What do you see here?

Time for a pop quiz on your people-reading skills. I'm involving Robert Downey Jr again, because
  1. He's funny
  2. He's pretty
  3. I could reproduce the 2006 Natick telephone directory, and if I got RDJ into it somehow, that entry would still get hits.
He's doing press for a movie called Tropic Thunder, which I have not seen, largely because I have reached a point of quasi-catatonia where I am so insomniac and cranky that I cannot be arsed to go out into the living room and pull my roommate's copy out of the DVD shelf. I gather it's one of those things where the humor comes from watching people do incredibly stupid things while taking themselves far too seriously.

First: What do you think the guest thinks of the host? Why?
Second: What do you think the host thinks of the guest? Why?
Third: What do you think the audience thinks of the interaction?

I found this particular clip notable because, honestly, it's the first one I've run across where RDJ blatantly just does. not. like. someone, and makes no bones about it. He gets along with almost everyone; almost everyone gets along with him in return. Chris Evans has apparently developed like the world's biggest dude-bro-crush on him after doing Avengers together, and you should hear the sheer glee with which the crew describes working with him on the Iron Man DVD extras. He certainly prefers doing interviews with bright people who will play Witty Banter Ping-Pong with him on camera -- appearances on Graham Norton's show go pretty swimmingly -- and he's usually much more tolerant of, say, some of the dimbulbs they send out to stick a mic in his face on the red carpet. People who are nice but slow on the uptake just get used as springboards for the snark, and he's usually generous enough to pretend they're genuinely in on the joke. I'm not sure I've ever seen him be this prickly at someone right to their face before.

I would like to take this opportunity to point out a glaring flaw in the whole people-reading technique I'm trying to teach, which is that I have absolutely no idea what happened before the video clip and likely no way to find out. I can tell that he thinks Craigy Ferg here is a useless git, but I have no idea why he thinks that, exactly. Some of the common guesses that might work for other celebrities aren't very likely here; judging from other stuff he's done, there are very few topics that are off-limits for an interview with RDJ, including a lot of things that most people would rather gnaw their own arm off than talk about in public, and both hostility and flirting from either sex usually just get a series of clever ripostes on-air. He's not particularly easy to rattle. Someone on the crew could have been stabbing kittens backstage, for all I know -- I only see the end result.

Ferguson, for his part, doesn't seem to be particularly aware that Downey is taking the piss out of him, intentionally and with some amount of malice -- or at least intolerance -- aforethought. I don't watch enough of his talk show to know whether being oblivious is a set schtick of his, but he's either playing at being, or genuinely is, unaware of the difference between RDJ being snarky and RDJ being stabby. This is definitely stabby. 

I am inclined to think that if it were a planned put-on, Downey would be a lot more obvious about checking the crowd so that the audience knew that they were supposed to be in on the joke. As it is, he's mostly sabotaging things by just letting jokes fall before he answers, which is a moderately-subtle suggestion that it took him a second to work out how the hell anyone thought that was supposed to be funny so that he could cough up a response. Even if you'd never seen either of them before, it would make the timing noticeably off, but RDJ is famous for having a smart-ass response for everything loaded and ready to go the nanosecond you have finished feeding him the setup, so it's extra blatant to anyone who's heard him before.

The audience doesn't quite know what to think, but in general they seem to be on Downey's side. Dunno if they like seeing the host get his comeuppance for some nebulous undefined insult, or if they just think the guest is hot. I also don't know how much effort the studio puts into getting people to cheer at the "right" times for this show, without which information I can't make much of an educated guess.

I don't know much about Craig Ferguson, other than he has a very popular talk show in the UK. This doesn't say much about his demeanor -- Conan O'Brian has a very popular talk show in the US, but so does Howard Stern. Anyone care to enlighten me?


  1. Have you watched the one from 2010, the Iron Man 2 tour? Any thoughts on how that relates to this one?

    Also, if you've seen Zoolander, you've pretty much seen Tropic Thunder.

    1. Finally got around to looking that one up. Wow, no, he still looks like he thinks Ferguson is a bit of a twat. RDJ is not particularly shy about hugging people, or lolling all over costars he's especially fond of, but he seriously does not want to touch Ferguson for the meet-and-greet, and he spends pretty much the entire interview trying to sit as far away from the man as possible.

      There's something about the "I know that guy," bit in the middle that gives me the idea that he might see Ferguson as still doing some of the more thoughtless/abrasive stuff that he did while he was busy being hosed 24/7, and doesn't like it. No proof of that, of course.

      I would guess that his first appearance was the first time he'd ever run across Craigy Ferg, and this time he was more prepared. Ferguson seems to like to try to railroad people into embarrassing corners -- people don't usually do that to Downey, probably because 1) he's funnier if you just let him talk, and 2) he's notoriously nice to everyone, and it's kind of a dick move. The second time, he knew it was coming, and he gets the audience into a few rounds of 'my, the host is being a wanker, isn't he?' applause.

      Either this is a bit they've agreed on beforehand and plan to keep running indefinitely, or RDJ really sincerely doesn't like the guy.

  2. Wow. I couldn't watch the whole thing - all I could get through was about a minute of it before it became too embarrassing to watch the host's obliviousness.

    I should watch more things with RDJ, clearly.


    1. Watch the press he does for Avengers. He genuinely likes every last one of his costars, and Joss Whedon. Anytime you get any combination of them on camera, they look like they're having a total blast.

      Or either time he's on Graham Norton. He's the only one on stage who isn't drinking, including the host, and he still looks like he's having the time of his life. He cracks up every second or third sentence.


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