Obviously the Standards for Fame are Rising

by Kieran Healy on January 30, 2007

Sometimes there’s no parochialism like Manhattan parochialism:

bq. This season “House” has reached as many as 17.5 million viewers a week. … Things might never have worked out had a largely unknown British actor named Hugh Laurie not sent in an audition tape at just the right time.

I’d be quite happy to be as largely unknown (and well-off) as the pre-House Hugh Laurie, but maybe that’s just me. Still, this example doesn’t quite match Alan Bennett’s recent experience after the premiere of _The History Boys_ on Broadway, when a reporter asked him whether he thought the success of the play would kick-start his career.



engels 01.30.07 at 11:29 am

A fairly recent classic was the White House’s official response to unwelcome comments by the Mayor of London.

Asked about Mr Livingstone’s comments, White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, said: “First of all, I’ve never heard of the fellow. Second, I’m not going to dignify it with a response.”

BBC: Livingstone attacks President Bush


Ajax 01.30.07 at 12:22 pm

I am reminded of a story of Hugh Grant’s mother at a dinner party in London, asked, by another guest she did not know, whether she had any children. She replied: “Yes, I have two sons. One is a famous Hollywood actor and the other works in a merchant bank.”

The other guest then responded with: “Oh, which bank does he work for?”


Jacob Christensen 01.30.07 at 12:47 pm

This is plagiarism, but as there is no conceivable way, I can top Brad deLongs anguished cries:

It’s really unfair. In a just world, the journamalistic New York Times would be sending me checks for reading it. Why oh why can’t we have New York Times writers who do their homework? Or don’t write about things when they haven’t done their homework?

No, wait a minute, it’s like this – people living outside of Manhattan have no business reading the New York Times.

Factual information: Jeeves and Wooster was screened in Denmark. In case anybody from the NYT reads this: Laurie was the guy playing the butler. And the Wodehouse is the third door on the left.


norbizness 01.30.07 at 1:26 pm

“Hey! He that ‘woof woof’ guy from Blackadder, ain’t he? That sumbitch cracks me up!”


Delicious Pundit 01.30.07 at 1:28 pm

I know lots of (non-comedy pro) people who’ve never heard of his comedy work. What’s more, I believe the people at the network didn’t even know he was English until after they’d cast him — they’d seen his audition off a tape. (The network people, mind you, not the show’s creators. People who write TV = good, people who run networks = bad.)

To me, however, he will always be the Prince Regent, and “House” makes me sad because I’m afraid he will never go back to comedy.


Donal Coffey 01.30.07 at 1:30 pm

Laurie was actually Bertie Wooster, the upper-class gentleman. The butler was played by Stephen Fry.


john m. 01.30.07 at 1:34 pm

#3 Jacob – I hope that’s irony, as Hugh Laurie played Bertie Wooster, with Stephen Fry as Jeeves, his manservant. That said, if the original line was changed to read “largely unknown (in America) British actor” it would be reasonably accurate…fame is a surprisingly localised affair – ever heard of the Kelly Family? Frankly, you’re lucky if not but 15 million albums and 2 million odd videos is pretty good going, eh?


Walt 01.30.07 at 1:41 pm

I never understood why people were bothered about parochialism when it comes to celebrities, sports stars, etc. If I found out that no one in Japan had any idea who Opray Winfrey was, that would be a happy day.


Henry 01.30.07 at 1:43 pm

ever heard of the Kelly Family?

unfortunately, “yes”:http://www.henryfarrell.net/movabletype/archives/000092.html.

My uncle Moore was introduced to a bloke at a party in the mid-1960s; after an animated conversation he asked his new friend what his name was; he hadn’t heard when they were introduced. “Mick Jagger” came the response. “And what do you do for a living Mr. Jagger?” sez Moore, in all innocence, to be cursed out by the man and have a drink thrown in his face. It tells you something about my uncle that he’s proud of that story.


nick s 01.30.07 at 1:47 pm

Ah, but parochialism is a two-sided social benefit: it makes it possible for one group of people to say, dismissively, ‘never heard of the fellow’, while another group can engage in successive oneupmanship with respect to the minutiae of that fellow’s career.


