You: Hello there. Nice to see you round these parts. Me: How very kind of you. Thanks very much. You: What brings you to Doncaster? Me: Oh you know, where else would I want to be on a Wednesday? You: (chuckling) The countryside around is attractive though. Me: Yes, lovely. Hope to see more of it. You: Right, well. Keep up the good work. Me: Thanks. (exit)
End of story. Compare this to.
You: I know you probably get really annoyed by people coming up to you. Me: No, no. Not at all. You: No, it must be really irritating. Me: Oh, well. Goes with the job … You: You probably just want to be left alone. Me: Well, you know … You: What makes people bother you all the time? Don’t they know you’ve got the right to a private life? Me: Mm. You: Makes you sick. Love your work, by the way. Me: Thank you. You: I’m not like some mad fan, you know, but I used to watch that a Bit of Hugh and Laurie… and that IQ thing you do. Me: … QI … You: Right. That Alan Davies, what’s he like? No, really. What’s he like? Me: He’s very nice. You: Yeah, but is he that stupid? Me: He’s not stupid at all. You: No but he is, isn’t he? Me: No, no, not at all. Quite the reverse. You: Right, thought so. Do you remember your parents used to shop at a delicatessen in Norwich called Lambert’s? Me: Er … yes, that rings a bell. You: My girlfriend’s mum had a friend who worked there. Me: Gosh, really? You: Amazing, isn’t it? Me: Astounding. Look, I really must … You: Do you know what C. S. Lewis’s middle name was? Me: Er, Staples I think. You: Oh. Someone must have told you that. Me: Well, yes, a biography of C. S. Lewis. You: Most people don’t know that. Me: Don’t they? Well, well. Gosh, I must be … You: Must be very annoying having people just come up to you. Don’t know how you put up with it … have you got a pen? Me: Excuse me? You: Or a piece of paper? Tell you what, can you sign this pack of biscuits. Oi, darling, lend us a pen, see who I’m talking to? … Etc.
Compliments The entire interaction works better if there’s a little understanding on each side. You might be the fortieth person that day to approach your sleb. They might have just heard that their favourite aunt has been diagnosed with cancer. On the other hand, the famous person should remember that it takes courage to approach a stranger, especially one you’ve only seen on TV or at the movies. They could so easily squash you. Many newly made slebs fall down especially in the area of compliments. It’s perhaps a very English thing to find it hard to accept kind words about oneself. If anyone praised me in my early days as a comedy performer I would say, “Oh, nonsense. Shut up. No really, I was dreadful.” I remember going through this red-faced shuffle in the presence of the mighty John Cleese who upbraided me the moment we were alone. ‘You genuinely think you’re being polite and modest, don’t you?’ ‘Well, you know …’ ‘Don’t you see that when someone hears their compliments contradicted they naturally assume that you must think them a fool? Suppose you went up to a pianist after a recital and told him how much you had enjoyed his performance and he replied, “rubbish, I was awful!” You would go away thinking you were a poor judge of musicianship and that he thought you an idiot.’ ‘Yes, but I can’t agree with someone if they praise me, that would sound so cocky. And anyway, suppose I do think I was awful?’ (which most of the time performers do think of themselves, of course.) ‘It’s so simple. You just say thank you. You just thank them. How hard is that?’ You must think me the completest kind of arse to have needed to be told how to take a compliment, but it was an important lesson that I (clearly) never forgot. So bound up with not wanting to look smug and pleased with ourselves are we that we forget how mortifying it is to have compliments thrown back in one’s face.