As far as celebrities go, come- dians are least likely to be taken seriously by their viewers. They have a certain light-heartedness and easy-going nature that seems to be present both in the comedy genre as a whole and in those who take part in it.
It was a desire for this light- heartedness, purportedly brought on by a traumatic experience during September 11, that caused comedian Steve Rannazzisi, most famous for his role on The FX show “The League,” to begin his career in comedy.
Rannazzisi has claimed for years, most publicly on the Marc Maron podcast, that the reason he moved to Los Angeles and began acting was inspired by one of the worst days in the lives of many Americans, Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was there and then the first tower got hit and we were like jostled all over the place,” Rannazzisi said in an interview in 2009.
He claimed he was working for Merrill Lynch on the 54th floor of the south tower and was in the office when the north tower was hit. He told the interviewer that he fled to the street, narrowly escaping the impact of the second tower.
He said that this “near-death” experience caused him to realize that life was too precious to waste any opportunities, and as a result, he quit his day job and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting and comedy.
Recently, Rannazzisi has admitted that he was not in the World Trade Center on September 11 and that his story was completely fabricated. How has the world reacted to this? Well, it goes both ways.
On one hand, there are thousands of people who think this lie was disgusting and have been calling for Rannazzisi’s new Comedy Central show, “Breaking Dad” to be cancelled. However, Comedy Central chose to go through with airing the one-hour long special, despite general public opinion.
This incident is in many respects similar to the Brian Williams scandal from earlier this year, in which Williams claimed that he was riding a helicopter that was forced to land after being hit by an RPG in Iraq. However, people aboard the helicopter denied Williams’ claims.
So, what’s the difference between these two cases? Well, not much on the surface. However, Williams’ particular brand of entertainment – news media –requires a certain amount of trust, and it’s hard to trust someone who has been proven to lie about his experi- ences in life.
But does that mean that what Rannazzisi did is more acceptable? No. Different, but not bet- ter. When you share something as personal as being in the World Trade Center on 9/11, not only does that story involve you, but it involves the thousands of Americans directly impacted by the tragedy. You have a responsibility to the people around you, and when you falsely claim that you were a direct victim of the attacks, especially for personal gain, you cross a line.
The issue of celebrity accountability is not new. While Rannazzisi may face anger from his audience, his show will still air.
Williams’ scandal is a differ- ent case as he cannot do his job when people don’t trust him. When Rannazzisi does his job, however, the audience doesn’t need to trust him. Celebrities can get away with things that most people certainly could not, and that’s just a fact of life.
Aidan Clements ’19 (clemen4@ stolaf.edu) is from St. Paul, Minn. His major is undecided.