About a half-hour before the Gloria Bell screening, I slipped into a theatre across the Scotiabank lobby where Jason Reitman‘s The Front Runner was about to play. I’m a huge fan of this film (The Candidate meets Primary Colors meets tabloid journalism) and wanted to re-experience the first 20 or 25 minutes. The lights were on as I strolled inside. For a few seconds I stood in front and assessed the situation.
Almost immediately a TIFF volunteer asked, “Are you okay, sir?” I translated this as “do you need help finding a seat?” or something in that realm, but I was also amused by her professed concern for my health or well being. So I turned to the volunteer, a woman of about 20, and said what I now realize was a bad thing.
I said to her, “Uhm, no, I’m having a heart attack.”
That was a grevious error for which I am truly, deeply sorry. For the volunteer became alarmed. So alarmed, in fact, that she reported the incident to her supervisor. 30 to 45 seconds later the supervisor, another young woman, approached my front-row seat. She didn’t have to say anything as it was obvious what was up. She said that the volunteer was a bit stunned, etc. I explained that “it was a joke…an attempt at humor…maybe not a very funny one and I’m sorry for the joke falling flat, but that was the idea.”
The supervisor repeated that she felt obliged to investigate because the volunteer felt upset, etc. I then realized this had actually become a thing. Me: “Please…it was just a little stab at goofball humor,” etc.
Then the supervisor alarmed me. She reached over and held my press badge in her hand and flipped it over so she could inspect it. In other words, she apparently intended to report this incident to her superiors.
“You’re kidding,” I said. “You’re going to report this? A guy making a joke about having a heart attack? I’m sorry if it wasn’t funny but the idea was to sprinkle a little mirth into the situation. I mean, it never hurts to have a sense of humor…right?”
About 25 minutes later I told some colleagues (including the Canadian-born Jordan Ruimy) about this episode. When I mentioned the wisecrack, Ruimy said “you said that?” I said, “Yeah, what’s the big deal? It was just a joke, a put-on thing.” Ruimy explained that Canadians aren’t very good with put-on humor and that they haven’t much of a sense of humor in this kind of situation. If you’re going to say the words “heart attack,” he explained, you should be having one and not joking about it. Fine. Lesson learned.
Hollywood Elsewhere to TIFF volunteer staff: I humbly apologize for my heart-attack joke. I shouldn’t have said it. I was wrong. I will never, ever joke about heart attacks ever again, and in fact will never attempt to engage with a TIFF volunteer on a humorous basis about anything in the future. My word is my bond.