What Do We Do About Steve Rannazzisi?

Comedian Steve Rannazzisi is in the midst of his 7th seasons starring on the popular TV show,“The League;” he has a one-hour special coming up on Comedy Central, and is increasingly in demand for commercial endorsements. How did he distinguish himself among the large pack of similarly young, edgy stand-up comics? Well, he’s good—but them a lot of them are good. He is, however, the only one who has a harrowing tale of being a survivor of the 9/11/2001 Twin Towers attack. For more than a decade he has been telling interviewers about his narrow escape, how he was working at Merrill Lynch’s offices on the 54th floor of the South Tower when the first plane struck the North Tower, and how he rushed  out of the building and into the street just before the second hijacked  plane slammed into the tower he just left. That was an epiphanal moment for Rannazzisi, he has said, and realizing that every second of life was precious and that he was saved for something more important than pushing paper, Rannazzisi quit his conventional day job to pursue a career as a comic.

That back story made Rannazzisi seem uniquely human, appealing, and on a mission. It wouldn’t have boosted his career if he didn’t have the talent to capitalize on it, but he did. To some extent, all of his success has been built on the foundation of the Twin Towers’ fall, so his fans and employers have a dilemma to face: he was lying. The New York Times checked out his account, and determined that the comedian had been working in Midtown on 9-11, never was employed by Merrill Lynch (which had no offices in either tower), and has been lying all these years. This week, Rannazzisi confessed and apologized, saying in part,

“I was not at the Trade Center on that day. I don’t know why I said this. This was inexcusable. I am truly, truly sorry….For many years, more than anything.I have wished that, with silence, I could somehow erase a story told by an immature young man. It only made me more ashamed. How could I tell my children to be honest when I hadn’t come clean about this? It was profoundly disrespectful to those who perished and those who lost loved ones. The stupidity and guilt I have felt for many years has not abated. It was an early taste of having a public persona, and I made a terrible mistake. All I can ask is for forgiveness.”

(Excellent apology: Level One on the Apology Scale.)

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