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Jewish World Review
Feb. 15, 2006
/ 17 Shevat, 5766
During a recent Wheel of Fortune taping, I was answering a few questions from the audience during a delay, and a young man took to the microphone and asked whether I wore a toupee. He got a good laugh with the question, and I got a good laugh with my answer, which was, referring to my Hair From Hell, "If I did wear a toupee, I'd buy a better one than this!"
That moment reminded me anew of the strange, artificial intimacy that exists between performers and some of the people who watch them perform. Think about it. That was an incredibly rude and potentially embarrassing question that that young man would never have asked anyone else publicly, least of all someone he had never met. It's hard, for example, to imagine him getting on the loudspeaker at his local grocery store and asking whether the guy in aisle one was wearing a "rug".
I've seen Vanna asked by strangers how old she is and how much money she makes, questions they would be unlikely to ask the female druggist or doctor. I've been approached by viewers who tell me to let Vanna know how rotten that dress was she wore last Friday or to tell me what they don't like about me or my performance or the game or the rules, most often with a pleasant smile, as if they were performing a public service for which I should be grateful.
I understand that showing up for 20-plus years in someone's living room produces a sense that people know you even if they've never met you, but that doesn't account for the liberties some take when they actually do meet you. After all, they may have had the same neighbor for over 20 years, but they still might hesitate to openly criticize his job, his clothes, his attitude, his wife or his personal grooming.
Don't get me wrong. The overwhelming number of people I meet are kind and courteous, as I try to be. But you'd be surprised at how many folks say outrageous things assuming it's okay because I host a television show. Politicians report similar encounters, but that has to do, I think, with an "I pay your salary" kind of mentality.
I've shared similar "war stories" with others in my business, and we all laugh and shrug our shoulders. I suspect the reason some behave this way is, in part, because we're considered TV performers first and human beings second. Others have suggested it's because some viewers believe you wouldn't have a job if they didn't watch, but you could make that same argument for any business. ("If I didn't shop at your store, you'd be out of work!") Whatever the explanation, it's an odd phenomenon.
None of this is a complaint; it's just an observation. I love my job, and I understand that part of it involves dealing with the public. And, again, most of my daily exchanges with strangers are pleasant, and, even when they're not, they're interesting. It's just one of those human puzzles I enjoy trying to figure out.
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JWR contributor Pat Sajak is the recipient of three Emmys, a Peoplesí Choice Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He's currently the host of Wheel of Fortune.
© 2006, Pat Sajak