As history taught us, live television always makes for some interesting moments. Wardrobe malfunctions, swearing, and general miscues are all too common during a live edition of a program. Pre-tapes can also be used to stir interest in programming. Talk shows, despite being being recorded prior to their air date, always produce controversial moments that make headlines. Remember Andy Kaufman’s on-air altercation with WWE superstar, Jerry “The King” Lawler during an appearance on The Tonight Show with David Letterman in 1982? While the incident was staged and in tune to Kaufman’s comedic personality, it got the whole world talking and pushed the analogy that anything can happen when the cameras are rolling. In the annals of television history, what were some of the more cringe-worthy on-air interviews?
Here are the more prolific ones:
Following his role as George McFly in the classic, Back to the Future, Crispin Glover’s career was on the up and up. But when he appeared on Late Night with David Letterman in 1987 to promote his then latest film, River’s Edge (co-starring Keanu Reeves, by the way), things turned ugly quick.
Unbeknownst to Letterman and the audience, Crispin showed up in character from a yet unreleased film he was working on entitled Rubin & Ed. After acting very strangely, he challenges David to an arm-wrestling match which he refuses then Glover gets up and challenges him to a fight, demonstrating his martial arts skills by throwing a kick that barely misses Letterman’s head by a few inches. David hastily wrapped up the segment and Glover was kicked off during the commercial break.
Not long after, a highly publicized dispute took place which saw Glover famously choose not to reprise his role as Marty McFly’s father in Back to the Future Part II. As a result, he developed a reputation in Hollywood for being unorthodox and hard to work with.
Tom Selleck and his mustache were invited to the popular daytime talk show to shill a really awful chick flick co-starring Ellen DeGeneres called The Love Letter. The always controversial Rosie O’Donnell instead decided to sway the conversation on the topic of gun control. Selleck, now a board member of the National Rifle Association, has been outspoken on his pro stance of firearms in the past which prompted Rosie to question his recent appearance in an advertisement for the NRA. Though Selleck kept his cool for the most part, O’Donnell was ruthless in keeping the subject on guns and raising awareness of their danger in the wrong hands referencing the tragic Columbine incident.
Jesse James Dupree (The New Tom Green Show, August 4, 2003)
Tom Green was a very odd individual. His 90s MTV show, The Tom Green Show, where he played pranks on people and demonstrated his childish humor, was hugely popular and made him a household name. He went on to star in the successful comedy film, Road Trip.
Then Freddy Got Fingered happened.
Still, MTV gave him another go with his own late night talk show in 2003, The New Tom Green Show, in an attempt to recreate the magic of his former program. One particular incident from this program was one of the rare moments when Tom Green showed a serious, vulnerable side to him.
Jesse James Dupree, lead singer of the band Jackyl, appeared on the show yielding a chainsaw. He then proceeds to slice Green’s name on his desk leaving him very aggravated. A heated Green expressed his anger about the whole situation leaving Dupree confused. He then joined Dupree on drums for a performance which he walked out on after about a minute in, solidifying his displeasure with the whole experience.
After Billy Crystal hosted for many years, the Academy have tried experimenting with different hosts of the Oscars ceremony and the 2011 edition was no exception. Young Hollywood were at the forefront when James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosted on that fateful night in an attempt to gain viewers from a youthful generation.
Franco in particular had a huge night ahead of him as he was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Leading Actor for his role in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. Franco, who is a good friend and frequent collaborator of marijuana supporter, Seth Rogen, must have been really nervous that night as he conducted a really odd interview on the red carpet that evening. Clearly under the influence of something, Franco would take long pauses between sentences, speak in a low voice, eyes glossed over, and grinning like an idiot. Obviously stoned, it made for some interesting bits during the main show. The ceremony unfortunately received low ratings.
Danny Devito has been in show business for decades and hadn’t caused any kind of uproar in the media. That was until his small stature appeared on the all-female daytime talk show, The View. Devito was very clearly intoxicated which the ladies immediately commented on, talking about his all-night drinking binge with actor, George Clooney. Devito was slurring his words and being more off the wall than usual, even throwing out some profanity.
Unfortunately, this led to another awkward interview when Rosie recalled the incident on a later episode . After asking what people in China must have thought about DeVito’s appearance, she uttered the offensive “ching chong”, parodying their speech. Stay classy, Rosie.
Despite being a phenomenal actor, Tom Cruise has gained exposure in recent years due to his advocacy of Scientology and marriage to now ex-wife, Katie Holmes. The latter of which resulted in a famous incident on The Oprah Winfrey Show where Cruise jumped up and down on Oprah’s couch wildly professing his love for Holmes. The stunt has been parodied numerous times but all in good fun. His interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show in 2005, however, was not.
Ever since his conversion to the high controversial religion, Cruise has been outspoken of its beliefs. This was most apparent during the discussion with Lauer that morning. While the first half of the interview was smooth with Cruise discussing his role in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, it was the second half that changed the mood completely. Cruise criticized the practice of psychiatry and called Matt Lauer ignorant on the subject. Both men go back and forth on the use of amphetamines where Lauer is in favor of as he’s seen them help people, Cruise argues that they only cover up a bigger problem.
In 2008, Joaquin Phoenix abruptly announced his retirement from acting and expressed interest in starting a rap career. He subsequently altered his entire appearance growing a long beard, scruffy hair, and wore sunglasses everywhere. He appeared on (where else?) The Late Show with David Letterman in 2009 to promote this new found pursuit and the result wasn’t what anyone expected. Phoenix, who is highly regarded as being one of the greatest actors in Hollywood today, was being quite weird, sometimes even defensive, being dismissive of Letterman while David cut jokes at his expense. After pulling a wad of chewing gum out of his mouth and sticking it under his desk, Letterman apologized to the audience saying, “I’m sorry Joaquin couldn’t be here tonight.”
The incident along with Joaquin’s blossoming music career were chronicled in the documentary I’m Still Here directed by his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck. The film wasn’t very good and the masses agreed. It tanked massively in theaters and afterwards, Affleck and Phoenix admitted that the whole thing was a charade, including the Late Show appearance. It was all a failed experiment to spark interest in Affleck’s directorial debut. Phoenix returned to acting in 2012 with an Oscar nominated role in The Master.
While promoting his 2008 film, Grace is Gone, John Cusack was interviewed by a college student who immediately mistakes him for appearing in the multi-Oscar winning movie, American Beauty. Cusack quickly corrects her but the woman still insists on his participation in the picture. After Cusack swears he wasn’t, he tells the woman she’s very confused. It’s not known whether the interview went any further but it certainly didn’t get off to a good start. Let’s be honest, if she confused Cusack for Kevin Spacey then that’s pretty sad. Now, to be fair to the woman, American Beauty is better than Grace is Gone in just about every way possible.
Bruce Willis (NBA Playoffs Game 4: Toronto Raptors at New Jersey Nets, April 29, 2007)
While sitting courtside at the IZOD Center for an NBA playoff game in 2007, a very drunk Bruce Willis introduces his “friend” Mike, who was probably just some guy Willis befriended that night and talks about their love for the Nets. He then attempts to plug the fourth entry in his famed Die Hard series, Live Free or Die Hard and even went as far as to say it was better than the original (it wasn’t). He ends the interview with his character, John McClane’s trademark line “yippie-kai-yay motherfucker.”
NBA commentator Bill Watson apologized on his behalf.