David Margolies 01.30.07 at 2:16 pm

Virginia Woolf, sitting next to Mr. Asquith at a dinner party, asked him if he was interested in politics. Is that parochial? I am not sure.


Russell Arben Fox 01.30.07 at 2:46 pm

“What’s more, I believe the people at the network didn’t even know he was English until after they’d cast him—they’d seen his audition off a tape.”

The same thing has happened with Tim Roth, and he’s had fun with it; the legend is that he has flummoxed several casting agents over the years by pretending to be an American when they were certain he was English, and then speaking with his normal English accent with agents convinced he was an American.


Michael E. Sullivan 01.30.07 at 2:53 pm

re: 9:

It tells you more about Jagger if it’s true. I would think a sane and not hugely narcissist celebrity of that magnitude would be somewhere between amused and pleased to run into someone who did not recognize them or their name.


tps12 01.30.07 at 3:11 pm

Celebrideez nuts.


Tracy W 01.30.07 at 3:27 pm

I love the Black Adder series and would watch it religiously as a kid, but I didn’t realise until two days ago that the Hugh Laurie playing House was the same Hugh Laurie who played the Prince Regent.

The two characters are completely different. Now I’m impressed at Hugh Laurie’s range.


Morat20 01.30.07 at 3:28 pm

It tells you more about Jagger if it’s true. I would think a sane and not hugely narcissist celebrity of that magnitude would be somewhere between amused and pleased to run into someone who did not recognize them or their name.

I have — on two seperate occasions — been seated near someone famous enough to be recognizeable. (Well, in the case of the writer — his name would have been instantly recognized). I did them both the biggest favor I could think of — ignored them and let them enjoy their temporary anonymity.

Although frankly ballcap and sunglasses isn’t the bet disguise. Best one I’ve ever seen was Sting as Pirate. He apparently wanted to enjoy the opening act for one of his shows, and wandered out into the audience to watch. Big frilly shirt, huge wig, black leather pants, pirate boots. No eye patch, sadly. Everyone was like “Who the hell does that guy think he is?”

I only took a second look at him because there was no disguising the bodyguard.


Another Duncan 01.30.07 at 4:02 pm

Going off on the English-actors-who-can-pass-for-American tangent, I was very surprised to learn that three of the core cast of “The Wire” are English.


Richard 01.30.07 at 4:31 pm

“largely unknown (in America) British actor”

…so his turn as the flummoxed dad in Stuart Little and Stuart Little II has managed to quietly slip under the radar. Interesting. Ingenious.

Regarding nick s’s one-upmanship, I personally found Fry and Laurie’s “Kicking Ass” song unforgettable (linked in the side pane of the video he cites).

Regarding NY parochialism, I used to commute there every day from New Jersey. My lasting feeling was that I was traveling every day between American isolationism and Manhattan isolationism. My co-workers professed not to be able to see the bit of land across the Hudson at all.


astrongmaybe 01.30.07 at 4:47 pm

touche Jacob @3…

Doesn’t matter what cultural phenomenon they cover, the NYT will somehow tincture it with their trademark combination of prissyness, self-righteousness and obviousness.

Henry’s uncle is officially admitted to the Pantheon. What a guy!


Mary 01.30.07 at 4:49 pm

I do apologise for talking about Neal Stephenson when replying to a Kieran Healy post, but he too has a crossing the worlds story:

…she asked me “And where do you teach?” just as naturally as one Slashdotter would ask another “And which distro do you use?”

I was taken aback. “I don’t teach anywhere,” I said.

Her turn to be taken aback. “Then what do you do?”

“I’m…a writer,” I said. Which admittedly was a stupid thing to say, since she already knew that.

“Yes, but what do you do?”

I couldn’t think of how to answer the question—I’d already answered it!

“You can’t make a living out of being a writer, so how do you make money?” she tried.

“From…being a writer,” I stammered.

[from Slashdot, but hey, he is actually a reasonable interviewee].

I also know someone who claims to have been at a Silicon Valley party with Larry Page and pretended not to recognise him. Page was apparently very nice about it (dot com billionaires are much less exciting than rock stars) but at the same time, utterly utterly shocked.


