In an Internet where most viral video is humiliating, we were charmed last summer with a clip of a young musician on the subway talking to an older woman who clearly didn’t know he was megamogul Jay-Z, and he didn’t presume she did. The equity in the situation was obvious when it was revealed that the woman, artist Ellen Grossman, is famous in her own right.
So yes, Kentucky doesn’t rub right up next to New York or L.A., but we do know who most stars worth knowing are. But if you are here, don’t presume that we do, particularly if you’re being arrested.