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October 9, 2015

TV 101: How Not to Apologize

by Jay Black, posted Jun 9th 2010 3:20PM
Tiger, what were you thinking with this awful commercial?I know a few things about apologzing.

I've been married almost six years, so I've spent pretty much every day between July 25, 2004 and yesterday apologizing for something. I used to think it was my actions that caused my wife such grief, but I've learned in recent years that the main problem she has with me is my continued existence on this plane of reality. We're gonna work though it -- we've called in a philosopher, a metaphysician, and a voodoo priestess -- but in the meantime, the state of our marriage has given me some insight into the art of a good apology.

Here's what I've discovered: celebrities who go on TV to apologize don't know what the hell they're doing.

We all know the pattern: a celebrity screws up, America becomes outraged, the celebrity in question goes on Larry King to explain he has a sex addiction. Like King himself, it's a ritual as old as time.

And yet, celebrities still manage to screw it up. From Tiger Woods to Jesse James to Isaiah Washington to Michael Richards to Don Imus, celebrities get their big chance to make it right with the American people and invariably strike out.

So what are they doing wrong? Well, this is where my marital problems become a benefit! You see, celebrities, you're not apologizing to the American people, you're apologizing to the American women, and you have to tailor your apology appropriately.

It's true. The only American men Tiger Woods upset were sports writers. Men don't care about meaningless things like morality or character; we focus on important things like whether you can hit a little white ball farther than other people can.

It's women that hold grudges, so it's women that you're apologizing to.

With that in mind, here are a few things celebrities need to avoid the next time they screw up.

1. "If I gave anyone offense..."

We've all done this. But on the other hand, we're all not world famous.There's no better way to piss off my wife than to lead with this sentence. You might as well say, "Listen, I really didn't do anything wrong, but if your tiny brain requires me to mindlessly repeat a few apology-like words in order for us to get past this, then here you go."

Here's a few tips that you might have given people offense:

a) USA Today has a pie chart showing the number of people you've offended with your actions,

b) Jay Leno has said something unfunny about you,

c) At this very moment, you're on TV giving a prepared statement addressing the fact that you have given people offense.

If any of those things are true, you don't need to lead with that statement, just assume you have offended people and get on with the apology.

2. "(Insert addiction here)"

I'm not going to quibble with the science behind the different "addictions" Americans have claimed -- gambling or sex or furries or whatever -- but whatever the substance of these diseases in the medical community, the only thing people hear when you say "addiction" is "excuse."

Addictions are a way to shuffle off personal responsibility for your actions. "Hey, America, listen, I know it seems like I'm a scumbag who cheated on the most beloved actress in the country with a girl who has a Nazi face tattoo, but really what was happening was that I have a disease! In actuality, you should feel sorry for me."

The only person who can get away with the addiction excuse is Robert Downey Jr. and that's because he's Iron Man. Everybody else needs to shut up.

3. I have a statement here...

Let's just say that your wife finds out that you spent the majority of your savings on an L-Slot Rocket-Firing Boba Fett figure (hey, don't judge). She screams at you for being a horrible husband and father and also for being a ridiculous nerd. Quite rightly, she storms out of the house, but not before firing Boba Fett's rocket right at you in the hopes that the missile lodges in your throat.

You give her a few hours and then do the manly thing: you have your best friend send her a text explaining that you're sorry!

Wait, what?

That's what a prepared statement from a spokesman feels like. Apologies need to happen quickly and they need to be in person -- the only thing releasing a statement accomplishes is to make you look like a wimp.

Let's end with a few examples of TV apologies that get it right.

I don't care how much you hate the blown call, this was a nice moment!Last week, Jim Joyce spent a few hours as the greatest monster in American sports for blowing a call that would have given Tigers' pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game. Immediately, the press latched onto the long list of embarrassments that Detroit has had to suffer, including the Lions, Kwame Kilpatrick, and the city of Detroit itself.

But then Jim Joyce made a surprise move: he came out on national TV within hours of the end of the game, took responsibility for his actions, admitted he screwed up, and then offered a sincere and heartfelt apology.

The result: America nodded once, said "don't let it happen again" and moved on.

During a discussion of the incident with Erin Burnett a few days later, CNBC's Eric Haines replied to one of her ideas with the following: "See, this is why women shouldn't be in charge of sports".

Dumb, but obviously a joke. When he was called out on the statement, he refused to apologize, saying that it was only a joke. He went on to say that he would be happy to arm wrestle Burnett to settle the issue.

Another dumb joke, but also the end of the discussion.

You might argue that a bigger deal wasn't made of the exchange because, after following CNBC's advice in the mid-2000s, most Americans are now too poor to afford basic cable, so they simply didn't see it. I disagree. Howard Stern, Adam Carolla, and other polarizing personalities have proven that America is far more forgiving to someone who has the guts not to apologize rather than issue an obviously forced and half-hearted one.

What both of those scenarios have in common is integrity. If you feel you screwed up, say so quickly and decisively. If you feel you haven't screwed up, do the same. But the worst thing you can do is apologize just because you think that's what you're supposed to do.

UPDATE: Jay Black released the following statement through his representatives shortly after this article went live. It has come to my attention that some of my words may have caused offense to feminists, golfers, Nazi-face-tattoo-enthusiasts, residents of Detroit, and people who are against ironic addenda to blog posts. If I have given offense to anyone, I am truly sorry. I hope you will all understand that this post was due in large part to my unhealthy addiction to Ken Jeong.

(Jay Black is a writer and comedian who really hopes you like this article. To find out more about Jay to or catch one of his live shows, check out www.jayblackcomedy.net).

[Follow @jayblackcomedy on Twitter]

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You really couldn't think of a more original joke than my-wife-gets-mad-at-me-all-the-time? And you really had to apology to feminists along with the groups you actually mentioned in your article in your "update." Seriously dude. Wasted potential.

June 09 2010 at 10:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Claire's comment
Jay Black


June 10 2010 at 2:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Nothing about Helen Thomas' apology? I figured she could just get away with "Hey, I'm frickin' 89 years old! Let's see YOU make sense when you're my age!"

June 09 2010 at 4:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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