Thursday, May 31, 2012

Handling Awkward Situations With Class

In a truly cringe-worthy spectacle, back-from-obscurity talk show host Kathy Lee Gifford made a spectacular faux pas yesterday while interviewing Martin Short.  After pronouncing his marriage a showbiz success story, she asked him how many years he had been married and other lighthearted questions like how he keeps things romantic with his wife.

While it's true that Martin and his wife Nancy Dolman were married for 36 years, the sad truth is that she passed away from ovarian cancer in 2010.

There were many ways that Short could have handled this extremely awkward situation and no one would have judged him if he had become irate, but he chose to be a class act and show us all a thing or two about grace under pressure.  He answered her questions and moved on without correcting her.  Short is a seasoned professional who knows how to think on his feet and while I don't know what was going through his mind, he probably decided that informing the hapless Kathy Lee that his wife was dead on live TV would only make it worse for everyone.

After the segment, Kathy Lee apologized to Short on Twitter but I'm hoping she took the time to do it in person as well.  And, I'm sure there's a researcher at the Today Show who is dusting off his or her resume this morning.

On the other side of the spectrum, at an awards ceremony I attended last night, someone was called up to the stage to present an award.  When the MC handed her the microphone, she explained to him that he had pronounced her last name incorrectly and informed him of the correct pronunciation.  The MC was obviously uncomfortable and under the circumstances, the correction seemed unnecessary. It was a long night and it's unlikely that the paths of these two people will cross again.

While most of us will never have to deal with questions about a deceased spouse on live television, we could all learn from Martin Short on how to handle someone's gaffe with aplomb.


  1. I read about the Martin Short gaffe in a couple places and watched the video. Talk about grace under pressure. Perhaps many of us would benefit from studying improve and knowing how to think quick on our feet, while remaining gracious in various public situations.

  2. You make a very good point. Even if you're not interested in a career as a comedian, improv is often suggested as a way to deal with public speaking fears and increase your comfort level in unfamiliar settings.

  3. It seems to me that the old adage, "Praise publicly. Correct privately," applies to these types of situations. Martin Short showed class because he corrected the situation backstage, not on air.

  4. Joe, I couldn't have said it better myself. That's one old adage I'd like to see resurrected.

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