There have been plenty of celebrities apologizing for their bad behavior this year, but not all of them are worthy of attention. Yes, Reese Witherspoon, we get it, you’re “so sorry and embarrassed,” and blah blah blah. And sure, Chris Brown, we totally get that you’re making strides to “be that man that can be a man” and “deal with myself and forgive myself” and OH MY GOD STOP TALKING!
In a world where too many celebrities are expressing bland remorse, here are eight famous-to-semi-famous people who did it right. They managed to be just as entertaining in their apologies, if not more so, than what they were apologizing for.
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Dan Harmon, original showrunner for Community, one of the last brilliant sitcoms still on NBC, had every reason to be bitter. He was fired and then re-hired on the show he created, and finally got around to watching the fourth season, written and produced by other people without his creative input. As he not-so-bluntly put it in a Harmontown podcast, “Apparently I’m quite a genius.” Long story short, he thought the last season of Community sucked. A lot of people on the Internet got angry about that, and Harmon responded the next day with a Tumblr post called “It Won’t Happen Again Again.” Even if you don’t care about Community, it’s worth a read. He apologized to his fans (“I’m going to try thinking about you before saying things into microphones”), to the show’s cast and crew (“It was dishonest to imply that something you worked on was as hard to watch as my family being assaulted”), and to the writers who replaced him (“I’m sorry I pooped on your work”). Every celebrity could learn a thing or two from Harmon. It’s not enough to be sincerely remorseful. If you want us to care, throw in a few punchlines.
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Bieber has had a lot to apologize for this year: smoking pot, being an asshat at the Anne Frank House, continuing to make music. But his crowning achievement for 2013 (as of this writing) was this lovely cellphone video, in which America’s sweetheart pissed into a mop bucket in a nightclub kitchen, and then grabbed a bottle of cleaner and sprayed a framed portrait of the 42nd U.S. President while shouting “Fk Bill Clinton!” Bieber apologized, but he did it in a hilariously roundabout humble-brag way. He tweeted: “@billclinton thanks for taking the time to talk Mr. President. Your words meant alot. #greatguy.” Obviously that was meant to be a private conversation between him and the former president, and he totally forgot that writing things on the Internet is like shouting in a crowded restaurant. But okay, if you must know, the Biebs and his best pal Clinton totally worked things out in a phone call, just two bros rapping together, cause they’re cool like that.
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Michael Bay apologizing for any of his films seems as likely as Fox News admitting they have no fact-checkers. But in April the impossible happened; Bay purportedly apologized to the Miami Herald for Armageddon. “We had to do the whole movie in 16 weeks,” he allegedly said. “It was a massive undertaking. That was not fair to the movie. I would redo the entire third act if I could. But the studio literally took the movie away from us. It was terrible.” We use words like “purportedly” and “allegedly” because Bay soon denied the apology, claiming the Herald had “twisted my words and meaning” and he was “not in the slightest going to apologize for the third movie in my movie career.” We choose not to believe him, because we want to live in a world where people are ultimately good and intelligence prevails and Michael Bay has realized that Armageddon was a piece of crap.
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Peter Hansen may not be the most famous politician, and he didn’t even make the most famous political apology this year. (That would be Carlos Danger, though can you really call that an apology?) But he definitely made one of the most artful, laugh-out-loud apologies in recent memory. The Republican State Representative of Amherst was involved in an e-mail debate with his colleagues about a “stand your ground” gun bill. In response to a floor speech by Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, who had defended retreating rather than resorting to violence, Hansen wrote, “What could possibly be missing from those factual tales of successful retreat in VT, Germany, and the bowels of Amsterdam? Why children and vagina’s [sic] of course.” His peers were quick to criticize Hansen, calling his comments “disrespectful and shameful.” His defense? Pure poetry. “If you find the noun vagina insulting or in some way offensive then perhaps a better exercise might be for you to re-examine your psyche,” Hansen wrote. Wait, it gets better. “If I had to do it all over again, I would use the same words. It’s clear there are many people who don’t appreciate the nuances of good writing.” The nuances of good writing! If Anthony Weiner used that explanation to justify his sexy-time online communiques, he might just get our vote for mayor.
