Now that Ariana Grande has apologized again for licking donuts that an unsuspecting customer might buy, using an obscenity to the hard-working store clerk and then saying, “I hate America. I hate Americans,” I think we need to address the subject of apologies. Specifically celebrity apologies, which are thrown into the public arena after that celebrity has done something dumb and gotten caught at it.

There is an art form to apologizing. Sincerity is in the eye of the beholder. If you do a really good job of convincing us that you’re sincere, we won’t spend too much more time thinking about it. It seems to me that there are not enough Public Relations people who are well-versed in the art of apologizing, which is strange since it’s inevitable that at least one of their clients will have to do exactly that at some point. So I have come up with an easy set of rules. If studied, these will be very helpful:

1. Don’t treat us, the public, as if we’re idiots. Case in point: Ariana Grande’s first apology said that her comments had been taken out of context and she was just terribly upset about childhood obesity and the diet of most Americans. First of all, what context? You’re on a security camera, for God’s sake — we saw the whole thing. You’re licking a donut, you’re jumping up and down cackling like a demented 9 year old, you’re saying, “What the fuck is that?” to the store clerk and then announcing that you hate America and Americans. There is no other context! And if you’re upset about childhood obesity and the American diet, what are you doing in a donut store? I actually think people are fairly forgiving when young girls try to show off, look cool and irreverent, and end up crossing a line. But if your apology insults our intelligence you just used up your get-out-of-jail-free card.

2. You get one shot at an apology. If you don’t get it right the first time, you don’t get a do-over. Apparently Ariana re-thought her first apology and decided to try again, this time on video. If the video had come out first, she may have found more forgiveness. This way, it just looks like an amateur is trying to figure out the whole apology thing.

3. Don’t turn on the waterworks and start weeping on camera. Please, I beg you. Remember Paula Dean’s tearful apology after she used the n-word? We don’t want to see you cry. No one looks good when they cry (except for Demi Moore in Ghost, and I still haven’t figured out how she did that.) It’s embarrassing; we’re embarrassed for you. Cry in private, not on camera. That way, we’ll listen to you instead of running out of the room.

4. Don’t come up with excuses that we wouldn’t accept from a first-grader. When Jeremy Piven walked out on the theater production of Speed-the-Plow in 2008 he said he was suffering from a high mercury count from eating too much sushi. David Mamet responded, “So my understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.” To be accurate, Piven didn’t actually apologize, but he offered an excuse, which is a close cousin of the apology.

5. Finally, if you want to see a good apology, look up Hugh Grant’s 1995 appearance on Jay Leno after he was caught getting serviced by Divine Brown in his car. He made no excuses, he didn’t get weepy or victimy. He said everyone knows the difference between doing a good thing and a bad thing…and he did a bad thing. The idea is to close the book on your mistake and move on, and that’s exactly what he did. Maybe Public Relations people should have that video clip on their phones so it’s accessible in times of need. Even Jay Leno couldn’t figure out how to bash Hugh Grant after that.



  1. Dan Black says:

    I laughed while reading this and agreed at the same time. Well written once again.

  2. David Marks says:

    On the rare occasion that a celebrity has the class to be dignified and resolute, such as Hugh Grant, even in retrospective acknowledgement, it’s surprising. I have learned to put little faith in the apologies of celebrities, largely because most of them warrant little respect. In their quest for attention, no matter how vile or preposterous, they fumble, and when they do, their apologies are disingenuous and vacuous, if not absurd. Terrific piece, Patti.

  3. Sandy Herrmann says:

    I literally am in bed chuckling!

  4. David Deutsch says:

    i think if Mark Twain were around and writing about celebrity apologies his essay would read very much like yours. You captured the cloud of the bubble that such people live in that creates this specific myopia. It is a bubble infused with their sense of entitlement. My particular favorite default celebrity apology begins with, “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry…” Well, of course they offended someone and they know it (or they wouldn’t be groveling in public). Maybe the celebrity apology is simply an oxymoron. Kudos to you, Patti, for mining this territory and coming up with such gems.

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