Al Gore's inconvenient conversation

It was cute, at first, when the hostess introduced him as "Harry Gore."

It was Tuesday evening, May 22, and Al Gore was in Beverly Hills at an event described by its host organization, Writers Bloc, as "Al Gore in conversation with Harry Shearer." However, as I soon discovered, this was actually the first stop on a tour to promote Gore's new book, "The Assault on Reason," which was released Tuesday, May 22 (as of Thursday the hardcover was priced at $15.57 on Amazon.com).

I intend no disrespect, nor criticism, of Al Gore, or of what he had to say Tuesday. He represented himself well, defended his points of view, and made me feel better about my failure to "get" some of Harry Shearer's jokes (Gore also had the guts to wear cowboy boots with a conservative blue suit and tie, another point scored). I still marvel at the rock-star treatment Los Angeles gives Gore despite his complete lack of the kind of glitz usually required to achieve such status.

My disappointment is with those who organized and promoted the event.

As I write this two days later, I feel as though I was cheaply duped into my purchase of a ticket to attend what amounted to a campaign rally and book signing, neither of which were hinted at by Writers Bloc. This is how the event was promoted:

Former Vice President and Academy Award winner Al Gore takes on the current administration's preoccupation with eroding reason and obfuscating the truth about critical issues we as Americans face. Gore's manifesto, a new book called "The Assault on Reason," states clearly that truth has taken a backseat to governing by fear. There is little time left to repair our standing in the world, and if we want to rescue the environment, national security, the economy, and social welfare, we had better move fast. Harry Shearer is the creator and host of the weekly radio show, LeShow on KCRW. His recent novel, "Not Enough Indians," is one of the funniest books of the year. He can be heard on "The Simpsons," and has had featured roles in such terrific movies as "This is Spinal Tap," "Best in Show," "The Mighty Wind," and "For Your Consideration."

The general-seating event at the Wilshire Theatre was sold out at $20 per person. Although scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. (more than two hours after people began to line up outside), no one approached a microphone until nearly 8 p.m., proving once more that you can take a politician out of office, but you can't take away his inability to appear anywhere on time.

The hostess representing Writers Bloc was to say the least effusive in her introduction of Gore, referring to him several times as "our favorite vice president." Though some might consider this description dubious, many of those in attendance applauded each time she said it and waved signs that proclaimed "Gore 2008," and "Reelect Gore." Although Writers Bloc may have had nothing to do with these sign-wielding boosters, the would-be campaigners succeeded in making it look otherwise. Several signature gatherers had even stalked the will-call line outside with (worthless?) petitions that sought to persuade Gore to run for president in '08.

The hostess, who seemed a bit nervous, spliced Gore and Shearer together during her introduction and presented the night's main attraction as "Harry Gore," which, as I said, was sweetly amusing, at first. However, it later proved to be the start of what became a disappointing mess.

First there was the annoyance of press photographers who were permitted to stand beside audience members and click away throughout the entire event (where these images appeared is beyond me, and Google images). As a member of the press for nearly 20 years, I would expect to see this at a campaign event, but not an evening "in conversation" with a former vice president. Then there was the behavior of security (presumably Gore's Secret Service detail), one member of whom communicated several times to his counterparts across the theatre by waving his arms. The evening was a frustrating loss 45 minutes into the conversation when the hostess began to pace from one side of the theatre to the other, looking increasingly frantic. Eventually she approached the foot of the stage where she waved and waved again, failing in her intent to distract Shearer from his conversation with Gore, but managing to distract many in the audience. When she eventually resorted to holding a sheet of paper up with a message written on it, someone (I assume it was an audience member) shouted to get Harry Shearer's attention. Shearer, who acknowledged the sign with something like "yes, I've seen it," continued his talk. The hostess finally got on stage to urge the conclusion of the hour-long conversation because Gore's "people" were upset about the time.

No one seemed to care that most audience members paid $20 to hear Gore in "conversation," there were books to sell and sign. The longer this "conversation" went on, the less time there would be to sell books to those who had already invested four hours or more traveling, waiting on line, and (oddly) dining on salad, Fritos and whatever in their seats beforehand. (Did I forget to mention there was a full bar in the lobby?)

The San Francisco Examiner described the evening as "more like a campaign stop than a book signing," which was accurate enough, except this was not billed as either.

Who would pay $20 to attend a book signing?


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