Meet Steve Rannazzisi.
You may know him better as Kevin on the FXX sitcom ‘The League.’ You laugh at his jokes. You smile at his quirks. You even giggle at his commercials that he does for Buffalo Wild Wings. However, the one thing he did recently to make you quit all of that is tell you his 9/11 story.
Basically, the gripping tale of Rannazzisi, 37, told through the eyes of someone who experienced 9/11 first-hand. Since 2002, Rannazzisi has been sharing his experience as an employee of Merrill Lynch on the 54th floor. And, how he escaped from the World Trade Center on 9/11. It was touching. It was heartwarming. And now, we learn it was totally fake.
It’s been 14 years and Rannazzisi decided it’s been long enough. Well, actually, The New York Times confronted him this week about his story, and that may have created the newfound urgency. Turns out, he was not in the Twin Towers when the terrorist attacks happened and has apologized for his farfetched claims.
In elaborate detail, Mr. Rannazzisi, 37, has described working at Merrill Lynch’s offices on the 54th floor of the south tower when the first plane struck the north tower.
“I was there and then the first tower got hit and we were like jostled all over the place,” he told an interviewer in 2009.
He fled to the street just minutes before another plane slammed into his building, he said, and decided that very day that life was too precious to waste opportunities. So he abandoned his New York desk job to pursue a career as an entertainer in Los Angeles.
“I still have dreams of like, you know, those falling dreams,” he told the interviewer.
The research department evidently found quite a bit of evidence to disprove his claims. It doesn’t hurt that he’s famous now as an actor and pitchman, so this was a big fish to get for the Times. Merrill Lynch? Never heard of him. Ground Zero? He was in Midtown Manhattan, sitting on a couch or some such. Survivor? Not in the least.
“I was not at the Trade Center on that day,” he said in a statement provided by his publicist, Matthew Labov. “I don’t know why I said this. This was inexcusable. I am truly, truly sorry.”
“For many years, more than anything,” he said, “I have wished that, with silence, I could somehow erase a story told by an immature young man. It only made me more ashamed. How could I tell my children to be honest when I hadn’t come clean about this?”
To his credit, he did. Publicly. He has been pummeled online, and even supported by a few. However, this is PR where perception has to be tackled before reality is determined, which is why Buffalo Wild Wings worked hard to develop this statement:
“We are disappointed to learn of Steve’s misrepresentations regarding the events of September 11, 2001,” Buffalo Wild Wings said in a statement Tuesday night. “We are currently re-evaluating our relationship with Steve pending a review of all the facts.” Comedy Central expressed similar disappointment and said it too had not decided its next step.
That step is Rannazzisi’s Comedy Central stand-up set to air this weekend. Airing it would be seen as support. Not airing it is coming out against his actions. And the TV network doesn’t have to say a word. Moving forward, neither does Buffalo Wild Wings or FXX.
The words of Rannazzisi said enough. While they deal with the perception, he must deal with reality. And, it appears he is.
Is shame punishment enough? Is the PR hit damaging enough? What do you think?
[PHOTO CREDIT: Richard Shotwell/Invision, via Associated Press]