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To be fair, there’s no good reason why Pete Townshend should ever have to apologize for telling anybody at a Who concert to fuck off. Especially if the recipient of said expletive is a seven-year-old girl. Because what the hell is a seven-year-old girl doing at a Who concert? But that’s what happened on February 19, during a performance of Quadrophenia in Ontario, Canada. Audience member Jenny Costello, accompanied by her father Eric, held up a sign that read “Smash your guitar, Pete!” Townshend responded as any reasonable man would, famous or otherwise, upon being ordered to destroy his personal property by another person’s child. “Go away with that sign please,” he asked from the stage. “Just go away with it. Don’t bring your children, use them. I want to tell you two words but I can’t because you’ve got a child there.” And then he mouthed the words that every child, especially a child at a rock concert she’s way too young to be attending, needs to hear. Townshend later apologized with a personal note to the girl and her family, in which he explained that, among other misunderstandings, he was “in rock star mode.” Well, duh.
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Never heard of Minami Minegishi? You would have if you lived in Japan. She’s one of 88 members of a wildly popular girl group called AKB48, which is split between Team A, Team K, Team B, and a trainee group. Minegishi was an A Team member, until last January when a Japanese tabloid caught her taking a walk of shame (in a clever flu-mask-and-hat disguise) from her boyfriend’s apartment. Her mea culpa, posted on AKB48’s official YouTube page (which has since been taken down but you can watch here), was one of the weirdest apologies in recorded history. Her head shaved for some reason, she cried and begged for forgiveness. “It was a thoughtless act and I was completely lacking self-awareness as a senior member of AKB48,” she said. The apology seemed genuine enough, although we’re still not sure why a 20-year-old adult woman can’t spend the night with a guy she’s ostensibly dating. Or why she’d need to shave her head in penance.
The other culpable party from Minegishi’s sexcapade, Alan Shirahama, a member of the boy band Generations, apologized during a concert “for the trouble I’ve caused” but opted not to shave his head or make a teary video. Because unlike girls, 20-year-old boys having sex is fucking cool, y’all. High fives!
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We think it was an apology, but it’s hard to be sure. While accepting a “Freedom of Speech” award in June from Talkers Magazine, the self-described “bible of talk radio and new talk media,” Beck expressed something resembling regret for his years of douchebaggery. “For any role that I have played in dividing, I wish I can take them back,” he said. “I don’t wish I could take back the truth that was spoken, but perhaps — not perhaps — many times I could have said it differently.” The liberal media widely reported it as an apology, but was it really? He stood behind “the truth” he’d spoken, but felt bad for the repercussions. It’s hard not to get shades of Jack Nicholson dressed like a Navy colonel screaming, “You can’t handle the truth!” So to review, Beck still thinks Obama is a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred of white people.” He just wishes he’d said it in a less divisive way.
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Deen didn’t just apologize for being a racist who thinks slavery plantations were classy. She went off the rails with a glorious apology meltdown that just made everything worse (or better, depending on how much you enjoy such things). It started when she released a staggering three apology videos on the same day, two of which were taken down (you can still see the first one here) and the third apparently shot with a camcorder by herself, in which she apologized but also blamed the press. Then came an interview on the Today show, which was a thing of rare beauty, like a one-woman show you wished would never end. “I’ve had to hold friends in my arms while they’ve sobbed because they know what’s bein’ said about me is not true,” she sobbed. She hinted at a deeper conspiracy (“there’s someone evil out there” who wants to destroy her and her career) and asked those without sin to stone her to death because “I want to meet you.” And then the pièce de résistance. “I is what I is,” Deen said. “And I’m not changing.” Oh, wow. Just wow. Somewhere even Al Jolson is cringing in his grave.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on Esquire.com.)