Maynard Handley 01.30.07 at 4:56 pm

All Jeeves and Wooster; no Bit of Fry and Laurie? WTF???


Matt 01.30.07 at 5:53 pm

I’m still more impressed by Jerry Fodor, in his LRB review of the Tim Rice and Elton John version of Aida, to have had no idea who Rice or John were before seeing the version. (Perhaps he’d not have gone if he did.) I thought that surely this could not be true, given that Fodor was fairly young in the late 60’s and 70’s but he swore to me that it was true and he really had no idea at all who they were.


a very public sociologist 01.30.07 at 6:31 pm

*Wonders if celebrities ever visit the timber*


Andrew Lloyd Webber (Sir) 01.30.07 at 7:17 pm

Who’s Jerry Fodor?


dsquared 01.30.07 at 7:46 pm

I would think a sane and not hugely narcissist celebrity

If you ever meet one, Michael, shoot him and have him stuffed – I’ll pay good money for one as a conversation piece.


kb 01.30.07 at 7:47 pm

richard, I hope you’re aware that what your co-workers were doing had a lot more to do with the great New York sacrament of making fun of Jersey than it did with actual parochialism.

Regarding Hugh Laurie’s turn as the father in Stewart Little slipping under the radar, all I can say is thank god.

I was at Bennett’s Q&A session at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts around the time of the History Boys premiere. The extent to which the audience treated him like a performing seal there for their amusement was really rather astonishing. The prize has to go to the woman who asked a ramblingly incoherent and patronizing question attempting to link a throwaway comment of Bennett’s about medieval armor to the war in Iraq.

And Kieran, let’s be fair. That’s not Manhattan parochialism — that’s Los Angeles parochialism. Not that parts of my adopted city don’t spend most of their lives plumbing the depths of self-absorption, but that article is a case of Hollywood’s obsession with itself, not New York’s.*

*. Anyone want to see if they can scrounge up a movie-industry trade rag being similarly patronizing about, say, Amitabh Bachchan?† It must be out there.
†. Yes, I only know who he is thanks to Colbert, but I’ll take my trivia wherever I can get it.


engels 01.30.07 at 8:08 pm

Or consider the memorable first line of Jed Rubenfeld’s pH-0.1 reply to Michael Stokes Paulsen in the Yale Law Journal:

I do not know Michael Stokes Paulsen or his writings…


novakant 01.30.07 at 8:29 pm

never heard of Hugh Laurie either, but vaguely remember watching Blackadder years ago, go figure, wish I’d never heard of Livingstone or Galloway for that matter

yeah, and it’s amazing how inquisitive people can get about the amount and sources of your income


a 01.31.07 at 1:19 am

Other than for a amusing anecdote, is there a point? Are New Yorkers supposed to know everyone who is well known in England? Why not well known in France? China? Indonesia?


Andrew 01.31.07 at 1:52 am

Blackadder was mildly popular in America, and the NYT wouldn’t have made a similar story about Watanabe Ken (for example) because they wouldn’t have just assumed they would have heard of him if he were famous.

Also, Oprah is shown here in Japan, and is mildly famous.


bad Jim 01.31.07 at 5:18 am

D², I encountered Jerry Garcia once or twice, and he actually did seem “a sane and not hugely narcissist celebrity”. The few billionaires I’ve met also came across as down-to-earth (apart from the time-shared private jet) but none of them were young, either.


dearieme 01.31.07 at 6:37 am

I saw Hugh Laurie get out of a sports car once. He is very tall and seemed to have two young sons with him. Rivetting, eh?


Jacob Christensen 01.31.07 at 7:00 am

If Wikiquote is right, then P.G. Wodehouse actually has formulated the – if not best, then funniest – reaction:

It just showed once again that half the world doesn’t know how the other three quarters live.

And yes, I knew who played Jeeves in the TV series. But do the NYT writers? ;-)


Rory 01.31.07 at 10:47 am

Surely this requires a link to Hugh Laurie’s definitive take on America.


tequila 01.31.07 at 2:30 pm

How many here know who Andy Lau is?

1.5 billion Chinese people laugh at you.

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