Hollywood loves nothing more than a schmooze-athon. The Emmy celebration (it was only last week if you can remember) has become a mirror of Oscar week — a veritable orgy of partying, self-promotion and (occasionally) self-immolation, with expansive new events added each year.
Observing these rituals, I have come to admire those select few who have mastered their schmooze-athon technique — their limitless talent to conquer a room full of outstretched hands and semi-friendly faces.
On the other hand, I empathize with the schmoozer-losers, those who are all but paralyzed by these confrontations. As they enter a crowded room, I can all but hear their inner voices asking, “Who are all these people and do any of them really want to talk with me?”
Let’s face it, all of us at one time or another ask ourselves that question. Unless we’re George Clooney.
Clooney is the king of the cool schmooze. Watch him in action and you can chart the rules of surviving any schmooze-athon.
The rules: Keep smiling but keep moving. As in boxing, don’t get cornered. Assure everyone you’re delighted to see them, especially if they’re people you’ve avoided for years. Never say “love your show” because, whoever you say that to, has just had their show cancelled. If trapped by a blogger, just call them by their name — they’ll be too flattered to remember their invidious questions.
While Clooney reigns supreme, I used Emmy week to ask a random sample of partygoers for their nominations to the schmoozer all-star list. Which players in town display Clooney-esque potential?
Among the nominees: Ron Meyer was No. 1 in the executive category — no rivals are both friendlier and faster on their feet. The leader among TV executives was AMC’s Charlie Collier, who nimbly navigates even quarrelsome agents. Kevin Huvane led the list of talent agents, Simon Halls led publicists and, who else, Regis Philbin, among the talkshow fraternity (though the laid-back Anderson Cooper is gaining fast).
And few producers could out-schmooze Ryan Kavanaugh, especially if it’s an occasion honoring him, which it almost always is.
Special commendation went to an unexpected category — the wives or girlfriends of all-star schmoozers. Jennifer Westfeldt (herself an actress-filmmaker) has mastered the art of the supportive schmooze as she endlessly watches women line up to hug her mate, Jon Hamm, himself a sub-par schmoozer. Roma Downey adeptly schmoozes the overflow crowd of acolytes waiting to suck up to her husband, Mark Burnett, himself a schmoozing all-star.
Respondents among the Emmy crowd were eager to offer their choices for the schmoozer-loser list — those who either hate the process or are simply inept at it. The leader is clearly Larry David, who effortlessly remains true to his TV persona, consistently giving almost everyone the cold shoulder. Then there’s Sumner Redstone, who readily admits he hates small talk and declines to indulge.
Stars, of course, are acutely conscious of the reality that kudo campaigns require hand-shaking if not butt-kissing. Arguably, last year’s Oscar problems on “Social Network” stemmed from the schmoozing non-talent of some of its principals, like David Fincher, its director.
Personally, I find my own performance as a schmoozer to be at best inconsistent. Sometimes I enter a room and the first 10 faces I see register “Who the fuck are you?” My trick is simply to move quickly until I see one of my schmoozer all-stars and track him faithfully.
Especially if it’s Clooney.